1999 Conference Proceedings

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Overview of Assistive Technology

Bud Rizer, Ed.D.
Director, T.K. Martin Center

Janie Cirlot-New, MS, CCC/SLP
Augmentative Communication Specialist

Jill Ethridge, BS, OTR
Adaptive Computer Specialist

The annual CSUN Conference on Technology and Disability affords the assistive technology novice an excellent opportunity to learn a great deal in an abbreviated period of time. The problem experienced by most individuals entering the world of technology and disability is making sense of the large amount of available information and finding orderliness in the oftentimes-conflicting information. An appreciation for assistive technology applications requires equal part understanding of disability and technology. Assistive technology is represents both process and product. In an effort to transition the newcomer into a successful introduction to assistive technology, several of the major areas are covered in this course. In addition to the background information provided during the course time, participants will be provided with specific information regarding appropriate sessions and exhibitors to visit during the course of the conference to learn more about different types of products and applications. The following topics are important to the full understanding of assistive technology applications for persons with disabilities.

Definition of Assistive Technology

Assistive technology has numerous definitions, depending upon the population, the desired outcome, the type of technology used, and the credentials of the professional involved. The Technology Related Assistance for Persons With Disabilities Act of 1988 defines Assistive Technology as:

This identical definition has been adopted for other pieces of legislation, including the Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. This definition is generous in its language in that it opens many possibilities for what assistive technology can be. The definition does not imply that assistive technology must include computers, or that it must be expensive, or that certain medical professionals can only prescribe it. This definition permits assistive technology to only be restricted by our own creativity and imagination.

Range and Scope of assistive Technology

Because assistive technology applications are intended to decrease the functional limitations of a person with a disability, potential applications can include some of the following categories:

Resources for Assistive Technology

Numerous sources of information are available for the assistive technology novice as well as the seasoned professional. This information falls into several primary categories, summarized below:

Legislation/Policy Resources: Assistive technology has been greatly influenced by legislation. The Technology Related Assistance for Persons With Disabilities Act of 1988 and the new Assistive Technology Act of l998 as well as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) all provide references and establish mandates for the advancement and support or assistive technology programs in many existing public service areas, including Vocational Rehabilitation, Special Education, and Early Intervention.

Web Based Resources: The same computer technology used to address the functional limitations of a person with a disability can be used to gain more information about the available technology to achieve this goal. Many manufacturers, service providers, training facilities and other now post updated information on their respective Web Sites.

State Tech-Act Programs: Every state now operates a statewide assistive technology program through funding provided by the Tech Act of 1988. The purpose of these programs is to educate service providers and recipients of services regarding the potential of assistive technology applications and to seek systems change to assure that individuals in need of such services and devices have a means of acquiring the needed services.

Making Sense Out of so Much Technical Information:

Learning the differences between various products, approaches to specific problems, or strategies is dependent upon a foundation of basic knowledge regarding some of the factors that many forms of assistive technology share. A summary of different types of information required to better understanding computer related assistive technology applications include the following;

By understanding the basic goals of assistive technology, the resources available, the mandates of federal and state laws, and the elementary aspects of the technologies themselves, the novice to assistive technology can quickly transition to become an effective user or promoter of these concepts and strategies. Organization of basic information is crucial to interpreting new products and distinguishing products from one another Potential application of assistive technology is greatly enhanced through a strong foundation of knowledge coupled with creativity and problem-solving strategies.


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