Assistive Technologies

Assistive Technologies

The project focused on the potential
of assistive technologies for three types of disabilities:
blindness and visual impairment, deafness and hearing impairment and autism spectrum disorders or ASD. In the words of the
World Health Organization: This means that ATs are technologies
which can assist a person in doing something that otherwise they could not easily do. ATs can provide different kinds of support. For blind people, ATs are often based on
tactile communication like braille, or sounds to replace images,
text to speech devices, or technology to assist mobility. For deaf people, ATs can increase the sound level,
like hearing aids, or replace the sound by images or vibration,
like visual alerting devices. For ASD, ATs are often designed to overcome
barriers in communication. Augmentative and alternative communication
technologies have been developed, like speech-generating devices. ATs can be medical devices, but also
mainstream technologies used for assistive purposes. GPS navigators with voice interfaces are
often used by blind people, videophones by sign language users, and video games for people with ASD to
prepare for daily specific situations. Currently, people with disabilities face a
wide range of barriers. These include physical and communication
barriers, but also social ones. There are many expectations regarding the benefits for people with disabilities
connected with the use of ATs. The hopes connected to ATs are related to an active and independent participation into social life or as one blind IT expert put it: The concept of universal design is crucial
to ensure that ATs can serve everybody and that they can be connected with
a wide range of user interfaces devices. Currently the European Accessibility Act is
being negotiated at the European level, aiming to ensure that technical devices will be
universal, interoperable and accessible for all. Participating fully in education is crucial to deal with
the challenges of a digitalised world as well as for the further active participation
in employment. Students with disabilities
are in need of educational support tools. IT technologies are important for the inclusion of students into the educational system. In the words of an expert from industry: People without disabilities also need
to be educated. Professionals dealing with ATs
in health care or public services like police staff or teachers,
technology developers or web specialists, all need to be more aware of the specific needs of people with disabilities and how technology can support them. Many experts recommend that a new profession – the Assistive Technology Professional – should be introduced to help manage the
specifics and complexity of ATs. Experts agree that ATs can be of high importance
in the workplace. regardless of the disability. Specific needs for ATs at the workplace can be: for the visual impaired: full access to
all IT applications including pictures; for the hearing impaired: web-based sign
language interpretation; for people with ASD: augmented reality applications to simulate and train for real-life
situations at the workplace. Despite the many technologies and
information sources available, the inclusion of people
with disabilities into the labour market still faces many attitudinal barriers,
and prejudices remain. These already start at the recruitment phase
and continue through later stages of employment. At least as important, is the careful ethical, social and economic assessment of these technologies. ATs can already be essential in
supporting people with disabilities to overcome barriers. But society also needs to change,
so that we can overcome the attitudinal and social barriers still existing towards
people with disabilities.

Danny Hutson

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