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For people with disabilities, assistive technology means a better quality of life. But as technology increases in complexity, it can present solutions wrapped in complications.
Motorized wheelchairs need ergonomic adjustment before they can be used. Voice recognition software has to be programmed to respond to the user's voice. Feeding tube pumps require calibration. Most assistive technologies do come with instructions, but what about tech support? What about training? What about practice and the learning curve, and the human side of technology?
This is where the Assistive Technology and Human Services (ATHS) professional comes in. These specialists understand all aspects of the new technologies, from conceptualization and design to use and instruction. Now, Cal State Northridge offers the Master of Science in Assistive Technology Studies and Human Services (ATHS).
In California alone, the use of assistive technology has doubled over the past twenty years. Consequently, there are increasing employment opportunities for assistive technology professionals. The US Department of Labor predicts long-term growth in healthcare, scientific and technical service - and social assistance.
The new master's degree program is a collaboration of three colleges. Health and Human Development, the Tseng College of Extended Learning and the College of Engineering and Computer Science designed the program to balance technology and human services.
Over sixty faculty collaborated to develop the program. Drs. Mary Ann Cummins-Prager (Associate Vice President, Student Affairs) and Victoria Jaque (Kinesiology) played major roles in establishing it. Dr. Jaque now serves as the Academic Director of the program.
Jaque says she was initially attracted to the ATHS because of her son. “He uses assistive technology throughout the day,” Jaque said. “There is a learning curve – sometimes it’s steep. I had to figure out how to use every piece of equipment and teach my son and the rest of the family to use it. The industry needs a branch dedicated to the human side of this technology and I’m thrilled that the first Assistive Technology Studies and Human Services master’s program in the US is at CSUN.”
Studies encompass research and design; law, ethics and policy; counseling education; and the dynamics of play. The technological aspects are enhanced by the program's link to the master's program in Assistive and Rehabilitative Technology created by the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
“Since the ATHS is offered through the Tseng College, it's self-supporting,” said Jaque. Using a multidisciplinary approach, the team worked with the guidelines established by Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the program has the support of the federal government.
The CSUN program attracts occupational, physical and speech therapists and technologists as well as students with bachelors’ degrees in other fields. According to Jaque, “Some students come to us because they have children who use the technology. They start out with a curiosity about how to help their child, and their interest grows into a pursuit of the professional degree.”
Although there are bachelors’ degrees, online programs and certifications (the CSUN Center on Disabilities offers a superb certificate program) students in the CSUN ATHS masters’ program go further into the details of the profession to develop a deep understanding of current and future technology.
Technology doesn't do anyone any good if it can’t be utilized. Without education and training, people revert to just getting by with old methods, and devices are abandoned. With the help of Assistive Technology and Human Services professionals, practical solutions abound.