1999 Conference Proceedings

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ABLEDATA AND THE INTERNET: ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY INFORMATION, JUST A CLICK AWAY

Katherine Belknap
Assistant Project Director
ABLEDATA
and

Stephen W. Lowe
Technical Services Coordinator
ABLEDATA

Introduction

The Internet and the World Wide Web are growing at an unprecedented rate, both in use and in content, opening a new world of interactive research to anyone with a computer, a modem, and a browser. Daily, even hourly, new websites spring up, offering an avalanche of information, advice, and opinion from businesses, publications, organizations, governments, and individuals. No matter what the topic of interest, there is likely to be a web page, or an entire site, devoted to it. The array of words, images, and sound is at once exciting and bewildering. And, more often than not, it leaves both veteran web surfer and novice wondering where to begin. For information about assistive devices, the answer is the ABLEDATA website at www.abledata.com.

ABLEDATA and its Website

Funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, ABLEDATA is the premier national database of information on assistive technology and rehabilitation equipment available from domestic and international sources. Currently listing some 25,000 products from 3,000 companies--from white canes to voice output programs--the database contains detailed descriptions of each product including pricing (where available) and company information. In addition to commercial products, the database contains information on non-commercial prototypes, customized, and one-of-a-kind products. Also included is information on do-it-yourself designs for individuals interested in adapting their own devices.

Along with its centerpiece database, the ABLEDATA website offers visitors a range of information services centering on assistive technology. Each button on the homepage offers a selection of resources designed to meet specific needs. The SITE area offers visitors an overview of resources available through the website and across the pcoming conferences, workshops, and educational opportunities, and calls for papers. Visitors may also read through the archive of previous postings and utilize weblinks to general news sources that frequently highlight disability issues. The Resources page points readers to information about custom-made assistive devices, disability-related services, and resource materials (books, magazines, etc.). The Classifieds page hosts free advertisements from website users about job openings, assistive devices needed, and previously owned assistive technology for sale. A click of the mouse on the hotlink opens a pre-addressed e-mail to send potential ads to the ABLEDATA staff for posting.

The website's third area, under the INFO button, is devoted to ABLEDATA information and publications: The Fact Sheets page offers visitors the opportunity to read and print ABLEDATA fact sheets on assistive technology. Available in text only and Portable Document Format or PDF (offering the identical formatting and graphics as the print version), Fact Sheets provide detailed information about specific types of assistive devices, including Children's Wheelchairs, Powered Wheelchairs, Scooters, various types of adaptive sports and recreation products, and more. Similarly, the Consumer Guides page includes the ABLEDATA Informed Consumer Guide series on assistive devices from a consumer's viewpoint in PDF or text only format. Topics include selecting a wheelchair, making a home more accessible, choosing products for accessible computing, and information resources on funding for assistive devices. For those desiring information in a more succinct format, ABLEDATA Bulletins provide brief updates about the ABLEDATA project and related topics. Included is ABLEDATA for Manufacturers which provides companies and individuals with the information needed to submit product descriptions for inclusion in the database.

Also available through the Info area is the Guide to ABLEDATA Indexing Terms listing all of the indexing terms used to classify products in the ABLEDATA database. The Guide can help database searchers develop an effective search strategy when looking for records for a specific type of product or help those new to the database to get a feel for the diversity of products included. Finally, the ABLEDATA Manufacturer Directory, containing complete contact information for companies and individuals with products included in the database, is available for downloading.

The centerpiece of the ABLEDATA website is the ABLEDATA database itself, accessed by clicking on the DATA button on the homepage. Fully searchable, this version of the database offers visitors to the website independent access to the ABLEDATA database 24 hours a day, providing information on adaptive devices and technology ranging from adaptive clothing to grab bars, from computer hardware and software to communication boards and books, from white canes to wheelchairs, from toys and games to hand-propelled tricycles. Searchers may choose one of four search options: A Brand Name Search scans the database for the product(s) with the entered word or phrase in the brand name, while a Company Search locates all products manufactured and/or distributed by a particular company. A Keyword Search finds all product records containing a particular word or phrase. For those familiar with database searching or who require a more specific set of search criteria, Boolean searching is offered.

Help Along the Way

While the ABLEDATA website is designed to foster independent use through attention to accessibility for all users and the provision of full instructions and clear labeling, assistance is readily available, if required. Three buttons are offered at the bottom of the homepage and at the bottom of the main page of each section. The FAQ button enables users to find the answers to frequently asked questions about the database and the ABLEDATA project, while the HELP button leads to information about the technical details of viewing and using the site, including information on browsers, printing, accessibility, and sending e-mail to staff. For additional assistance, website visitors may click on the MAIL button to open a pre-addressed e-mail form. Via e-mail, visitors may request help in locating information or searching the database (including developing search strategies) or simply make a comment.

Conclusion

The ABLEDATA website is an accessible gateway to assistive technology information on the World Wide Web, offering a variety of routes and some help along the way.

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