Friday, March 4, 2011

Assistive Technology for Special Needs: Intro

Hi, my name is Cara, and I’m an Assistive Technology (AT) Addict.

What is Assisitive Technology and what does it have to do with a blog dedicated to accessible and universal home design? Everything! Assistive Technology is focused on enabling people with traumatic injuries, disabilities, or diseases to be more independent with the “technology” in their lives.

As an occupational therapist, I want to see people more independent with not only their basic daily living tasks such as dressing, grooming, and eating, but also with the “fun” stuff such as using a computer or fighting with their wife or children over the TV channel (after all, not everyone has Uverse).
When designing your home, it pays to take into consideration how you or your loved one with physical or cognitive challenges is going to control the TV, or the lights, a fan, an air conditioner, a door, ... and the list goes on.

Designing the home for accessibility is certainly important, but we also want to make sure that the person can get back to the task of living life to the fullest. For this reason, especially in this day of technology reaching every facet of our lives, a person’s assistive technology needs must be addressed when thinking of home design.
The two main areas addressed within assistive technology are:
  1. Computer Access.
  2. Electronic Aids to Daily Living (EADLs), which are really a fancy way of saying “I want to control my TV, but I can’t use the regular remote”, or “I have difficulty regulating my temperature and want to control my fan, but I can’t turn it off or on”.

Software and hardware can return independent computer use to a person who is unable to use a computer with the standard, store-delivered equipment. But right now, we want to talk about EADLs.

The assistive technology used to control objects in your home largely depends on;
  • What you want to control.
  • How you want to control it.
In the “What you want to control” category you may list your 52’ widescreen TV complete with the full cable package and DVR (or, like me, an old-school large backed 36” flatscreen TV with no cable or satellite), a radio, CD player, 18 speaker surround sound complete with 2 zones for indoor and outdoor, intercom system, phone, and DVD player. This list is by no means complete, and completely customized to each individual, their equipment, and their preferences.

When addressing “How you want to control it” we need to consider;
  • The person’s physical and cognitive abilities.
  • Their environment.
  • The list of devices and tasks they would like to control.
There are low-tech and high-tech options and devices that will allow a person to control their environment and there are simple and complex methods. Each arrangement needs to be tailored to the individual and their support system.

Some people may think that because they are only able to raise their eyebrows that environmental control is not an option for them. This is not true. Other people may think that because their loved one has a severe brain injury, they will not benefit from being able to turn their favorite music on and off by hitting a large 3” diameter switch with their ataxic right arm movements. This also is not true.

Sometimes we take our ability to participate with our environment for granted, but these simple and mundane daily tasks may make a world of difference to someone who hasn’t had the option in a couple months or many years.

In the future I’ll address some of the other components of EADL control;

  • Communication methods that devices use to communicate with objects in your environment.
  • Showcase some of the devices that are often used.
  • Talk about mainstream technology and how it plays a part in assistive technology (may be in random order).
Have any questions? Leave a comment, we’ll get back to ya.

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