Making Assistive Technology Easier to Access

December 3, 2018 | Kurt Vogel, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

Last year, I had an internship with the Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access at Georgia Tech. I worked as a Research Assistant and helped research different types of assistive technology software that would be later compiled into an online database for the public. This really helped me to see how I could incorporate my three interests of Disability Advocacy, Information Technology, and Assistive Technology.

What I realized when I was there was how much assistive technology there is out there without much of a widespread infrastructure in place. What I mean is that there is not much of an infrastructure in place for people to try the software or devices before they purchase them or before Vocational Rehabilitation assists in the requisition of the software or device.

There are Assistive Technology centers where you can go to have an assistive technology assessment and then they will loan you the equipment for a few weeks before actually having to purchase it. Oftentimes these centers are only located within large cities or educational institutions. This summer, I had the opportunity to visit the USDA Target Center, which is an assistive technology demonstration lab. Employees can receive an assistive technology assessment and try out different assistive technology software and devices in their actual office and work environment. There are staff available who are knowledgeable in the assistive technology software and devices.
This is a perfect example of what an ideal assistive technology center would look like. The assistive technology staff, the employer, and the employee (the one using the assistive technology software) are all collaborating and communicating with each other to make sure that the employee is going to have the Assistive Technology resources available to be successful in their job.

However, in many employment settings, there is not an assistive technology demonstration lab available for someone to try before they buy. For example, if there was more of an infrastructure in place, sort of like an assistive technology library, and there were people in place to work with you over the course of several weeks, then it would be more helpful. One of the reasons assistive tech is so hard to access is because there is no way to try it. If the company bought a new piece of assistive technology and the employee doesn’t know that it is going to be a good fit, there would be no guarantee that it would be the right choice. If the employee could try it first and demonstrate that it is helpful with some evidence that it actually worked well, the company might be more eager to purchase.

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a federal and state government partnership program that helps people with disabilities get the services they need to be successful during employment. Oftentimes in rural areas people do not have access to transportation to go to the assistive technology center. This is where VR helps people with disabilities purchase the assistive technology. Sometimes VR does not have adequate resources available and often purchases the assistive technology but then does not help with the execution of ensuring that the person knows how to use the technology before closing the case.

What I see as a solution is that VR could partner with local educational institutions or assistive technology centers that have the resources available to work alongside the person to make sure that the particular assistive technology is the right fit. The education institution would administer the assistive tech assessment and then tailor what equipment was loaned to them based on the assessment. Then the individual would be able to receive one-on-one training on how to use the software if they needed additional support in setting it up.


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Kurt Vogel is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. He interned with the U.S. Access Board.

Connected Technologies Help People with Disabilities Transcend Barriers – Is Unemployment Next?

March 19, 2018 | Susan Diegelman, AAPD Board Member

Over the past few years, the promise of connected technology for people with disabilities has developed into an expectation. Now that the deployment of 5G networks — the next generation of wireless Internet — has truly begun, the Internet will increasingly support more sensors and devices, which will help bring this promise to bear in amazing ways.

We are already seeing connected technologies help people with disabilities accomplish a wide range of essential daily tasks like starting the dishwasher, boarding a city bus, or remembering to take medication on time. And as the new 5G network delivers lower latency and better battery life, devices for independent living will become invaluable tools to enable an even-further expanded range of activity.

As important as these types of 5G-powered devices will be, they only represent a start to the innovative possibilities and problem-solving that high-speed wireless broadband can unlock. Could 5G-connected cars mean a driverless future where blind people can drive independently? Could connected technologies be used to solve complex problems for people with disabilities like unemployment?

Employment, as we know, goes hand-in-hand with independence. Too often people with disabilities who don’t have the assistance they need are put at a disadvantage in the job market. In fact, the National Federation of the Blind estimates that almost 70% of people who are blind or low vision are unemployed. That’s unacceptable. And with new connected technology, we can do more than ever before to chip away at a deficit like that. Can you imagine, a connected technology company directing resources and using novel approaches to tackle this issue?

Now, there’s no need to imagine. Aira, a rapidly growing assistive technology subscription service, has recently announced the Aira Employment Program, a free service for job seekers already subscribed to Aria who are blind or low vision to use as they navigate the employment process. Aira uses smart glasses to stream live video — as well as GPS and web data — to a remote, human agent who then offers real-time, on-demand assistance.

People use Aira not only to complete a variety of daily tasks but to work toward the employment they deserve by searching online job postings, filling out applications, and updating resumes. The service even helps job seekers travel to and from interviews and pick out what to wear, with any cost for service minutes used on these activities covered by Aira.

As the 5G wireless Internet is deployed to more people, assistive technologies will become more integral to addressing boundaries to visual information and transportation. Let’s applaud Aira and encourage more companies like them to invest in the communities they serve.


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Susan Diegelman is Director of Public Affairs at AT&T and Secretary of the AAPD Board of Directors. She works with advocates across all areas of disability to understand how technology can support independent living and improve lives.

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