How Assistive Technology Can Help Your Every Day Life

How Assistive Technology Can Help Your Every Day Life

When I first heard the term “assistive technology”, I thought of expensive, invasive, difficult to use technology that’s even more difficult to acquire. I can’t speak for the cost of more advanced tech, as I’ve never had to use it, but there’s a surprising amount of affordable and easy to use tech.

Most of us are familiar with some technology that helps those with physical disabilities, but we’re not sure what’s available to those of us with intellectual disabilities. Assistive technology is any device, software, and equipment that helps us work around our challenges while playing to our strengths. It makes things more accessible to us and allows us to focus on our tasks.

Assistive technology can be anything from low-tech options like pencil grips and lined paper, to text-to-speech software and mobility aids. It’s available to people of all ages, and can be used at home, school, in the workplace, and anywhere else it may be needed.

What I find interesting is that some of it is all around us, and we may use it daily without realizing it. I’ve been using assistive technology for most of my life, and only discovered that recently.

Audio Processing Disorder is something those of us struggle with, particularly if you’re on the autism spectrum. From standard headphones to assistive listening systems, there is technology that filters out background noise, allowing you to focus on your tasks. We’ve all used headphones, and they’re a personal favorite of mine. Assistive listening systems are like headphones but work a bit differently. They’re wearable devices worn near a transmitter, that filters out background noise, allowing you to focus on the speaker in the room. This can be a great option for students attending lectures, and those attending meetings in the workplace.

Talking word processors that give audio feedback can be a good option for those who struggle with their motor and cognitive skills. Portable word processors, keyboards with a small LED screen, can also be a helpful choice.

For those who struggle with focusing on and completing tasks, visual assistants like electronic and non-electronic organizers are available. These use graphic symbols to lay out events and activities in sequential order and may also include auditory cues. These can also be good options for those struggling with language and communication.

Since we live in a digital age, a lot of us have different gadgets, and it’s extremely important that they offer accessibility settings. Smartphones like the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy allow users to customize their phones to enlarge text and zoom in on specific parts of their screen. They can also adjust app icons to make them more accessible. Some additional features are LED alerts for phone calls and texts, predictive text, hearing aid compatibility, and speech-to-text options.

There are all kinds of options available to us, so many it’s hard for me to keep track of them all. As I mentioned, I use some form of assistive technology daily. I love headphones, not only for general use, but also because it helps me focus on what I’m doing and prevents auditory stimulation that comes with my brain trying to focus on multiple things at once.

I also use subtitles frequently. I mostly use it when watching horror movies, due to sound differences filmmakers use, but I also use it if there’s a lot of background noise. Turning on subtitles allows me to focus on what I’m watching, rather than getting distracted by everything else.

Another kind of tech I use are the LED alerts on my phone. If I’m generally not paying attention to it, I can miss calls or texts. The alerts are great, because I see the light from the corner of my eye and know that someone is trying to reach me.

It makes me happy to know how common and affordable some assistive technology options are. One thing I want more of for those of us with disabilities is normalization. I don’t want accessibility and accommodations to be a negative thing, something we’re ashamed to ask for, because of the stigma that surrounds intellectual disability. I want people to not only be able to ask for and use it, but to use it openly.

Assistive technology is available through the waiver system but can also be paid for and obtained through other resources. Schools pay for necessary assistive tech specified in a student’s IEP. State Medicaid, Social Security and veteran’s benefits can pay for certain tech if a doctor deems it a necessary medical or rehabilitative device. Rehabilitation and job training programs may pay for assistive tech and training to help people get jobs. Employers may pay it it’s a reasonable accommodation. There are also private foundations, charities and civic organizations that can help provide resources that will help you get assistive tech.

If you’re local to the Philadelphia area, Temple University has a program called TechOWL. Through this program, you can sign up for a card to gain access to their Assistive Technology Lending Library. From there, you can borrow the tech you need for free or at a low cost. To learn more about the program and tech available, contact the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University.

Accessibility is a great thing and for many, it’s a necessity. That’s why I think it’s important to discuss and use. The more we do it, the more normal it will become, and the more access we have to the world.

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