Saturday, September 29, 2012

Low Tech vs. High Tech

What is the difference between low tech and high tech in regards to Assistive Technology?

First, it is important to understand what is assistive technology to begin with.  To paraphrase many definitions that are available, assistive technology is the use of a device to assist with improving the function of the user.  For example, a pair of glasses can be considered assistive technology as they assist with vision.  A walker can be considered assistive technology as it helps with walking or ambulation.  There are also different levels of assistive technology, and this can be broken down into low and high tech devices.

Low technology does not require a power source.  Sometimes this can be the easiest and most practical of solutions in assistive technology.  Low tech devices are items that facilitate independence in an area as does high tech devices.  Examples of low tech are a cane for assistance with walking, a pencil grip for children with grasp issues, or even glasses to assist an individual with seeing their environment.  

Even if an individual can benefit from high tech assistive technology, it is always important that they have a low tech "backup".  Technology can fail, batteries die, and emergencies can happen.  In these cases, an individual will continue to meet their needs using their low tech device.  Also, low tech devices might be all a user needs.  High tech is not indicated for everyone.

Before we discuss high tech devices, there is another classification that many individuals use, mid tech.  The difference between mid tech  and low or high tech  is that mid tech has a battery source.  Typically, they have limited capability but do have a power source.  This can include communication devices that can be pre-programmed with single pre-saved phrases or simple remotes that can control an individual's lights.  

 Again, mid tech can also be an appropriate option for individuals.  They are simple devices that can facilitate independence for the user.

High Technology:

Users of high technology are typically individuals with significant functional impairments.  This can includes folks with spinal cord injuries, Lou Gehrig's disease, or muscular dystrophy.  Examples of high tech devices are:
  • Communication devices with alternative access methods such as eye gaze
  • Stand alone environmental control units, with alternative access, that can control multiple devices in the user's environment
  • Computer workstations with alternative software and hardware for access, such as a head mouse or dwell click software 
These devices can assist a person with the most minimal of movement to independently communicate or control their computer.  

Funding can be a challenge for these devices and they can be quite costly.  Communication devices (or AAC devices) can often be partially covered by insurance companies.  A qualified professional can assist with the selecting the appropriate device for the user's needs and goals, as well as obtaining funding for best device choice.

What have your experiences with these forms of assistive technology?

Friday, August 17, 2012

What is Word Prediction?

What is Word Prediction Software?

Word prediction software attempts to assist the user by "predicting" words as they type.  The words predicted can very depending on the program and the settings for the user.  This can range from the first letter typed, the previous words in the sentence, and frequent use.

With some text to speech programs, the users can make a choice by either hitting the number (or with some programs key combinations) and have it inserted into their sentence.  Choices can also be made using a mouse.  Words can be programmed into the program's dictionary that are not initially there, such as the user's name.  There are many other options that can be changed with this type of software, such as:

  • Font size of the words in the predicted list
  • Spacing added after words chosen off the list
  • Two spaces added after a period
  • Text to speech features for words chosen.  This can also include reading the entire sentence when punctuation is added if set up for this feature.
What about phrase prediction?Phrase prediction predicts phrases.  For example, if a user types the word "go" in addition to words that begin with go phrases such as "good morning" will also be predicted.

Where could someone use word prediction?

Word prediction can be used with any program that a person would normally add text.  This would include email, social networking sites, documents, even instant messaging.   

Who would benefit from word prediction software?

Word prediction software can benefit adults and children with various issues.  This can include individuals with learning disabilities such as dyslexia or other issues with spelling.  

Adults that would benefit:
  • Typists slower than 15 WPM
  • Individuals that have pain with extended typing.  Word prediction software will decrease the amount of keys that need to be pressed.
  • Word finding difficulty
  • Individuals that user alternative access for typing such as a head mouse or eye gaze
Word prediction can be an important tool for users with varying impairments.  Through evaluation and trial of various hardware and software can increase an individual's independence.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Talk About Adaptable!

This is an amazing video that highlights the goal of having an adaptABLEworld!  It highlights the importance of thinking outside of the box to address the needs of individuals with disabilities.  Through the use of a 3-D printer, this child has gained a level of independence she might not have known otherwise.

Just another example of ways to adapt or use technology for individuals with disabilities!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mouse Keys

What Are Mouse Keys?

Mouse keys are an alternative way to perform mouse skills for individuals that have physical impairments that would limit their ability to utilize a conventional mouse.  Mouse keys allow the numeric keyboard to emulate mouse functions.  For example, when the user presses the number 8, the pointer will move up.  Pressing the number 6 moves the pointer to the right.  When using mouse keys, the conventional mouse is not required.  The image below helps illustrate these buttons and their correlating movements.

This feature is available with both the Windows and Macintosh operating systems.  Below are screen shots of where to access this feature in both operating systems.



The rate of speed of the mouse point can be modified in the settings to accommodate for the users needs.  Access of the numeric keyboard can be achieved through direct selection of the an individuals hands on the keyboard,  a mouth stick or pointing device on the physical keyboard, or use of the on screen keyboard.  In addition, if is easier for the individual, the mouse pointer can be made bigger for increased independence in the mouse settings (please see an earlier post).  

Mouse keys is another example of how simple modifications can facilitate independence for an individual with a disability.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Alternative Mouse Control

There are many ways that an individual with disabilities can control their computer.  If the individual can control their mouse, they can typically control their entire computer.  This can be achieved through alternative access methods such as head, eye, or mouth control.

Using a Quad Mouse:

An example of an alternative mouse is a Quad Mouse or a mouse that the user can control with their mouth.  

Quad Mouse is a joystick that plugs into a computer that enables an individual with significant physical impairments control their computer.  The user moves the joystick with the mouse to move the mouse pointer.  For example, if the individual moves the mouse up with their mouse, the pointer on the screen moves up.  

How does the user click with this mouse?  

The user can click one of several ways.  The first way is to use dwell click software, see previous blog post describing this: 

The second way to click is through sip and puff clicking.  Through sipping and puffing, the user can emulate all mouse functions.  This includes left and right click, double click, and lock and drag.

An additional way that the user can click is through an ability switch that is mounted at a site of accurate movement.  This can be through a very small movement, such as a toe or finger, or a gross movement, such as a knee or elbow.  When accessing a switch access site, it is very important to choose an area that does not fatigue.  

How does a user type?

The user types using an on screen keyboard.  This can be the keyboard that comes within the accessibility options of the computer.  Additional on screen keyboards can be installed that have features to increase efficiency with typing such as word prediction.

It is always important to remember to trial various types of hardware and software before making the final decision on the most appropriate equipment.  After a fully evaluation, assisting with setup and training is just as important to facilitate independence for the user.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Voice Recognition Software

Voice Recognition Software or speech recognition software translates spoken words into text in regards to computer access or typing on a computer.  It is software that has been around for many years.  It can benefit a large population of individuals; ranging from people suffering with repetitive strain injuries to spinal cord injured individuals.  

Many voice recognition programs require the user to participate in a "training" task.  With this task, the user reads a passage so that the software can "learn" that person's speech patterns and pronunciations of words.  The program might also "read" text that is already saved on the user's computer to see how that individual writes grammatically.  

What are some of the benefits of voice recognition software?

Voice Recognition Software can enable an individual with limited or no upper extremity movement to access their computer independently.  It can be a quick way to get a lot of words on the page possibly decreasing fatigue and pain for certain individuals.  Since we speak faster than we type, once independent in the use, the user could "type" quickly, increasing efficiency and productivity in a work related environment as well as if used for leisure tasks.

What are some of the challenges of voice recognition software?

It can never be 100% accurate.  We have to remember that this is a computer and not a person.  If we say the wrong word, the wrong word will be typed; it cannot infer what was meant.  

Speaking to type is a completely different way of typing and can take some getting used to for an individual that is used to access their computer with their hands.  There can be a higher cognitive load to prepare what you want to say versus just figuring it out as you type.  Extended talking can be very fatiguing.  Often, this type of software would not be best for individuals that fatigue easily or energy conservation is important for their function.

Background noise can affect the accuracy as can if the user has a cold and does not sound like their usual self.  It is best to use this software in a quiet environment.  

It requires quite a bit of memory and processing speed.  If you are thinking of investing in this type of software, be sure to check the specifications required to run this software effectively.  

Finally, there are a large amount of commands that this software requires in order for the user to be completely hands-free.  For an individual with a spinal cord injury, they would need to learn the commands for independence with use.  If the user can access the keyboard, sometimes they choose to use the software to get the words on the page but use the keyboard and the mouse to fix any errors.  The individual has to see what works best for them.

Overall, the use of voice recognition software can be beneficial for the appropriate individual.  As with any assistive technology, there are pros and cons to its use.  It is important to remember that there are many software options available to facilitate independence in an individual.  If voice recognition software is not an appropriate option, there are many other items on the market to try.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Large Button Keyboards

Earlier, a blog post was done on mini keyboards.  It is also important to know about large button keyboards.  

Typically, mini keyboards are indicated for one handed users or individuals that good fine motor control but impaired gross motor control.  Conversely, large button keyboards are indicated for individuals with impaired fine motor, poor gross motor skills.  Users with poor fine motor require larger buttons since they need larger targets for increased accuracy.  

With both mini keyboards and large button keyboards alternative layouts can be obtained; either the standard QWERTY layout that is most commonly used or an ABC layout.  Depending on the keyboard, additional features can be obtained such as alternative colors or number of keys.

Something as simple as changing the size of the keyboard can facilitate independence for an person with impairments.  Individuals that would benefit from this type of change can vary but are not limited to individuals with Parkinson's disease, stroke survivors, Multiple Sclerosis, or Cerebral Palsy.  It is important to always evaluate all forms of technology, including various large button keyboards to make sure to find the best fit for the user for an adaptABLE world.