Affordable Assistive Technology Solutions
By Jamie L. Mayo, MSE, ATP, RET
Through years of experience, we know that assistive technology improves quality of life, increases independence and enhances safety. Unfortunately, finding funding for this technology can be an obstacle – most insurance companies don't identify assistive technology as "medically necessary" equipment and many people may not have a budget for extensive technology purchases.
What most people are unaware of is that there are a number of affordable and easily accessible alternatives that can provide the same benefits as more expensive technologies.
The bottom line: accessible technology does not have to mean expensive technology.
In fact, some of these accessible technologies are already built into the products you may currently use. For example, Microsoft has made it a priority to include free and easy to use accessibility features in their operating systems. These features include an on-screen keyboard, voice recognition software, typing modifications and screen magnifier.
Some software, known as "freeware," can even be downloaded off the Internet and used at no charge. For example, Dasher and Click-N-Type are on-screen keyboards that are available online for free. These programs allow you to type by using your mouse to select virtual "keys" and text on your computer screen.
In addition, AutoHotkey is freeware that allows users to program macros (simple keystrokes or mouse actions that perform complicated tasks) with minimal programming knowledge. There are also "shareware" options, which allow you to download a particular program and use it for a set amount of time before having to decide if you'd like to purchase.
There are even free and reasonably priced versions of one of the more popular forms of assistive technology - voice recognition software. Voice recognition software allows you to control your computer and type using only your voice. For Windows Vista users, voice recognition software is already included in the operating system. For those of you that don't have Windows Vista, Dragon NaturallySpeaking is an affordable and highly effective option.
Some adaptations don't require software at all. Instead, there are creative and affordable ways that you can modify your computer on your own to make it easier to use. If you have difficulty seeing labels on keyboard keys, print your own larger, easy to see labels on label paper. By placing keyboard labels only on frequently used keys, you can create a simplified keyboard where less frequently used characters will fade away when compared to the large font keys.
Another creative solution replaces the need to purchase traditional splints to aid in pressing the keyboard keys. Instead, you can create your own for under $1 by using a regular pencil and eraser to press the keys. This aid can be helpful for pressing other small buttons as well, including microwave controls and television remotes.
Assistive technologies can also make many household devices more accessible. Through X-10 remote control technology, you can command functionality for devices such as lights, fans and radios at the touch a button.
There are even cost-effective ways to adapt telephones at the touch of a button to better serve the needs of people with disabilities. While services vary by location, some states provide accessible phones for those with mobility impairments; most states provide free TTY services, which may be helpful for people with difficulty speaking. You can check the availability of services in your state at the TEDPA Web site or by calling your local phone company.
To help you identify affordable technology to meet your individual goals, consult with an Assistive Technology Practitioner. You can also contact your local Microsoft Accessibility Resource Center for help finding the right assistive technology product to suit your needs.
Additional resources that may be of assistance are as follows:
Jamie L. Mayo, MSE, ATP, RET, is a senior rehabilitation engineer in the University of Michigan Rehabilitation Engineering Program and Microsoft Accessibility Resource Center (MARC) representative.