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What are assistive technologies?
The Technology Related Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 described an assistive technology device as "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 individuals with disabilities."
Assistive technologies can be "high tech" and "low tech:" from canes and lever doorknobs to voice recognition software and augmentative communication devices (speech generating devices).
Service dogs are dogs that are trained to help their owner with a specific disability. For example, dogs can be trained to pick things up, visually guide those with visual impairments, remind you to take medication, or help those with poor balance.
- Service dogs can go to public places with their owners, even places that dogs are not usually allowed to go like airplanes or restaurants.
Various types of canes, most popularly the long cane, can help individuals who are blind or have low vision navigate with confidence.
Electronic Mobility Aids
Electronic mobility aids are devices that use ultrasonic waves to reflect off of obstacles in front of the individual to tell them what is coming in front of them. The usefulness of these devices is debated and they often need to be used in conjunction with a long cane or a service dog. Some examples include:
Ray Electronic Mobility Aid
This small device can help users detects obstacles up to 9.35 feet away. When an object is detected users get an audio signal.
The UltraCane is a combination of an electronic mobility aid and a long cane. The cane itself emits ultrasonic waves so that the user can detect objects in front of them and at head level.
These assistive technologies are examples of software/devices that can help those who are blind or visually impaired read printed material or surf the web.
JAWS Screen Reader
JAWS stands for Job Access With Speech and is a popular screen reader. JAWS works with Windows operating system and provides text-to-speech and braille output.
This text-to-speech software can help those who are blind or visually impaired use computers and also can read scanned printed material. Kurzweil offers various versions for individuals, schools, and institutions.
Refreshable Braille Displays
This page from the American Foundation for the Blind has a list of refreshable braille displays. These devices processes information on computer displays and electronically raises and lowers different combinations of pins in braille cells. It changes continuously as the user moves the cursor around on the screen.
Employees with Visual Impairments
Accommodation and Compliance Series: Blindness
The Job Accommodation Center provides guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues. This page lists resources for effective accommodations for those with visual impairments.
Finding Assistive Technology
AbleData is a database that contains unbiased information about assistive technology products. You can search by product name, maker, or by product category, such as blind/low vision or communication.
TapTapSee is available for iOS users can help identify objects through photos. Double tap on the screen to take a photo and it will recognize the object out loud.
Color ID Free
This app helps users identify colors in objects. Useful for determining things like matching clothes or telling whether your devices are charged.