Navigating assistive technology

Posted on May 28, 2012


At Donka, a nonprofit in Wheaton, Illinois, future teachers learn about assistive technology that can help students with disabilities work more independently.

Assistive technology helps people with disabilities better connect with the world around them. For example, a child with autism might communicate through an iPad app that converts pictures to speech (learn more about how Easter Seals is working with iPads).

Disabilities vary widely – from speech to dexterity to mobility. A person’s needs often change over time. There is an increasing number of solutions to address these issues. It can be tough to figure out which technology will work best.

What works best for Terrance?

Consider four-year-old Terrance, who couldn’t wait to start school. His teachers were eager to welcome him, but they weren’t sure how to include him in classroom activities. Terrance has a rare disorder called arthrogryposis and is unable to lift his shoulders, bend his elbows or grasp items.

There are many assistive technology options, but what would work best for Terrance?

After careful assessment, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC)occupational therapists suggested devices that fit his needs. For example, Terrance learned to type by moving a trackball with his chin to choose letters on an on-screen keyboard, which helped boost his growing language skills.

RIC helped Terrance learn to use assistive technology in the classroom.

The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago helped Terrance find the right assistive technology as he started school.

But assistive technology is always changing – and so are its users. Terrance is now an energetic 11-year-old. To keep up with schoolwork, he now uses a voice input system that translates his speech into text.

Assistive technology unlocks many opportunities in the classroom. Various types of software and hardware enable computer access. These tools enable students to work on their own and enhance important skills, such as reading, writing and communication.

Keys to independence

Connecting with the right assistive technology can be the key to independence for a person with disabilities. That’s why it’s important to invest in nonprofits with expertise in this area.

Assistive technology fits several of our priorities at the Tellabs Foundation, including technology, education and health. In April, we gave grants to two projects in this area:

  • Donka, Inc. to train both teachers and special needs students on how to use assistive technology in schools. Through work with teachers, Donka hopes they can identify and help more students access the technology they need for academic success. (Note: the photo at the top of this post shows teachers learning at Donka.)
  • Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) to buy new equipment and support program costs. Each year RIC helps 1,500 people achieve their greatest degree of ability.  Technology enables them to achieve tasks critical to daily life, such as making a phone call, turning on a light switch or connecting to the Internet.

I’m grateful organizations such as Donka and RIC are there to help navigate assistive technology options. When connected with the right technology, more people can lead independent and fulfilling lives.