[AI] Assistive technology for the disabled

vinod benjamin vinbenji at yahoo.com
Sat Jan 26 23:43:11 EST 2008


Dear virej,
That was nice article, with practical examples, very
useful,thanks.
Vinod Benjamin.

-----Original Message-----
From: accessindia-bounces at accessindia.org.in
[mailto:accessindia-bounces at accessindia.org.in] On
Behalf Of Viraj
Sent: Saturday, 26 January, 2008 11:13 PM
To: accessindia at accessindia.org.in
Subject: [AI] Assistive technology for the disabled

Although we may be aware of many of the assistive
technologies theorised in
the article below, the way in which the author has
theorised them with
regards to various disability requirements appears
quite interesting. One
also gets a glimpse of the development towards such
technologies in other
third-world countries. Somehow I couldnt access the
URL .   

:The Daily Star: Internet Edition
 
Committed to PEOPLE'S RIGHT TO KNOW 

Saturday, January 26, 2008 11:25 PM GMT+06:00   

Assistive technology for the disabled
Farooque Hossain Kamrul
Disablement, needless to say, significantly reduces
the life quality of a
person as it substantially diminishes their work
ability. Assistive or
adaptive
technology, however, can bring back the individual's
employability at an
acceptable level. 

Unfortunately, most people, even the disabled
themselves, in the third world
countries are not aware that assistive technology may
become their real
friend
in assisting them in everyday life. I would like to
highlight in this
article some assistive technologies for different
types of disabilities;
before that
it is worth mentioning what an assistive technology
means.

There is no specific definition of Assistive
Technology (AT). It simply
denotes any item, piece of equipment, or system that
is used to increase,
maintain
or improve functional capabilities of individuals with
disabilities.

The definition does not necessarily imply that AT must
include computers, or
that it must be expensive, or that certain medical
professionals can only
prescribe it. This definition permits AT to be
restricted by your own
creativity and imagination.

The followings represent samples of the many types of
AT, grouped by the
nature of a user's disability, that are available.

AT for visual impairments
Visually impaired users face a great challenge when
interacting with
graphical user interfaces. Typically, they use
software applications known
as screen
readers that turn the texts, events, and elements in
applications and
websites into synthesised speech. For example, when a
user opens a new
window in
Microsoft Internet Explorer, a screen reader such as
JAWS (Job Access with
Speech) or Home Page Reader might say "new browser
window".

A physically challenged person, I took part in a
specialised training
program last year, where 19 other physically
challenged people also
participated.
Of them, 12 were visually challenged. I observed with
sheer astonishment how
my visually impaired friends worked smoothly on
computer using screen reader
software like JAWS or FSB reader. They used special
key combinations to move
around screen in order to direct the screen what to
read. By listening to
this speech, they were able to understand a screen's
content.

Another AT for the visually challenged is refreshable
Braille display, which
may be used as an alternative to screen reader. These
devices convert screen
text into Braille and display the Braille on a number
of cells comprised of
independently controlled pins. When editing and
reviewing text, refreshable
Braille displays can be much better to work with
because a vision-impaired
user can easily reread characters on the same line and
check spelling.
Screen
readers are capable of reading words character by
character, but the process
of moving backwards in text to review and then moving
forwards can be
cumbersome.
Despite their potential advantage, refreshable Braille
displays are less
common due to their higher cost.

In addition, a Braille embosser converts
computer-generated text into
embossed Braille output. Braille translation programs
convert text scanned
in or
generated via standard word processing programs into
Braille, which can be
printed on the embosser. The results on thick paper
are the individual dots
that constitute Braille characters. 

However, choice of appropriate hardware and software
will depend on the
user's level of functional vision. Put another way, it
relies on the
intensity
of impairment. For example, low-vision users can use
hardware such as large
monitors, adjustable task lamp, Copyholder, closed
circuit television,
modified
cassette recorder, and scanner to improve visibility.
Moreover, this can be
helpful to people who have difficulty reading or
seeing self-voicing
applications
such as talking web browsers. 

AT for the hearing challenged
Although hearing impaired individuals encounter less
accessibility than the
visually challenged do, they face tremendous
difficulty in terms of
learning,
job access and social inclusion. These are due to the
traditional way of
learning. 

However, computer technology has emerged as blessing
to the hearing
impaired. As computer prompts such as spoken messages
and beeps can be
misunderstood
or go unnoticed by hearing impaired individuals, this
problem is solved
through the use of tools that produce visual warning
when the system plays a
sound
and/or display captions in place of a spoken message.
Light signaller alerts
the computer with light signals. This is useful when a
computer user cannot
hear computer sounds. As an example, a light can flash
alerting the user
when a new e-mail message has arrived or a computer
command has completed.

In addition, hearing impaired person can use TTY/TDD
(Telecommunication
Device for the Deaf), which is an electronic device
for text communication
via
a telephone line, telecare, closed captioning,
teletext and multimedia
projector to address accessibility problem. Moreover,
newer text-based
communication
methods such as short message service (SMS), internet
relay chat (IRC) and
instant messaging have also been accepted by the deaf
as an alternative or
adjunct
to TDD.

AT for mobility impairments
Mobility impairment refers to any condition that
limits an individual's
ability to navigate through their environment.
Mobility assistive technology
products
and services for the physically challenged are used to
ensure freedom of
movement around the home or office. For example,
persons with mobility
impairment
can use wheelchair or electric wheelchair to overcome
challenges to daily
activities. A permanent or portable ramp can also help
in this regard.

In addition, alternative pointing devices allow
mobility-impaired
individuals to control the mouse pointer via a
mechanism other than the
mouse. These
are typically used when someone lacks dexterity to
manipulate a standard
mouse. Again, some software exists that converts the
keyboard arrow keys
into
directional movements for the pointer. Other keys are
used to signal a left
and right mouse click. Besides, for individuals with
severe impairments who
are entirely unable to manipulate the mouse and/or use
a standard keyboard
can use HeadMouse wireless pointing device that
converts the movements of a
user's head into corresponding movements of the mouse
pointer by tracking
the motion of a single point on the user's head. A
standard keyboard may be
completely
replaced by using this system in conjunction with
software that produces an
on-screen keyboard. 

Mobility-impaired individuals may utilise speech
recognition applications.
This software can be used to both control applications
via speech commands
and
as a means to dedicate text, with speech converted
into text in real time.

Disability is not inability; rather, it is a blessing
in disguise. If the
disabled get some opportunity, they can also prove
their potential in the
real
field. As evidenced by the above descriptions,
assistive technology services
address a variety of disabilities in numerous ways.
Regretfully, technology,
created without regard to people with disabilities,
often creates undesired
hindrances to hundreds of millions of people. We
should know that assistive
technology, or more specifically universally
acceptable technology, equally
yields great rewards for the typical users. One
example is the kerb cuts in
the sidewalk at street crossing. While these kerb cuts
enable pedestrians
with mobility impairments to cross the street, these
also aid parents with
carriages
and strollers, shoppers with carts, and travellers and
workers with
pull-type bags.

And here in Bangladesh, though the availability of
disabled friendly or
assistive technology is alarmingly low, YPSA -- a
specialised non-profit
social
development organisation -- is doing some exciting
work in this respect. As
a result, the organisation has been selected by DAISY
(Digital Accessible
Information
System) Consortium, to ensure information in
accessible format for people
with disabilities (PWDs), especially for the print
disabled. We sincerely
hope
that other organisations would follow YPSA's effort in
this regard to make
the PWDs lives somewhat easy and enjoyable. 

The author, a physically challenged person, is a
trainee at Thakral
Information Systems Pvt Ltd, Dhaka.

     
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