By Courtney Tabor-Abbott
According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004, assistive technology is “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability.” The goal of assistive technology is to increase an individual’s access to school, work, or other activities of daily life. For individuals with vision impairments with or without additional disabilities, assistive technology is an essential component of daily life. The majority of products and activities in the world today are designed for people without vision impairments, or without specific attention to the needs of those with vision impairments. Therefore, many people with vision impairments will need specialized or modified equipment or materials to participate in activities equally with their sighted peers. Students require specific instruction in the realm of assistive technology in order to understand their particular AT needs and in how to access the various options in their assistive technology toolkits.
It can sometimes be challenging to begin conceptualizing the items or equipment encompassed in the realm of assistive technology. When we hear the term “assistive technology device,” we are often inclined to think of something high-tech (i.e. an iPad with accessibility applications or a video magnifier). Although devices like these are important AT solutions for many students, AT can also be a solution that is quite simple or low-tech.
Below are several examples of assistive technology devices that can assist students in school, at home, or in the community:
This refers to high or low-tech devices used to help a student to access either printed or electronic information. This can include:
This refers to any technology that assists a student with expressive or receptive communication. These may include:
This refers to devices that help support independent living skills and participation in everyday activities, including:
This includes devices and modifications that promote independent travel of individuals with vision impairments with or without additional disabilities, including:
As students prepare to leave high school and transition into adult life, it is essential that they, their families, and their education teams also begin to consider their assistive technology needs. The transition goals of each student combined with her current needs will help to determine what types of assistive technology will be useful to the student moving forward. Students should develop proficiencies in the use of assistive devices that will allow them to gain or maintain independence or that will promote their well-being.
Although assistive technology does not completely eliminate the challenges presented by a vision impairment or other disability, it can level the playing field so that individuals with vision impairments with or without additional disabilities can participate more fully in the same activities of their sighted peers. As described above, there are assistive devices to promote independence and well-being in nearly every component of life, from work to leisure. Students who have access to and education in some of the assistive technology options that meet their specific needs will be empowered to expand the realm of what is possible in their own lives both in the present and as they plan for their futures.
By Courtney Tabor-Abbott