Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Telling AT Stories

By guest blogger Fred Tchang, Director of Assistive Technology Services at Advancing Opportunities

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Nelson Mandela
head shot photo of Fred Tchang smiling
Fred Tchang, Director of AT Services

It seems impossible to many people that a person who is blind can use an iPhone, that a person with a significant physical disability can drive himself to work, or that a person who can’t read can go to college. Impossible, until they see it done.

Throughout the years, I’ve spoken with people who are unsure that their child/student/client could achieve a life goal, even with the support of assistive technology (AT). They might think that AT is just for people with physical disabilities or those who are good with computers or for anybody else but themselves.

Even people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities need to learn what’s possible. Sometimes it helps to see examples of other people, who are just like them, actually using, benefiting from and explaining their AT to convince them that, yes, this could make a difference.

Which of the following AT examples do you find the most compelling?
  1. Reading an explanation of how word prediction works: “Word prediction is a specialized writing software for people with learning disabilities. As you type, it presents a list of words that it thinks you are trying to type.”
  2. Listening to me give an example of how a student can benefit: “Students who have a lot of difficulty with spelling can use this software to help them spell words that they would otherwise not use because they cannot spell them.”
  3. Watching a video of Brody, a 6th grader, tell you himself what a difference AT has made in his life.

While the ideal situation is to learn about AT from someone else, YouTube provides the next best thing with videos of real people using it in various ways.

Below are examples of videos that illustrate how AT can be used to help people with disabilities live more independently.

Yes, it’s true – people who cannot see the iPhone screen can still use it. Nothing seems more inaccessible than a touch-screen device like an iPhone. But fortunately for us, Apple has been committed to accessibility from the start and built in the use of gestures and computer speech to make their product accessible. But it’s much easier to see how this works by watching the video, How Blind People Use Twitter & YouTube on the iPhone 4S, to understand what I mean.

Nothing frightens parents more than seeing their teenage children behind the wheel of a car. So you can imagine parents of children with physical disabilities not even considering the idea of adapted driving. But for adults with disabilities, transportation is a significant issue that can make finding a job that much harder. Videos such as this one, Assistive Technology in Action – Meet Nick, in which a parent’s emotions move from fear and disbelief to amazement and pride, can help convince other parents to take that journey with their children.

People with learning disabilities, who have difficulty reading, can be just as successful in college as other students. Having a learning disability doesn’t mean you can’t learn – it just means you learn differently. Certain learning disabilities make it difficult to visually decode words and read with fluency. However, there are computer programs which can read the text aloud as an alternative. The video, Kurzweil 3000: Helps Tracy Brookshire Achieve in College, does a good job of not only demonstrating how AT can work, but also telling the story of how effective it can be in changing lives.

If you would like to help share what’s possible with AT:
Fred Tchang is the director of assistive technology services at Advancing Opportunities based in Ewing, N.J.  In addition to running the department, Fred is also a hands-on assistive technology specialist. He and his staff help consumers, with all types of disabilities, understand, experience and implement assistive technology in their everyday lives. They also work with employers and school districts to help make classrooms, curricula and work sites accessible.

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