Return to Georgia Bureau for Students with Physical and Health Impairments Homepage
The term, assistive technology (AT), refers to any piece of equipment or product system that is used to increase or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. This definition includes very unsophisticated devices (i.e., low-tech or light tech devices) such as mouthsticks that hold pencils or pens for writing. It also refers to more electronically based sophisticated devices (i.e., high-tech devices) such as on-screen keyboards that can be activated by raising an eyebrow to permit writing on a computer. Assistive technology is also used across all areas of life such as using a low vision device to see, using an augmentative communication device to speak, using AT to permit access to academic material, and using a mechanical feeder in order to eat. Assistive technology opens up the door of opportunity and independence for individuals with disabilities. Note: Neither the authors of this website, Georgia State University, the Georgia Department of Education, nor the United States Department of Education promote the use of any specific item listed below. Rather, the information is provided for information purposes only.
Assistive technology labs are meant to house a range of assistive technology. By doing so, these labs allow individuals an opportunity to explore the various types of assistive technologies that are available. The Assistive Technology Labs at Georgia State University, for example, are for students, consumers, and interested persons to have the opportunity to learn about and explore the various devices and software in order to determine their usefulness for their students with disabilities or for their own personal use.
The amount of assistive technology that is found in AT labs is too numerous to cover in this article. However, some sample devices and programs are presented to give the reader an idea of the expansiveness of the field of AT and what are some of the devices and programs available to individuals with disabilities. All of the discussed devices or software can be found at Georgia State University's AT labs. However, since there are many more devices and programs than are found in this article, the reader may want to contact the Bureau for Students with Physical and Health Disabilities to determine the availability of AT that is not discussed in this article.
Large, multi-megabyte "movie" files are used on this site. Be aware that it will take a very long period of time to download these files using a dial-up modem. Run these files only if you have a broad-band or other fast connection. Dial-up modems will take hours to down-load any one of these files.
These files are provided in three formats; Quicktime (.mov); AVI (.avi Video for Windows), an older format that is understood by Windows although it is no longer a standard; and Motion JPEG (MPEG, .mpg). QuickTime is available as a free download from Apple Computers at: http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/. MPEG viewers for your particular type of computer system can be found at http://www.versiontracker.com and are a reasonable alternative to Quicktime.
SAMPLE AT DEVICES FOR ACCESSING WRITING TOOLS AND COMPUTERS
|1. Writing with a Mouthstick and Slant Board - Click image to enlarge.|
This student is using a mouth stick in conjunction with a slant-board to write a paper. These devices are used for students with limited or no movement or control in the arms. The slant board is adjustable to different heights. To prevent the slant board from moving, it is sitting on a piece of non slip material, known as dycem. Sometimes adapted paper may be used that has wider (or darker) lines.
|2. Accessibility Options on Computers.||
Operating systems on computers come with various accessibility options that can aid individuals with physical or sensory impairments to more easily access the computer. In Windows, the Accessibility Options are found under the Control Panel. One example found in the Accessibility Options file is Filter Keys. (Filter Keys allows Windows to ignore brief or repeated keystrokes or slow the repeat rate). Can you find the Accessibility Options on your computer?
|3. Keyboard Modifications - Click image to enlarge|
The typical keyboard that comes standard with computers can be modified. For example, labels can be placed over the keys that have dark bold letters on a white background to make the letters easier to see. (See picture). A keyguard (plastic cover with holes over the keys) can be attached to a standard keyboard to allow students with physical disabilities to drag their hand over the keyguard until the arrive at the letter they want and then they can push their finger through the hole to depress the key on the keyboard.
4. Alternative Keyboards
There are many different types of alternate keyboards. Some appear similar to standard keyboards, but come if different shapes and sizes. Other keyboards may not be recognizable as a keyboards and require specialized training. The following pictures show examples of large and small alternative keyboards.
Large Alternative Keyboards - Click image to enlarge.
Some students with physical disabilities can access a computer best by using a large alternative keyboard. Some keyboards, such as an Intellikeys, can be programmed to use different keyboards arrangements and symbol configurations. Others can only be used as a keyboard. In the picture, a student is using Big Keys, a large alternative keyboard which enables her to access a computer word processing program. It has large letters and highly contrasting keys making it good for younger students or those with vision or perceptual difficulties.
Small Alternative Keyboards - Click image to enlarge.
Students with limited range of motion are able to access a computer by using a small alternative keyboard. In this picture, a student is using a TASH MiniWin keyboard. A key guard is attached to assist with accuracy, reducing unintended key activation.
5. On Screen Keyboards & Alternative Input Devices (Head mouse)
Reach: An On Screen Keyboard - Click image to enlarge.
This student is using an onscreen keyboard in conjunction with a joystick to access a word processing program. An on-screen keyboard allows users with limited motor control to move a cursor across the screen via alternative access and click on the appropriate key to create words and sentences. This particular program includes a letter prediction feature. After typing a letter, the keyboard will display only the letters that can reasonably follow. This feature enhances speed and accuracy of the typist.
Touch Monitor and On Screen Keyboards - Click image to enlarge.
This student is using a touch monitor to access computer software. The touch monitor allows the user to directly touch the screen in place of using a mouse. This may be combined with an on screen keyboard or software program that uses a mouse.
Using One's Own Eyebrow to Type with and On Screen Keyboard - Click image to start QuickTime movie (larger file, 8.8 MB).
(Note: QuickTime is available as a free download from Apple Computers at: http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/)
Click here to down-load an AVI version of this file (largest file, 11.5 MB).
Click here to down-load a MPEG version of this file (large file, 6.7 MB).
This student is typing a message using her eyebrow! The on-screen keyboard (EZ Keys) highlights blocks, rows, and individual letters depending upon what the student selects. Selection of the block, row or individual letter is made by the student moving her eyebrow which has a small switch that detects motor movement mounted under a headband. The program includes word prediction that displays words starting with the first letter(s) so that the word can be selected without having to type it out completely.
6. Voice Recognition Software - Click image to start QuickTime movie (larger file, 6.6 MB).
Click here to down-load an AVI version of this file (largest file, 9.3 MB).
Click here to down-load a MPEG version of this file (large file, 5.1 MB).
Voice recognition software allows the user to speak into a headset or microphone instead of typing by hand. The software converts the voice to text. It provides students with limited motor skills and/or processing problems an alternative means of computer access and control.
7. Screen Readers
Students with visual impairments may require software programs that read what is on the computer monitor. Several programs may be used. JAWS is one example.
SAMPLE AT PROGRAMS TO INCREASE WRITING EFFICIENCY
1. Word Prediction Software
Word prediction software, such as Cowriter, Reach, and EZ keys, provides possible word choices as the person types. For example, if the person was writing the word "definitely" on the computer. After typing the "d" the computer may display possible word choices such as "date," "dear," "decide," and "dare". Upon typing "de" the choices will change to reflect the second letter and may display "dear," "depend," "definite," and "definitely". The student can then select the displayed word instead of typing out the entire word. This is helpful for students with physical disabilities who type very slowly or for students with learning disabilities who use the word prediction to assist with sentence construction.
2. Talking Word Processors
Talking Word Processors, such as Write Out Loud, can speak letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs. It can also be set to highlight each word as it reads. It can be used to read while the student types and to read the entire document when the student is finished.
3. One Handed Typing Programs
There are several programs designed for individuals who only have one hand. The Half-Qwerty program, for example, allows the person to keep one hand on one side of the keyboard. Upon holding the space bar, the other half of the letters are transposed on the opposite side of the keyboard. For example, if a person only had a left hand, he would keep his left hand in the traditional position. To type an "f" it would be accessed by depressing the "f" with the left index finger. To type a "j", the person would depress the space bar and press the "f" which is now a "j". Another program, called Five Finger Typist" teaches the user how to type by placing his hand in the middle of the home row.
This software program assists students to organize what they are going to write to displaying their ideas in a graph or outline form. It can be accessed from any of the GSU computers in the Instructional Technology Center as well as the AT Labs.
NOTE TAKING DEVICES
|1. Portable Word Processor: AlphaSmart - Click image to enlarge.|
This student is using a portable word processing device to compose a written assignment. The device is lightweight and contains room to store personal files. All files can be transferred to a computer through a cable or an infrared connection, or printed directly to a computer.
2. Adapted Tape Recorders
Students may tape lectures for future reference. Some tape recorders are specially designed for easy access and use. Check out the adapted tape recoder in the AT lab.
3. Transmitting Notes from a Board to a Computer
There are several devices and programs that allow notes written on a white board or chalk board to be transmitted directly to a student's computer. These devices capture a "picture" of what is drawn or handwritten on the board and sends it to the computer to be displayed. There is special software to convert the handwriting to a computer font. Examples are Smart Boards and products found at www.mimio.com
|1. Braille Writing Devices - Click image to enlarge.|
This GSU student is using a Braille 'N Speak. This is an electronic braille device with voice output capabilities. The Braille 'N Speak allows the user to type in Braille and the files can be saved and printed on a laser printer or Braille embosser for printed or Braille output. (Some devices will also provide refreshable Braille, which allows the user to feel the Braille as it is typed.) In the background is a standard Perkins brailler which directly brailles on paper.
2. Converting Print to Braille
Several AT programs are available that convert print to Braille (e.g., MegaDots, Duxburr). Check the assistive technology lab for a demonstration.
AT DEVICES AND PROGRAMS THAT ENLARGE PRINT
1. Low Vision Devices
Students may use a wide range of devices to make print accessible. A simple low tech solutions may be a magnifier. High tech devices, such as Flippers, may allow a student to see a blackboard or whiteboard when worn by the user since it enlarges print that is at a distance.
|2. CCTV - Click image to enlarge.|
This student is using a closed circuit television to magnify the words and images in his book. The device is used for persons with low vision to enlarge text, pictures, and objects that are placed below the monitor.
|3. Liberty - Click image image to enlarge.|
Students with visual impairments can use this hand held magnifying device to enlarge print or pictures. The color of the print and background can be changed, depending on visual need. In this picture, the print color is changed to yellow and black.
|4. Zoom Text - Click image to enlarge.|
This person is using a screen-enlarging program called Zoomtext. It is used for persons with visual impairments and can enlarge the entire computer screen or be used with a split screen to help with orientation.
ACCESSING WORKSHEETS/ STUDY AIDS
There are several programs that may be used to scan worksheets into a computer and allow the student to fill in the blanks of the worksheet. PaperPort is an example of one of these. There are also more sophisticated programs such as Kurzweiler 3000 & WYNN that can also read the text and allow the students to make notes on the scanned material. Several additional features allow these programs to serve as study aids. Check the newsletter article on "Making Classroom Materials Accessible to Students with Writing Deficits" for more information on PaperPort and Kurzweiler 3000.
AT PROGRAMS AND DEVICES TO PROMOTE LITERACY
|1. Programs Using Symbols to Promote Literacy - Click image to enlarge.|
Some computer programs (e.g., Writing with Symbols, Pix Writer) will automatically displays symbols on the computer screen above the words being typed. These symbols/ words combinations can aid in reading or be arranged to promote writing. In the picture, the teacher is using a program called Pix Writer to set up vocabulary for a student. In this activity, the vocabulary words appear at the bottom of the screen and the student clicks on a picture and the word symbol appears together in the sentence.
2. Speaking Dynamically Pro
Speaking Dynamically Pro is a software program that can be used as an augmentative communication device as well as a program to promote literacy. Reading and writing activities can be easily made using the program. It can also assist with accessing other academic areas. Check the newsletter article on "Academic Activities using Speaking Dynamically Pro" for more information.
3. Card Reader
Simple card readers can be used to record a word or sentence on a strip of paper. The student can place the card in the reader for it to be played back. This simple low tech device is simple to operate and use.
4. Multiple software programs
Most AT labs have multiple programs that can promote reading. Some examples of reading programs include Balanced Literacy Reading Program, Sentence Master, and Treasure Island. Supporting programs to develop phonics, word identification, comprehension, and spelling are available.
SAMPLE AUGMENTATIVE COMMUNICATION DEVICES
|1. Low tech communication board using words and alphabet - Click image to enlarge.|
This is a low tech communication board created with Boardmaker. Boardmaker is a computer program that uses picture symbols, letters, words, and numbers to create communication boards. Boards can be specific to match communication devices or custom made for the individual. This student does not need symbols, but uses written messages or the alphabet to spell out what he wants to communicate.
|2. Low-Tech Augmentative Communication - Click image to enlarge.|
This student is using a photocopy of a standard QWERTY keyboard to spell out messages with his left big toe. He has no arms and has voice output switches placed at each shoulder to answer yes/no questions.
|3. Dynavox - Click image to enlarge.|
The Dynavox is a voice output communication device for students who are unable to speak. Touching words, letters, or picture symbols will activate stored messages. It hold several pages of information and can be custom programmed to each individual student needs.
|4. Liberator - Click image to enlarge.|
For students unable to speak, special augmentative communication devices are available. Using the Liberator, messages are constructed through combining symbols (Minspeak). The message is then both displayed on a screen and spoken using voice output.
SAMPLE INDEPENDENT LIVING DEVICES
1. Winsford Feeder - Click image to start QuickTime movie (larger file, 4 MB).
Click here to down-load an AVI version of this file (largest file, 5.8 MB).
Click here to down-load a MPEG version of this file (large file, 3.1 MB).
This student is using a mechanical feeding device to assist with eating. This device is used for persons with limited or no motor control in their upper body. The feeder will rotate the plate, scoop food, and lift the spoon to the user.
|2. Switch operated fan - Click image to enlarge.|
This student is operating a personal fan by pressing on a switch which can be used to activate a variety of electronic devices allowing individuals personal control of items found within their environments.
SAMPLE POSITIONING DEVICE
|Prone Stander - Click image to enlarge.|
This person is using a positioning device to help her stand. Physical therapists, under a doctors order, may have students with physical disabilities use this device to help promote bone growth, muscle development, and other important health related issues. A student will typically use this device when doing any number of activities, such as reading a book, working on academic work, dish washing, and art activities.
NOTE: The Bureau for Students with Physical and Health Impairments does not endorse any product.