Assistive technologies aid people with disabilities

December 14, 2009 4:44:08 AM PST
Assistive technologies are making it possible for people with disabilities to succeed, but it is challenging to keep up with the ever-changing devices that are available. There are so many innovative devices for different disabilities that it takes a lot of time and patience to find the ones that work best.

At Chicago's Assistive Technology Industry Association conference held several weeks ago, consumers were able to check out some of the newest items. It was the first time the 10-year-old ATIA held its conference in Chicago.

More than 125 booths were visited by thousands of people, including professionals, families and those with disabilities.

Don Johnston Incorporated has 200 products for people with learning disabilities.

"We have software products. We have hardware products," Johnston said. "We can have the computer read text, bring text in, form text books to the Web, and speak it and then let students to use strategies, learning strategies, comprehension strategies."

"We also help with the writing process," he said.

Johnston has been in business for 30 years. He said the most important thing is the success of students with learning disabilities.

"We have a drop-out rate in this country of one-third of students dropping out of school, and part of that is because they aren't being successful. And it can support students and make them successful. We are more likely to have success in the curriculum and reduce drop out rate," said Johnston.

Ablelink Technologies has software programs for people with cognitive disabilities and also traumatic brain injuries.

"We have developed technologies to support those activities and create a very simplified interface for folks that would have difficulty using mainstream technology to do that. So, we use a lot of pictures, a lot of audio, multi-media presentation, very simplified step-by-step manual in a very consistent manner so that it's very easy to use," said Ablelink's Daniel Davies.

Prices range from $99 dollars to $1,000, depending upon the type of software application.

Dynavox are speech generated devices for people who need synthetic or digitized speech.

"For children who have cerebral palsy or children with ALS or returning war veterans with traumatic brain injuries, or adults with ALS," said Richard Allenson, chief officer of Magnavox. "We have the tango, and we have a new device, which is called the Express. It's very small. We have the Eye-Maz, which allows people to control things with their eyes, and each one of these are best suited to the needs of the person. And then after that, we have all kinds of language on there that a person can choose from," said Allenson.

Prices range from $4,000 to $8,000.

"I should also say that all of the products are usually paid for by Medicaid or Medicare or insurance companies," Allenson said.

ATIA's executive director, David Dikter, says technology is essential for people with disabilities.

"Our challenges are that the rest of the world doesn't understand or really know that someone who is blind can do all the same things that you and I do on a computer, " he said.

Next month, ATIA will have conference in Orlando. For more information on technology available to people with disabilities, including those discussed in this report, please visit www.atia.org.


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