Achievement through Technology: Real People, Real Stories, Real Success
The following success stories highlight how AzTAP’s assistive technology (AT) consultations, demonstrations, and short term device loans help people with disabilities find the technology that meets their needs. In some situations, more complex devices were what the person needed; but sometimes simple, lower cost items were a better match for the individual. These are true stories, but the client names have been changed for privacy:
Billy’s Story: Technology for Communication
An AT demonstration was requested by a high school special education teacher who was interested in exploring eye-gaze systems as a method for one of her students to be able to access a communication device. The student -Billy- was a 20 year old young man with spastic cerebral palsy. He was reported to have great receptive language and some ability to make sounds. However, he had been unable to use his fingers consistently or accurately enough to make choices on his older communication device. Other challenges included head control issues, drooling, and vision impairment. Billy was also a power wheelchair user.
Billy came to the AzTAP office with his family, his teacher and other members of his IEP team. His school team chose to come to the AzTAP office as it would be a less distracting location for him than his high school. During the consultation and demonstration, it was determined that eye-gaze control was not a good option for him because of poor head control ; but that that he could use switch scanning to select messages on the communication devices. A Micro Light switch attached to the wheelchair armrest proved to be an effective access method for him. The next step was to look at several different augmentative communication devices to find one with features that best met his language needs. Three different devices were considered and further demonstrations were scheduled with representatives from the device companies. After these demonstrations, Billy’s team borrowed the devices from the AzTAP equipment loan program. The extended period of trial use helped Billy and his team decide that the Eco2 from PRC best met his needs. After receiving the communication device, Billy came back to AzTAP for assistance choosing a wheelchair mounting system. The collaborative approach allowed Billy to receive a communication system that successfully met his language, access and mobility needs.
Leah’s Story: Technology for Computer Access
Leah was referred to AzTAP by her Neuro-Rehab provider. Leah – a woman in her early 30’s – was involved in a motor vehicle accident that resulted in traumatic brain injury, inability to use her dominate right arm, arm tremors, coordination problems and the need to rely on a manual wheelchair for mobility. In addition to her physical challenges, Leah had severe expressive speech impairment (dysarthria) that made her difficult to understand.
At the time of her referral, Leah and her rehab team were exploring the feasibility of returning to work in the family business. Her duties would include computer use for data entry and responding to customer emails. However, her inability to use her right hand and poor coordination made computer access and typing on a traditional keyboard a slow and difficult experience fraught with typing errors. Leah and her rehabilitation team were interested in exploring voice recognition technology as a computer access / typing option for her.
During her initial device demonstration at AzTAP, Leah tried the Windows Vista voice recognition accessibility feature for PC and Dragon Naturally Speaking, a popular and capable voice recognition software. Due to her speech impairment, her recognition accuracy on her initial trial with both options was poor. Ultimately, it was suggested that Leah explore other computer access options including keyguards and word predication software to improve her typing accuracy.
The AzTAP AT Specialist advised her she was welcome to return and retry voice recognition software at any point when and if her speech and word articulation improved. Over a three year time period, Leah experienced some improvement in her speech and she came back to AzTAP to retry the voice recognition technology. Unfortunately, her speech and articulation had not improved to the point where her voice recognition accuracy increased. Despite this second demonstration experience, Leah’s rehabilitation team still wanted to try voice recognition software and a 10 key keyboard for number entry in a situational type work assessment. AzTAP loaned Leah and her rehab team a laptop computer with voice recognition software, a wireless 10 key keypad and 2 microphone options. Ultimately, it was decided that her voice recognition accuracy was still not sufficient for her to use this type of software as a functional typing solution. Instead lower tech options, while slower than voice recognition software, were going to be the best fit for her computer access needs. Although the solutions were not what she initially wanted or hoped for, the AzTAP equipment loan experience ultimately assisted Leah and her team to decide which assistive technology was most beneficial for her. The process worked even when some of the technology choices did not.
Ralph’s Story: Technology for Hearing Loss
Ralph, a man in his mid-fifties with a hearing impairment, was referred to AzTAP by an employment support provider for an exploration of assisted listening devices. Ralph has bilateral T-Coil equipped hearing aids. He also uses lip reading as a compensatory strategy for his hearing loss when he can see the face of the person he is speaking with. At the time of his referral, Ralph was a Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) client and was attending classes at a local community college to increase his advancement potential at work. He was experiencing difficulty with hearing his instructors in class, particularly when they were writing on the whiteboard and their backs (instead of their faces) were turned to him.
Through an exploration of his situation, it was determined that an FM based assisted listening device (ALD) could be an effective assistive technology option for use in the classroom to correct this problem. AzTAP was able to introduce and give Ralph a chance to experience FM hearing technology for the first time. During his device demonstration, he was able to use a common FM ALD system to hearing a speaker’s voice coming from across the room via a portable transmitter with microphone to a portable receiver that he wore with a wire loop around his neck. The neck loop attached to the portable receiver and transmitted the speaker’s voice directly into his hearing aids via the T-Coil.
Ralph was amazed by the technology and how it gave him the ability to hear a speaker’s voice at a distance of 20 feet even when he was not face to face with the person. Based on the AzTAP demonstration, Ralph was eager to set up a device loan to try out this type of system at his next class. Through actual experience with devices, Ralph saw that a FM type system was an assistive technology solution that met his needs. As a follow up to the AT demonstration, AzTAP provided a long term loan of an older, but functional FM system and Ralph pursued funding for his own device with his VR Counselor.
Charlie’s Story: Technology for Vision Loss
AzTAP staff worked with Charlie, a man in his 50’s with a permanent, non-progressive vision impairment. He was using an Acrobat desktop magnifier, a handheld magnifier and Zoom Text, a screen magnification software program for his job, as a power company supervisor, but he needed additional accommodations in the workplace. However, he did not know what else was available to increase his productivity.
An AzTAP AT Specialist visited his workplace to get a better idea of his particular environment. Charlie worked in a cubicle with low level lighting around his computer. During the consultative process, Charlie expresses interested in a backlit keyboard and wanted to be able to access a laptop computer. He also needed assistance with organization and stated that the screen on his desktop magnifier was not big enough.
The AT specialist felt that improving the lighting in his workspace was important, but due to space limitations, there was no room for a lamp. The AT Specialist then recommended several strategies to Charlie to consider: (1) Request an accommodation from his employer to modify his cubicle, so additional lighting could be brought into the environment. (2) Contact the company who made his desktop magnifier to see if he could exchange the screen on the device for a bigger one. (3) Create a system of categorizing his documents into colored folders, to improve organization by helping him to locate information more efficiently.
The AT specialist did some research and found that most backlit keyboards were developed for gaming and usually only worked well when the lights were off, so this would not be beneficial for the Charlie’s work environment. Charlie borrowed a keyboard with color contrast from the AzTAP Equipment Lending Library, but this was not successful for him. After additional research, the AT Specialist and Charlie looked for laptop computers with a backlit keyboard and found one he thought would work for him.
During follow up with Charlie, he told the AT Specialist that he had discussed his needs with his employer who was then willing to make the requested accommodations. He now has more light in his cubicle; he started using colored folders for organizing his documents and had requested a Dell 19” laptop as an accommodation. His work productivity has increased.