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Many Benefits of Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities

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What is the Definition of Assistive Technology?

The 1998 United States Assistive Technology Act defines assistive technology, or, adaptive technology, as any “product, device, or equipment, whether acquired commercially, modified or customized, that is used to maintain, increase, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.”

Like all technology, these products have evolved over time, both in their capabilities and in adoption and use. Advances such as speech to text, predictive text, and spell checkers are just a few examples of tools initially developed to assist people with a disability. Today, these features often come standard in all personal computers and mobile devices, due to the incredible benefits that impact all users.

Assistive Technology at Work

One of the most successful applications of assistive technology is in the domain of higher education. For example, transcription and captioning tools help students with hearing impairments as well as those who are not native speakers of the language of instruction fully participate in class and be more engaged with course materials. These technologies augment the learning experience for all students and enable new possibilities for better instruction and engagement.

Entering the workforce post-college is a stressful time for anyone, but even more so for individuals with disabilities. The use of assistive technologies in the workplace can help ease this transition. Although assistive technology does not completely eliminate the challenges, it can level the playing field so that individuals with disabilities can participate more fully in the same activities as their nondisabled peers.

Unfortunately, the use of assistive technology in the workplace is nowhere near as prevalent as in academia. One reason for this is that legislation governing accommodations in the workplace is not as clear as those that pertain to higher education. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide “reasonable accommodations” to assist employees that self-identify as having a disability in performing the essential functions of their job. However, the definition of what exactly is considered a “reasonable accommodation” is unclear. In addition, putting the onus on the employee to disclose their disability and request assistive technology as an accommodation can lead to lower levels of reporting, due to fear of being stigmatized as a result of their condition.

 

Other Benefits of Assistive Technology in the Workplace

The benefits of offering assistive technologies in the workplace are clear. But, beyond the benefits to individuals with disabilities themselves, incorporating assistive technology into the workplace offers advantages for or companies and organizations in many ways.

Nearly one in five Americans have some kind of disability. Incorporating assistive technology in the workplace gives companies a competitive advantage by being able to hire from a larger pool of qualified people by not excluding any candidates. By removing barriers, organizations can be sure to hire the best and most talented person for the job.

There are approximately 18.6 million people with disabilities currently working. Given this vast number of people, the potential for assistive technology (AT) to increase productivity is great. Furthermore, employees may acquire or develop disabilities over time. Companies that want to support their employees as they age to retain their skills, talent and experience must invest in state of the art assistive technology to do so.

When technology is developed to address the most complex of needs, it ends up benefiting everyone. Many of the technologies that were initially developed for people with disabilities have gone on to become widely used by the general population. AI innovations such as image recognition, speech-to-text, chatbots, and self-driving vehicles are technologies that benefit all individuals, as well as society as a whole.

This principle makes sense from a product engineering perspective as well. Designing with accessibility in mind means creating a product that is more intuitive, feature-rich and, ultimately, able to reach and impact more people. By enhancing capabilities and leveling the playing field, assistive technologies, particularly those that are AI-enhanced, help individuals with disabilities to not only successfully transition from college to the workplace, but thrive in their working environments.

 

Verbit at the CUNY Accessibility Conference

Interested in learning more about AI-driven transcription and captioning software? Verbit’s smart solution harnesses the power of artificial and human intelligence to generate the most detailed speech-to-text files, providing over 99% accuracy and the fastest turnaround time in the industry. Stop by to learn how organizations can provide equal access to course content, increase engagement, and boost academic success for all students.

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4 Steps to Receiving Accommodations for Students with Disabilities in Higher Ed Institutions

Since the inception of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the 70s, there has been a steady increase in the number of students receiving special education services in the K-12 environment. However, this number seems to drop off when students reach university. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, around 13% of K-12 students have some disability, while only 11% of college undergraduates report a disability.

 

Given the fact that close to the same percentage of disabled students continue on to higher education as their nondisabled classmates, the numbers don’t add up. What is happening in the transition to cause this gap? One possible explanation is the law. Laws for accommodations in K-12 differ from those for higher education. The main distinction is that young adults entering a post-secondary institution must educate themselves on how to receive accommodations at their schools. There are four steps to this process: Self-Disclosure, Documentation, Meeting with the Office of Disability Services, and Faculty Communication.

 

1. Self-Disclosure

Upon entering any higher education institution, a student with any level of disability must self-disclose their situation. Best Colleges states that 94% of high school students with a disability receive assistance while just 17% of college students do. This is because 60-80% are not disclosing their needs. Every student with a disability, be it visible or nonvisible, must go to the Disability Services Office on campus or contact them virtually. From there, the accessibility officer will assist the student in their needs and accommodations. Students should always be prepared to educate the institution and teachers about their disability, especially those at smaller schools.

 

2. Documentation

To obtain accommodations, the student will need to provide documentation of their disability assessment. If the disability is cognitive, such as dyslexia, ADHD, or autism, they would need to obtain documentation from a psychologist. For physical disabilities such as hearing, vision, or motor impairments, the student would require documentation from their regular physician.

 

3. Disability Services

Once the student has secured their documentation, they should set up an appointment with an advisor ar the Office of Disability Services. Every school is different in terms of how students obtain services. Some require a completed application while others will simply accept the appropriate professional documentation. During this meeting, the student will let the institution know what they need. Accommodations can include sign language interpreters, note takers, special seating, and extra time needs as well as audio transcription, video captioning, and CART (Communication Access Real-Time Transcription) services. It is imperative that students communicate their full needs from the outset and continue the conversation throughout their time at the institution.

4. Faculty Communication

Once appropriate accommodations are determined, it is typically the responsibility of the student to discuss their requirements with their teachers. Students should meet with faculty to explain necessary accommodations and ensure all parties are on the same page. This should not be limited to a one-time meeting, as constant communication throughout the course is necessary to ensure optimal support and success.

 

The college experience encompasses more than just what takes place in class. While many institutions are beginning to understand and accommodate their students both physically and academically, some are lagging behind from a social perspective. Students with disabilities entering colleges and universities are much less likely to join a club, do extra-curricular activities or attend social events. It’s clear that much improvement is needed. But what can be done?

 

Better awareness is a good place to start. A high percentage of high school students are receiving assistance. But do they know how they are getting it? Are we teaching them how to advocate for themselves, or how to talk to others about their disability? More work is needed at the high school level to facilitate an easy transition to university, where the onus is completely on the student to take responsibility for their accommodations. In the college context, higher education institutions must prioritize awareness and inclusivity. One way to accomplish this is by organizing social events to promote disability awareness.

 

We’ve come a long way over the years in helping and accommodating those with disabilities. As a result, a wider variety of better services, including assistive technologies, are being provided. Hopefully, with more awareness and education of different disabilities and accommodations, those low percentages of students requesting and receiving assistance will climb exponentially.

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