In the past decade technology has become a bridge between the disabled and nondisabled worlds. Computers and computer-based programs and equipment have begun to take the place of eyes, ears, and limbs. Assistive technologies provide helpful tools to agencies that work with people with disabilities. These technologies have allowed individuals who might otherwise not receive services to be independent and actively involved in the decisionmaking process for themselves.
Several innovative technologies have been designed to help people with visual impairments use computer-based technology, allowing them to operate a computer with ease and efficiency and negating the need to have information translated or read aloud. Software is now available that allows the user to print pictures from the computer screen as raised-dot, tactile, graphic presentations. Personal Braillers are available that can work with any computer on the market. Write: OutLoud is a talking word processor that individuals with learning or physical disabilities may find helpful. IBM's Screen Reader converts screen information into speech, enabling users to hear, rather than read, words on the screen. Finally, there is Home Page Reader, which provides Web access to people who are blind or visually impaired.
Companies such as IntelliTools Inc. create and distribute alternative keyboards and software for individuals who have physical, visual, or cognitive disabilities. Text Help develops software that addresses the writing needs of people with learning or other cognitive disabilities. Able Net is known for line switches for use by individuals with physical disabilities and augmented communication devices. Mayer-Johnson is best known for its picture communication programs that often are used by individuals with developmental disabilities. IBM and other companies help people with disabilities acquire modified computers for personal and work use.
Funding sources such as the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) provide grants to victim service providers for the purchase of assistive equipment to increase access to services and upgrade existing equipment and software. Information on assistive technology can be obtained from the Internet and local companies, several of which are listed in the Additional Resources section of this bulletin.
By Debora Beck-Massey