It almost certainly comes as no surprise to those of us working directly with people in nonprofits and libraries that about one in five people have a physical or cognitive disability. Disabled people are the largest minority worldwide. IT devices can be a real help to people with all manner of disabilities, so we thought you might like our roundup of assistive technology resources. We hope you'll find it useful in working with special needs clients and patrons.
Assistive Technology Defined
Assistive technology (AT) is any tool, high-tech or not, that improves the capability of a person with one or more disabilities. AT helps people who have difficulty seeing, hearing, speaking, pointing, remembering, learning, walking, and many additional things. Here are some AT tools, operating system features, and organizations you might try out.
Assistive Technology Product Listings
AbleData is a large product database for unbiased information on products, solutions, and resources for assistive technology. It has many AT tools that are low-tech or not IT related.
Closing the Gap Product Guide is a listing of over 2,000 AT computer products. The website has sections for hardware and software. It also has a search feature that matches products to particular needs.
The National Public Website on Assistive Technology has a listing of 22,000 AT products searchable by function or activity. It also lists other AT exchanges like the Pass It On Center and National Equipment Exchange Depot. Their assistive technology The National Public Website on Assistive Technology - discussion groups are also worth checking out.
AT Exchange from the Assistive Technology Network is a free online place to buy, sell, borrow, and find free AT tools. This is a resource specific to California. It has an information and referral specialist hotline at 800-390-2699 for help in finding solutions for specific needs.
AT Features Already Included in Computers and Mobile Devices
Microsoft Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android operating systems all have AT features built in to them. Examples are magnification, screen reading, dictation, audio enhancements, and a variety of background-foreground viewing screens that are useful for people with sight and cognitive disabilities. By the way, all the software makers use the term accessiblity rather than assistive technology for the features in their software that help people with disabilities.
Check out the TechSoup for Libraries step-by-step articles on making mobile devices and computers easier to use for seniors: Part One on Magnification, Part Two on Text and Icon Enhancements, and Part Three on Audio Enhancements.
Also have a look at our TechSoup for Libraries Assistive Technology Tips from Expert Librarians.
Here are the manufacturer information pages for the major operating systems.
- Accessiblity features in Microsoft Windows 7, 8, and 10. If your nonprofit or library needs to upgrade your Windows operating systems, find the TechSoup Windows product donations here.
- Accessibility features on iPads
- Accessibility features on Mac computers
- Accessibility features on iPhones
- Accessibility features on Android phones and tablets
- Open-source AT resources, including Linux and Ubuntu operating systems
ATSTAR (Assistive Technology: Strategies, Tools, Accommodations & Resources) features free online curriculum for students with disabilities by helping teachers learn to use assistive technology in the classroom.
Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT) is a nationwide grass-roots group for educators and families interested in learning more about AT. The QIAT List is an email discussion group and the place to ask any question about AT. QIAT also hosts links to local AT organizations.
Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) is the trade association for manufacturers, sellers, and providers of assistive technology. It hosts a useful AT Resources Funding Guide that includes nonprofit, government, and insurance sources for AT funding.
Open Door World is an ancient but useful compendium of AT organizations.
Personal AT Heroes
Bud Rizer of the National Cristina Foundation maintains that
Selecting the most appropriate assistive technology is both an art and a science. What works for one person with a specific type of disability won't necessarily work for someone else with a similar disability. Each person with a disability is a person first — not defined by their disability. They need to have input into the types of assistance they will try.
Jane Berliss-Vincent is the best I've ever seen at doing that very thing. She's the assistive technology manager at the University of Michigan. It was a revelation watching her work. She's a wizard at evaluating people and tailoring solutions for them. Her recent book, Making the Library Accessible for All has a nice big chapter on assistive technology.
Of course, there are many more AT organizations and resources I didn't have room to include in this article. Tell us ones that you like in the comments below!