Universal Design is a concept that – in a perfect world – would enable those students with a disability to enter a room and immediately have EQUAL ACCESS to any and all information. With Universal Design, assistive technology can be used so that class lessons can be easily completed by everyone including those individuals with disabilities who use assistive technology.
The following adaptations are everyday examples of Universal Design: sliding automatic doors, large restroom doorways and stalls, adjustable tables, sidewalk curb cuts, texting, motion lights, lever handles, and e-books. Each of these examples makes everyone’s life easier, not just someone with a disability.
• Assistive Technology for Hard of Hearing and Deaf
For people who are hard of hearing or deaf, a Sorenson service uses remote interpreters via a videophone. Videophones are free with the Sorenson service. Individuals may be in one location, and the interpreter may be in another state. Some schools have CART reporting available to Hard of Hearing and Deaf students. The CART reporter sits outside a class and listens through headphones to make an exact transcript of the lecture just like a court reporter. FM systems are also available for individuals who have hearing impairments. FM systems will amplify the sound from room to room. One person wears a small device with a transmitter, and the other person wears a receiver. The person with the receiver can hear what the other person is saying as if they are next to each other. Assistive Technology like FM systems should be available to anyone who visits a museum or enjoys a performance at an auditorium or movie theater.
• Braille/Tactile Diagrams
For someone who is blind, Braille technology is available in personal computers called PacMates that allow individuals to take their own notes using a Braille keypad. Tactile diagrams for science are also available for human anatomy models, cross-sections of the head, brain, nose, mouth, throat, respiratory tract, heart, digestive system, etc. Tactile maps are also available for anyone taking a geography class or studying the globe. Textbooks and tests in school can be produced in Braille for anyone requesting such services.
E-text is now available through many textbook and non-academic publishers. Students who have disabilities may qualify for free copies of their textbooks from Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic. The University of Virginia also has thousands of e-books available to students. Kent State University has a non-commercial repository for e-book research, and Project Gutenberg has many e-books that are free of charge. Google has over 500,000 e-books that are free access. Most publishers want a “proof of purchase” for college textbooks before providing an e-text alternative version of the book. Kindle, The Nook, and Sony all have electronic readers for thousands of books, but interested individuals should also check for text-to-speech software that will allow them to listen to the book as well as read it.
• Physical Disabilities/Wheelchair Users
Wheelchair technology and add on systems are available for recreational activities like bowling and soccer. Paralympic athletes compete in international paralympic sporting events. In addition, specialized wheelchair carts with balloon tires are an option for riding over sandy beaches. For those people with limited upper body movement, computer access can be achieved using large trackballs, a foot mouse, sip and puff devices, and a head controlled mouse. Electric eyes can be provided that allow computer access and control through limited head movement and even eye blinks.
• Screen Magnifiers
Personal computers all have accessibility options including a zoom feature for someone with low vision. You can find access on the Control Panel feature of your PC. Zoom Text enlarges print for someone with low vision, and Zoom Text with speech also includes a screen reader. Products from Kurzweil and Freedom Scientific also provide screen readers and magnifiers. Home magnifiers are not only good for students, but the technology will help those who do fine work with their hands. Their hands can be magnified onto a monitor so that people can see their knitting, writing, or small detail repairs. Camera technology also makes life more accessible to individuals with low vision. There are a variety of products that enlarge text for someone with low vision that can be used on a desk top, are portable, or can be worn on the head for someone with mobility disabilities. For example, Flipper uses a camera to project information from the classroom board onto a personal computer. Jordy is a product worn on the head. Small pocket electronic magnifiers are helpful when trying to read small print during shopping because the user can push a button and freeze the image for easier access to the enlarged print. These products are available at low vision websites. In addition, you can get a microscope that is digital. The user hooks it through a computer with special software. The computer is then attached to a projector, and it enlarges the slide onto a wall or table for all to view at once. Math calculators are available that use an overhead to project onto the wall.
Someone who has low vision or hand movement restrictions can use a speech-to-text product like Dragon Naturally Speaking, one of Nuance voice control products. Nuance voice Controls will allow users to use voice commands to dictate emails to Blackberry, to add appointments, and to search the web. Sony ICD-SX46 Digital Voice Recorder can be used with Dragon NaturallySpeaking Software. Tablet PCs have a sensitive screen designed to interact with a complementary pen. You can use the pen directly on the screen like a mouse to select, drag, and open files and can be used in place of a keyboard to handwrite notes. Tablet PCs should also have speech-to-text technology. Nexus 1 Smartphone has a Speech-to-Text feature as well.
Screen readers are also available for free or purchase, depending upon the product. ReadPlease is a free screen reader for home use that reads text that has been cut and pasted to the screen reader on a computer. Students who are blind can use JAWS to listen to everything on their computer. Zoom Text and Magic also have text readers built into their software. Electronic pens are available also that can read notes aloud, scan and store text, transfer information to PDAs, Smartphones, and Personal Computers. Some of these pens can also translate English in other languages. The Pulse, Smartpen by Live Scribe lets the user record notes and then replay the written words by tapping on the notes. Notes can be saved to the computer and shared as Flash videos, PDF files, or audio files.
Regardless of the disability you are facing, today’s technology will aid you through you day-to-day challenges.