Benefits of Assistive Technology
By Kerry A. Wiley
Earlier this fall, I presented at a conference with a number of esteemed colleagues on the topic of Assistive Technology (AT). Participation in the conference increased my appreciation for the variety of technologies that support inclusion of people with disabilities in sports, fitness, and community involvement.
One of the sessions at the conference involved a group of engineers and high school students reconfiguring motorized toy cars and turning the cars (which could be bought in most toy stores) into mobility devices for a group of 2 and 3 year olds with severe disabilities. The cars had adapted switches that allowed the children to control the car and the direction that it moved. I watched as the cars began to move and how the children lit up the whole room with their sparkling eyes and smiles.
Every person in that room felt the joy and excitement of their discovery.
I have also used Assistive Technology (AT) since I was 4-years-old. Assistive Technology (canes and crutches) supported my ability to move, walk, and be independent. AT includes a range of devices such as walkers and wheelchairs, keyboards with large keys, software that reads text or makes text bigger. Devices can range from simple (e.g. a customized hand-grip on a walking device) to sophisticated assistive robotics.
Initially, I used devices that were expensive, heavy and cumbersome. The devices that helped me to move also drew unwanted attention at times. I had to minimize the stigma that could creep into situations and settings from the presence of the AT. I had to work to make my walking devices an extension of my personal space. My walking devices became the tool to participate in a sport – (e.g. the field hockey stick I used got duct taped to my walking device). The other problem with some available technologies is that the devices can quickly become outdated, parts can be hard to secure, and the expense of the technology is prohibitive.
I read an article called “Fix it with Tape” by Emily C. Bouck and colleagues which focused on “re-purposing” available technologies in educational settings for people with disabilities. Repurposing means finding alternate uses for generic technologies such as: iPods, computers, cellphones, or MP3 players, and making them assistive technology.
Ms. Bouck and her colleagues suggest using everyday technologies that most of us have (e.g. a cell-phone) can reduce stigma for people with disabilities because most everyone has a form of portable technology. The article suggests that technology has to be easy to use and portable.