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Assistive Technology

What kind of Assistive Technology is available?

There are two kinds of AT available – ‘Low Tech’ and ‘High Tech’.

‘Low Tech AT’ includes simple aids that normally cost little or no money. For example, a PC with spell check and thesaurus can support many students. Alternatively, by simply changing the ‘accessibility’ options on a Windows based PC, information can be made more accessible. Other items, such as hand-held magnifiers or study lamps, can improve access for students with a visual impairment.

‘High Tech AT’ includes a wide range of more expensive aids. See below for more information.

What Assistive Technology is available for students who are blind / visually impaired?

Scanning and Reading Software

Examples Include: ‘Kurzweil 1000’ and ‘Kurzweil 3000’ Kurzweil 1000 is a screen reading tool for blind and visually impaired users. It works on a personal computer in conjunction with a scanner to convert the printed word into speech. It allows the student to edit scanned documents. Typed text is spoken aloud as the student types. Kurzweil can even speak a highlighted section of text before the student cuts, copies or pastes. Kurzweil 3000 allows text to be scanned from a paper source and read back by the software while the student listens. The student can highlight important information and annotate the document.

Screen Reading Software

Examples Include: ‘HAL for Windows’ and ‘JAWS for Windows’ These applications have been designed for people who are blind to facilitate access to the Windows environment and the Internet, which is very graphical in nature and not particularly user-friendly. This software enables the blind student to use keyboard short cuts to read toolbars and document content.

Screen Magnification Software

Examples Include: ZoomText Xtra' This software magnifies the image on a computer screen to enable students with visual difficulties to see the screen more clearly. Screen magnification often requires a larger monitor. This allows sufficient information to be displayed on the screen for the student to continue to make sense of the data and its relationship to the document as a whole.

Braille Translation Software

Examples Include: Duxbury; Duxbury Braille Translation Software is a package that converts written text to Braille.

Large Computer Monitors

Examples Include: 17" - 21" These are an important equipment item for visually impaired students, particularly if they are using screen magnification software, as it will ensure a larger proportion of information can be viewed on screen at any one time.

CCTVs

These provide enlargement for paper based text and are invaluable to students who wish to read handouts or use books without the need for enlargement by photocopying. The use of CCTVs is often essential for visually impaired library users as it allows them to skim text and select relevant sections, which they may wish to enlarge by photocopying later. This allows much more independent research and saves considerable expense in wasted copies.

Scanners

When used in conjunction with read-back software as mentioned above, scanners are invaluable for any student who experiences reading difficulties for whatever reason.

What Assistive Technology is available for students who are Deaf / Hearing Impaired?

Induction Loop Systems

Examples Include: ‘The Ezee Loop’ The Ezee Loop is a portable induction loop system. It consists of a panel that is placed on a table or in any discreet position, where it creates a magnetic field. A microphone on the front of the panel picks up sound and the magnetic field relays this sound to hearing aid users or students using personal communicators or listeners (hearing aid users must switch to the 'T' position in order to benefit from the system). This is perfect for one-to-one conversations or small group discussions.

Notetaking Systems

Examples Include: ‘Speedtext’ Speedtext is an electronic notetaking service in which a Speedtext operator will attend an event (conferences, seminars, meetings, lecturers etc) and type notes, which are viewed by the Deaf or hard of hearing person on a separate computer screen. This service is particularly useful to Deaf people whose preferred language is English.

What Assistive Technology is available for students who have Physical / Mobility Difficulties?

Voice recognition software

Examples Include: IBM ViaVoice; Dragon Naturally Speaking; Voice recognition systems enable individuals with dyslexia, visual impairment or manual dexterity difficulties to dictate a document to the computer as an alternative to using the keyboard and mouse. Consistent speech patterns are required.

Keyboards

Examples Include: ‘Ergonomic keyboards’ Ergonomic keyboards are specially designed and shaped. Some features include two-way tilts, wrist rests and split angle key layouts and in some cases, the whole shape and layout of the keyboard is altered radically. Single-handed models are also available. The keyboards are designed specifically to reduce strains, movements, twists and tensions and thus reduce the pain and effort of typing. They are most suitable for students with hand dexterity difficulties.

Mouse Controls

Examples Include: ‘Trackerballs’ These are an alternative means of accessing mouse controls. They are useful for students who have fine motor control difficulties and those who find it difficult controlling a standard mouse.

Furniture

Examples Include: ‘Ergonomic Furniture’ This includes furniture such as tables and chairs which are height adjustable to suit the specific posture and support the needs of individual students, so as to enable them to operate a computer and study for longer periods of time.

What Assistive Technology is available for students with Dyslexia?

Mind Mapping Software

Examples Include: ‘Inspiration’ This software is a Windows based organisational and study skills tool, which assists students with the organisation and planning of written tasks. It is particularly valuable for those who tend to think in non-linear fashion, such as students with specific learning difficulties, for example, dyslexia.

Reading and Writing Tools

Examples Include: ‘TextHelp System's Read & Write’ and ‘WordSmith’

These tools have a wide range of specialist facilities which can enhance word processing abilities. They include a read-back facility, word completion, word suggestion, automatic corrections, the capacity to screen-read spelling options and a speaking thesaurus. These packages have been specifically designed for computer users with dyslexia. They require a multi-media computer with access to headphones or speakers.

See also ‘Kurzweil 3000’, Large Computer Monitors, Scanners & Voice recognition software above.

As a Guidance Counsellor, do I need to know how to use Assistive Technology and, is it difficult to use?

Access to Assistive Technology can open up a new world to many students with disabilities and plays a crucial factor in supporting student independence. It can include everything from a ‘low tech’ magnifying glass to a ‘high tech’ Braille translation system, and some technologies will require some training. As a Guidance Counsellor, you should be aware of students’ support requirements and ensure that when students come to you for advice, that there is access to the technology that they need.

Are there grants available to purchase Assistive Technology through our School?

Yes. The Department of Education and Science gives a grant to second-level schools toward the purchase of equipment for pupils with a disability.

Equipment can include tape recorders, word processors, induction loops, Braille equipment and various types of software.

The rate of the grant for any student will be the cost of the equipment, up to a maximum of 3,800 euro. If the nature of the equipment warrants it, a higher grant may be considered. It is important to note that the equipment remains the property of the school.

To apply, simply submit an application to the Special Needs Education Organiser (SENO) with responsibility for your school. The application should be accompanied by a recent comprehensive and professional assessment of the nature and extent of the student's disability and the equipment most appropriate to his/her needs. This may include a psychological assessment, an occupational therapy report, a physiotherapy report or another professional report.

Assessment services are available through the National Educational Psychological Agency (NEPS) who carry out assessment of learning difficulty (e.g. dyslexia) within primary and secondary schools, the Central Remedial Clinic in relation to physical disability, the National Council for the Blind in relation to visual difficulties and the National Association for Deaf People for students with a hearing difficulty.

Forms are available from the Department of Education and Science

Where can I find out more information?

There are a number of suppliers of AT in Ireland and the UK. For more information click on any of the links below:

Colbolt Systems Ltd (UK) have a range of low vision aids.

Comhairle has an on-line Assistive Technology database which includes a directory of products available from Irish suppliers.

Enable Ireland has produced a CD entitled 'Assistive Technology For Living'. It provides a wealth of information on a range of Assistive Technologies, funding, legislation and current service providers. It is available free of charge from Enable Ireland's Assistive Technology Training Service.

Irish Jobs.ie (in association with Enable Ireland) have produced a booklet “AT in the workplace – a tool for everyone – A practical guide for employers and managers. http://www.enableireland.ie/at/pdfs/at_employment_guide.pdf

Jackson Technology has a range of Assistive Technology for purchase.

Easy PC provide a range of Assistive Technology solutions including assessments and training. 

TechDis is a UK based educational advisory service, working in the fields of accessibility and inclusion.

The British Department for Education and Skills has useful information in relation to Assistive Technology.

The Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) provides AT support (including assessment) to people with physical disabilities.

The National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE) plays a central role in helping to maximise the benefits for learners and teachers in using information technology.

The Student Disability Service in Trinity College Dublin has a number of modern AT resource rooms called “Assistive Technology Information Centre” (or ATIC for short). These are available to students with disabilites with specific AT needs.

The Visually Impaired Computer Society in Ireland prvides support to people with a visual difficulty in the area of computer access.

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