The disabled persons may feel isolated and excluded because of the inability to lead their lives normally. They are unable to do the simple things that a normal person does such as using the phone or moving around. In order to enable the disabled to manage their daily lives, a range of devices has been invented. These devices enable the disabled individuals to be more independent and live better lives.
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This research explores the various technological devices that are available for people with all types of disabilities, and their impact on the individuals’ lives. The implementation of these devices in colleges and public places is also discussed. The shortcomings of these devices as well as suggestions for their improvement are also covered.
Devices for assisting the disabled
The visually impaired
To assist the visually impaired to use computers, there are Braille computer keyboards and Braille display to enable them to enter information and read it. The Braille display device produces Braille output. This device is useful for blind and deaf people. Screen reading software produces a voice output reading the text on a computer screen or prints out a Braille output.
Examples of such software include Window-Eyes, Serotek and Job access with Speech, among others. Screen reader technology has been incorporated in computers and iPhones by Apple.
There are also portable reading devices which assist the blind by downloading books and reading them out. Examples of these devices are the BookSense audio book and the Victor Reader Stream. These devices make available books of all types including entertainment and education1.
Another device for assisting the visually impaired is the Global Positioning System device. This device assists the blind people in moving around by calculating their exact locations and giving them directions to any destination, through speech or Braille display.
Some of the Global Positioning systems for the blind include Trekker, BrailleNote GPS, Mobile GEO and Street Talk. An electronic cane device is also useful in enabling the blind people to move around. This device makes the user aware of what is in the surrounding environment to enable them to reach their destination safely2.
Access to electronics by the blind is very important. Many household appliances’ are labeled in Braille to enable the blind to use them. Some of these devices include dish washers, refrigerators, DVD and MP3 players, microwaves, radios among others3.
The deaf cannot be able to make calls and can use e-mail or text messaging to communicate with others. Video phones can also help them to make a video call and communicate using sign language. The partially deaf can use high-powered speakers or amplified headphones to enhance their hearing ability when using the telephone. They can also use infrared systems to adjust the volume of television as desired.
The deaf need environmental alert systems to enable them to be aware of various situations. They can use vibrating alarms placed under the pillow to wake them up or alert them to fires. Other alarms have a lighting system to draw the attention of the deaf persons.
Examples of these alert devices include Sonic boom Alarm clock, Deluxe Alarm clock, Wireless Audio Visual Emergency System., Personal Tactile Signaler, among others4.
Cochlear implants can be used by the deaf to transmit sound directly to the auditory nerve. The people who use this device are those with serious nerve deafness and cannot benefit from other hearing aids. They are useful to people whose auditory nerves are not damaged. Deaf individuals with damaged auditory nerves can use the Auditory Brainstem Implant5.
The mobility impaired
There are various alternative keyboards for use by those with hand disabilities. For people with small hands, the Little Fingers keyboard is used. Those people with only one hand can use the BAT One-Handed keyboard. People who cannot use their hands can either use foot pedals as a substitute or gigantic trackballs.
People with no arms can not be able to type information using a keyboard. They can use computers with speech recognition software so that they just give voice commands to the computer which turns them into print6.
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People who cannot move their hands or legs can use a Tongue Touch Keypad to operate different devices like computers, telephone, bed, electronic wheelchair and music players.
This device is placed in the mouth and operated with the tongue to touch various keys. A fifteen year old boy from Maine who cannot move his legs or hands uses this device to operate various devices7.
Word prediction devices can also be used to assist in inputting the text and increases the speed of input of the user.
Wheelchairs that can climb stairs have been invented to enable the mobility impaired to access buildings that are accessible only through stairs8.
For people who cannot speak, there are devices which can help them to express their feelings. For instance, there is a device called Tango which was invented to help a boy who could not speak. The device has pictures which the user can touch to communicate his feelings. When the pictures are touched, a voice relays the feelings of the user. These people can also use video calls to communicate with others through sign language. Speech synthesizers can also be used to enable the mute to communicate9.
Employing devices for disabled students in colleges
In colleges, students use computers for a variety of purposes including to conduct research, write term papers, and to take part in online activities. Disabled students need to be able to use computers for these purposes10.
Devices for assisting disabled students enhance their productivity and compensate for their disabilities. Students with mobility impairments need to have access to special keyboards and mouse in order to be able to input information into the computers. These devices should meet the needs of students who cannot use their hands or can use one hand or one finger only. The computer equipments should also be able to be adjusted to different positions in order to meet the various needs of the disabled students11.
Blind students can be able to use access online instructions through the use of screen readers, optical character recognition software and Braille output devices.
Students who are partially blind can enhance their vision through using keyboards with enlarged keys, magnification software and large print output. In class, blind students can take notes through note-taking cassette recorders. They can also use talking clocks to be aware of the time12.
Deaf students experience challenges when accessing audio and visual files. Alternative formats for the audio visual files such as captioning and transcripts should be provided in order to assist them.
Mute students can use speech synthesizers to relay their information. Students with information-processing disabilities should be allowed to use spell-checking features in order to correct the errors in their work. All the facilities in the college e.g. classrooms, laboratories, among others, should be easily accessible by all the students. The facilities should be designed in such a way that disabled students can comfortably use them13.
Role of public places in implementing the equipment
People with disabilities can be assisted through making the environment more accessible to them. The designs of the environment and buildings should be able to accommodate assistive technology to help the disabled people to access them better.
Public areas, homes, buildings, recreational areas, buildings and transportation systems should be designed in such a way that the barriers that might inconvenience the disabled persons are removed. These facilities should have features like wheel-chair lifting devices, specially designed locks and door openers, ramps and approaches and elevating devices, among others14.
Designs used in construction of public facilities should be universal and free from all barriers to enable everyone to access them independently, freely and safely. For instance, buildings that are sonly accessible through the stairs cannot be accessed by physically disabled persons on wheelchairs.
Assistive technology cannot function well in an environment whose design is not accommodating. The use of assistive technology in an environment with accommodating design features helps the disabled people to go on with their lives more easily and can also reduce the disability levels or prevent the disability from getting worse15.
Public policies such as the Americans with Disabilities Act have been enforced to ensure that the disabled people have access to assistive technology and an environmental design which is conducive.
This act requires public officials, employees and businesses to ensure that the disabled people have access to an accommodating environment for them to perform their activities efficiently. Such people should be provided with assistive technological devices, flexible work schedules, accessible design, training and personal assistants.
The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act approves Federal finances to nations which support disabled persons by planning and developing technological assistance programs for them.
This act emphasizes the importance of planning in order to enable an increased access to technology by disabled persons. These states can increase the access to technology by instituting technical assistance and training to the disabled, providing assistive technological devices, and initiating projects to increase the public awareness.
Shortcomings of the devices for assisting the disabled
Though the assistive devices have helped improve the lives of the disabled, they have some shortcomings. Most of these devices are very expensive and may be inaccessible to all the disabled persons. For instance, screen readers are very expensive, with prices starting from $90016.
Some devices may not improve the functionality of the disabled persons and therefore become a hindrance to the individual. Others may be bulky and therefore impossible to carry around and inconvenient.
These devices are reliant on technology and may be unusable to people who have no access to the technology. These devices also require continued technological support in terms of maintenance and training. Moreover, the use of these devices requires adequate training and orientation and lack of this may lead to inability to use them17.
Users of the assistive technology may become over-reliant on it and be unable to develop their own skills. It may also be difficult to get the device that matches the exact needs of the user. Most of these devices are designed to cater for a single type of disability. Therefore, people with multiple disabilities may not benefit from them18.
Improving the devices for assisting the disabled
Assistive technological devices have been able to make the lives of many disabled persons easier and less independent on others. However, these devices are not the only solution for disability. The disabled can also benefit from personal assistance, adapting to new environments and learning new skills19.
The application and development of assistive technological devices can be enhanced through several strategies. The policy makers should be able to make these devices more accessible and affordable for all. Access to up-to-date information about the devices should also be made available. This will ensure that the correct devices are used by the disabled to enhance their functionality20.
The environment should be modified so as to accommodate the use of assistive technological devices. For instance, public places should be designed in a way that they are accessible by all people including the disabled.
Devices that cater for the needs of more than one disability should be designed. Some of the devices that are bulky should be designed in such a way that they are convenient and portable. Moreover, the devices should be designed to match the exact needs of the users21.
Technological devices for assisting the disabled have had a tremendous impact on the lives of the disabled persons. People with various disabilities are now living better lives and engaging in almost all normal activities.
These devices have been implemented and accommodated in public places like buildings, offices, schools and other places to make the lives of the disabled much easier. However, these devices have some shortcomings. These devices have greatly improved the quality of life for the disabled persons and enabled them to live normal and healthy lives.
Albrecht, Gary L., Seelman, Katherine D. and Bury, Michael. Handbook of Disability Studies. USA: Sage, 2001.
Batcheller, Lori. Assistive Technology for the Blind. 2011. Web.
Burgstahler, Sheryl. Working Together: People with Disabilities and Computer Technology. 2010. Web.
Carey, Allison C., Friedman, Mark G., Bryen, Diane Nelson and Taylor, Steven J. Use of Electronic Technologies by People With Intellectual Disabilities. Mental Retardation. 2005, Vol. 43,( 5), pp. 322-333.
Davis, Barbara Gross. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1993.
Day, Sheryl L. and Edwards, Barbara J. Assistive Technology for Postsecondary Students with Learning Disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities. 1996. Vol.29,(5), pp. 486-492.
Glinert, Ephraim P. and York, Bryant W. Computers and people with disabilities. Communications of the ACM. Vol. 35( 5),1992.
Hardman, Michael., Drew, Clifford and Egan, Winston. Human Exceptionality: School, Community, and Family. London, Cengage Learning, 2010
Hersh, Marion A. Assistive Technology for Visually Impaired and Blind People.USA: Springer, 2007
Lewis, Rena B. Assistive Technology and Learning Disabilities:Today’s Realities and Tomorrow’s Promises. Journal of Learning Disabilities. 1998. vol. 31(1) pp.16-26.
McGuire, Joan. M., and O’Donnell, Jennifer. M. Helping Learning Disabled Students to Achieve: Collaboration Between Faculty and Support Services. College Teaching, 1989,Vol. 37(1), pp.29-32.
Nakasone, Jon. Assistive Technology and Accessibility. 1999. Web.
Pell, Stephen D., Gillies, Robyn M. and Carss, Marjorie. Relationship between use of technology and employment rates for people with physical disabilities in Australia: Implications for education and training programmes. Disability and rehabilitation. 1997, Vol. 19,(8) , pp.332-338
Press, Sedgwick. The Complete Directory for People with Disabilities. New York: Grey House Pub., 2001
Scherer, Marcia J. Assistive technology: matching device and consumer for successful rehabilitation. USA: American Psychological Association, 2002.
Tomlinson, Carole Anne. Devices to Help the Blind. 2010. Web.
Wren, Carol, and Segal, Laura. College Students with Learning Disabilities: A Student Perspective. Chicago: Project Learning Strategies, DePaul University, 1985
1 Marion A., Hersh. Assistive Technology for Visually Impaired and Blind People.USA: Springer, 2007.
2 Lori, Batcheller. Assistive Technology for the Blind. 2011. Web.
3 Carole Anne, Tomlinson. Devices to Help the Blind. 2010. Web.
4 Gary L., Albrecht, Katherine D., Seelman and Michael, Bury. Handbook of Disability Studies. USA: Sage, 2001.
5 Gary L., Albrecht, Katherine D., Seelman and Michael, Bury. Handbook of Disability Studies. USA: Sage, 2001.
6 Ephraim P., Glinert and Bryant W., York. Computers and people with disabilities. Communications of the ACM. Vol. 35( 5),1992.
7 Gary L., Albrecht, Katherine D., Seelman and Michael, Bury. Handbook of Disability Studies. USA: Sage, 2001.
8 Hardman, Michael., Drew, Clifford and Egan, Winston. Human Exceptionality: School, Community, and Family. London, Cengage Learning, 2010
9 Gary L., Albrecht, Katherine D., Seelman and Michael, Bury. Handbook of Disability Studies. USA: Sage, 2001.
10 Carol, Wren and Laura, Segal. College Students with Learning Disabilities: A Student Perspective. Chicago: Project Learning Strategies, DePaul University, 1985.
11 Joan M., McGuire, and Jennifer. M., O’Donnell, Helping Learning Disabled Students to Achieve: Collaboration Between Faculty and Support Services. College Teaching, 1989, Vol. 37(1), pp.29-32.
12 Sheryl L., Day and Barbara J., Edwards. Assistive Technology for Postsecondary Students with Learning Disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities. 1996. Vol.29,(5), pp. 486-492.
13 Barbara Gross, Davis. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1993.
14 Jon, Nakasone. Assistive Technology and Accessibility. 1999. Web.
15 Gary L., Albrecht, Katherine D., Seelman and Michael, Bury. Handbook of Disability Studies. USA: Sage, 2001.
16 Sheryl, Burgstahler. Working Together: People with Disabilities and Computer Technology. 2010. Web.
17 Allison C., Carey., Mark G., Friedman, Diane Nelson, Bryen and Steven J., Taylor. Use of Electronic Technologies by People With Intellectual Disabilities. Mental Retardation. 2005, Vol. 43,( 5), pp. 322-333.
18 Press, Sedgwick. The Complete Directory for People with Disabilities. New York: Grey House Pub., 2001.
19 Stephen D., Pell, Robyn M., Gillies, and Marjorie, Carss. Relationship between use of technology and employment rates for people with physical disabilities in Australia: Implications for education and training programmes. Disability and rehabilitation. 1997, Vol. 19,(8) , pp.332-338.
20 Rena B., Lewis. Assistive Technology and Learning Disabilities:Today’s Realities and Tomorrow’s Promises. Journal of Learning Disabilities. 1998. vol. 31(1) pp.16-26.
21 Marcia J., Scherer. Assistive technology: matching device and consumer for successful rehabilitation. USA: American Psychological Association, 2002.