This week I discovered a helpful resource for anyone who uses assistive technology or who supports others who use it. This resource is very much in the original spirit of my blog. It is a well organized graphical listing of free assistive technology.
The technical and legal definition most often used for Assistive Technology is …
“…any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially or off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.”
I prefer a simpler and more general definition.
“…technology that improves the functional ability of anyone who needs it.” (from Ira Socol, if I’m not mistaken)
Anyone may benefit from the use of assistive technology, whether or not he or she has a diagnosed “disability”. For example, someone may just not be a very good reader. Maybe he reads slowly or struggles to retain what is read. In fact, this describes my own lack of reading proficiency. Text-to-speech is extremely valuable for me when I really want to retain what I read. Technology that enlarges the font, widens the margins, or eliminates distracting clutter from a page can also improve my ‘functional ability’ to read.
In my view, assistive technology can be divided roughly into two categories. These are not mutually exclusive, but on one side is specialized assistive technology required by a relatively small number of individuals. This would include technology that makes speech possible for someone who cannot use his or her natural voice, or tools that enable someone who can’t use his or her hands to access a computer keyboard.
The second category of AT is technology that benefits a much larger proportion of the population. This larger category of AT would include such supports as text-to-speech, word prediction, speech recognition, or multimedia alternatives to text that can help anyone who struggles with reading and/or writing. There are countless learners in classrooms everywhere who may or may not have diagnosed “disabilities” who benefit greatly from access to what I refer to simply as “technology that helps”. I believe this is technology that should be made available to all learners. Much of this sort of technology has become ubiquitous, so there is no excuse for not introducing it to all learners.
Jim Luther’s list of ‘Top Tools for Tight Times’ lists free specialized assistive technology as well as technology that can be helpful for large numbers of learners.
Jim Luther has organized an extensive list of AT Freeware into a beautifully organized “mind map” that enables the user to view available options at a glance. Software titles are not linked, but it is easy to enter the names as search terms into your preferred search engine. The screen shots below show how Jim’s list of AT has been organized.