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Assistive Technology Blog

Jun
29 2015

“Technology is just a tool.” – Bill Gates

By Jean Des Roches, AT Program Director


I couldn’t think of a catchy way to convey that AT (Assistive Technology) is now, was in the beginning and always shall be about the person using the technology!  So I turned to one of our technology gurus, Mr. Gates. A simple yet very true statement.

I don’t need to tell you that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of new apps, devices and software coming out every month meant to address the needs of many differently-abled individuals. And this is great news! However, it didn’t take me long to decide that rather than choosing one of these many new devices or apps, or even choosing to write about some of the general categories of AT such as ATC (AT for Cognition) or AT for Activities of Daily Living/Electronic Aids for Daily Living or even the latest gadgets for a “smart home”, I would be doing everyone a disservice if I did not start at the beginning: the people using the technology!

Technology should never be used for technology’s sake. OK, maybe. Yes, I’d rather be typing this on my laptop and not using a chisel and stone to carve out my first posting. Would I be able to get my thoughts out on a stone tablet? Eventually I suppose. But the technology, e.g. the laptop, is addressing a need. It is a time saver.  I need this done by June not December.  To work at a slower pace than my coworkers, would put me at a disadvantage. Spell check! Did you ever carve out “tecnology” then have to go back and figure out to squish in an “h” with a bulky chisel? Neither have I! But who would want to?

So my technology choice, the laptop, came from a desire to keep up with my coworkers and produce my work, in a timely fashion, without spelling errors. But I could have chosen to use Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS) to dictate my text instead of using my hands and fingers to type. Why didn’t I do that?

Let’s think about the bigger picture.

1.    Technology must serve a purpose. What is it you are having difficulty with? Turning on your bedroom light? Trying to get toothpaste out of the tube and onto your toothbrush only using your left hand? Or typing out a school paper when you do not have use of either of your hands? We should look at how technology can help us achieve our dreams and goals, and then look at technology not as the goal, but rather a supporting tool we need to achieve our goal.

2.    Customize the solution to fit the person. Beyond what would be obvious for most of us to consider, things like placement, size, cost, utility and effectiveness, we must always, always keep the user’s comfort and preferences at the forefront of our technology decisions. The best, most expensive, be-dazzled piece of technology is not going to help Sally with her term paper if she wouldn’t be caught dead with that monstrosity hanging off the end of her wheelchair! Not going to happen. The user must be consulted on comfort, appearance, ease of use and more. No skipping this part.

3.     Support, educate and revisit. As most of us know, every single piece of technology we use requires some initial instruction.  Providing a comfortable, non-threatening environment for learning about technology is just as important today as it was when I rolled out Windows95. (Yup, no comment.) Educating users, support staff and families is tantamount to achieving success with AT. Providing on-going support and revisiting the wisdom of our technology choices from time to time is equally important.

The whole point being that technology is not the center of the focus folks. The person using the technology should always remain the primary focus of any technology decisions we make for ourselves or others!

Until the next post, I would be very interested to hear from you about ways in which you or others you know are using their technologies! Is it working the way you had hoped? Have you been sufficiently instructed on its use? When was the last time your technology was evaluated for effectiveness and ease of use?

Warmest Regards,

Jean

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