Accessibility and Assistive Technology

Recently I stumbled upon an accessibility internship that made me think more about the term accessibility and how profit, non-governmental and governmental organizations go about it.

Accessibility means opening doors to all types of individuals with different physical and mental abilities. It can be a program, a product, or an experience that welcomes anyone who wants to access it. Many tech and non-tech corporations embrace physical and neurological diversities by creating accessible tools for the majority of the population to work with their products or to join their companies as an employee.

From my knowledge, Microsoft is one of the biggest names out there that heavily invest in accessibility programs and works with startups to develop solutions in accessibility space further. The company provides support to individuals with vision, hearing, mobility, learning difficulties, and neurodiversity or mental health issues through their technology or support programs.

While many companies create tools for their customers or employees to use in the world of adults, many children and adolescents use assistive technology to adapt to a standard classroom environment. The American government has been a supporter of assistive technology since the 19th century. The Americans with Disability (ADA) that became law in 1990 prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that children with disabilities receive free and appropriate public education nationwide. The Assistive Technology (AT) Act of 2004 ( that amended the Tech Act of 1994 and that was subsequently reauthorized in 1998 and 2004) ensures the evaluation of AT needs by purchasing, leasing, repairing and maintaining of AT devices, training the individual, their family or the caregivers and providing therapies and services that incorporate AT devices.

A few publications that I include below mention that AT can be divided into seven categories:

  • Existence problems; solutions are adapted utensils, toilet seats, dressing aids, occupational therapies, etc.
  • Communications problems; solutions are picture boards, augmentative communication devices, pointers, magnifiers, speech therapies, etc.
  • Body support problems; solutions are furniture adaptions, stabilizers, physical therapies, etc.
  • Travel and mobility problems; solutions are wheelchairs, walkers, canes, crutches, scooters, etc.
  • Environmental interaction problems; solutions are ramps, automatic door openers, driving aids, remote control devices, etc.
  • Education and transition problems; solutions are educational software, computer adaptions, adapted instructional materials, etc.
  • Sports, fitness, and recreation problems; solutions are Special Olympics, adapted aquatics, etc.

If you are a parent of a child with Autism, you probably noticed that your child falls under every category above. The broad-spectrum nature of the disorder applies here without any saying. Whether your child has Autism or not, the standard features of AT service procedures include getting referrals, setting goals, conducting evaluations, selecting devices, selecting vendors, identifying funding sources, determining training needs, following up on the effects of AT, and modifying goals. Lack of funding, availability of devices, followed by lack of family participation and AT qualified personnel, become the significant issues in ensuring access to AT. Frequently, the child does not receive approval for the assistive device. For example, my son was not qualified for a tablet device since he treated the tool as a recreational item, rather a communicative tool. Often, the agencies will “consider” the AT device but won’t recommend it to avoid high cost. Some sources also list that sometimes AT is selected without considering child’s and family’s needs, or has a very complicated design and lack of technical support. The use of AT devices requires extensive training of a therapist and every member of the family. Many families, feeling overwhelmed, abandon the AT device even though they understand the benefit of it.

The conclusion is clear: the government is unable to accommodate every individual with a disability. The process for receiving AT device is lengthy, overfilled with parent-teacher-therapist meetings, and child’s assessments. The training is either inadequate and is not enough to thoroughly understand the device and realize its full potential. Finally, not all devices are user friendly; they may be bulky and hard to switch from one mode to another. One thing that I take away from the research is that unless corporations take part in funding for AT and assisting individuals with disabilities, the IDEA or ADA will not be able to fulfill their missions.

Only when the interests turn from the public into private will the funding, research, and technical support come to every individual with a disability.

Why not start with children? By equipping children with smart assistive devices and letting them enjoy the companionship of a virtual assistant or a robot, the future may become full of abilities. These children won’t feel rejected or defected but will be fully capable of adding value to the growing society. While many companies create accessibility for their consumers, they forget to think about young consumers or those who cannot consume their products yet. Children with disabilities should become another customer segment requiring attention NOW.

Thank you for reading.

Sources:

Title: Assistive Technology in Education. Authors: Donnelly, Matt. Source: Research Starters: Education, 2020. 7p. Article: Teaching aids.

Title: Ensuring Equal Access to Technology: Providing Assistive Technology for Students With Disabilities. Authors: Hwa Lee, Rosalyn Templeton. Source: The College of Education and Human Ecology, The Ohio State University

 Title: The effectiveness of assistive technologies for children with special needs: a review of research-based studies. Authors: Dorit Maor, Jan Currie & Rachel Drewry. Source: European Journal of Special Needs Education

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