Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How to Choose Appropriate Adapted Technology

TURNkey IT is happy to be continuing its segments on showcasing technologies that help individuals with disabilities.  Part 2 of this 5 Part Series focuses on how business choose appropriate adapted technology for their employees.

People with disabilities can use adapted technology (AT) to gain new skills, keep old ones and live more independently. An appropriate technology solution will hopefully dramatically decrease a person's need for help or eliminate it all together. However, choosing the right technology is often a difficult task. This and the following articles offer strategies and tips to use when considering a technology solution.

Be actively involved in making the decision

When the end user is central to making the decisions about technology, the more likely it will effectively promote independence. Funding sources want to ensure any device purchased is needed, appropriate and will be used. Ultimately, the responsibility for success falls on the end user. The wrong decision can mean your job or at least be costly. It's better to actively participate in the process and ask lots of basic questions than try to fix a mess later. Just think about your closets. Is there something there that you do not use? Why aren't you using it? The wrong size? Not your style? Uncomfortable to use? Ugly? It's too fancy and you're a jeans and sweatshirt kind of person? More than likely the reason will be "It's just not who I am!" Consider who bought it and if you did, consider why you did. Like most things we use, adapted technology must fit who we are: physically, emotionally, culturally and personally. The decision is more than just buying a product.

Get others involved

If you are considering getting some adapted technology, seek out feedback from others. Even when you are choosing a very simple, low-tech piece of equipment, talking it over with other users, or a person who knows you well, will offer another perspective. They may see pitfalls that weren't obvious to you. This can be especially true when considering technology for children. Parents and others can provide the reinforcement, maintenance, training and other aspects of supporting the technology that will be used. But if a child needs a computer and the only mouse the parents know is Mickey, everyone needs to be aware of that fact and deal with it. If parents or other people in the support network are not comfortable with the technology solution, then the end user with a disability is not likely to see any benefit.

The team approach

Traditionally, the user, a family member or significant other, teacher, immediate supervisor, technology consultant, and rehabilitation specialists are often members of the team. If the technology is being purchased by an agency, a school, or an employer, the end user will likely go through an assessment team or accommodations committee. Try adding nontraditional team members if you think it will improve the group's problem solving skills. Another end user, computer instructor, local computer guy, or someone good at crafts, or even a classmate will look at the issues differently and often have valuable insights. Be outspoken, and don't be afraid to be a courageous problem solver. It will make for a much more elegant solution. Remember the group is there to solve a problem and decide if technology is the best approach. It's not a computer buying club. That is why it is best to avoid a team where the end user and technology dealer are the two main parties of a team. It can become a feeding frenzy between the two. Remember the adapted technology dealer has a mortgage to pay and groceries to buy, and you, the end user, are a means to that economic end.

Focus on function
Often, disabilities distract people, making them unable to see any potential or ability. By focusing attention on functional skills, we move away from looking at someone in a clinical way and more toward a functional assessment. A good question to ask when you want to focus on function is, "What does this person want or need to do that he or she currently cannot do?" From there the team can begin to look for ways to alter the environment to enable the person to function more independently.

Thinking in general terms

Generalize about the use of the device. Where will you use it? Could it be helpful in other settings? Are there other people at the office or in the family who could use the device? By thinking in general terms about the device, you can get more use or increase the effectiveness of the device. Sometimes parents consider purchasing a computer for their child so she can do homework. When they consider the purchase, they need to look at the computer needs of the entire family. Could an older sister use it to write reports? If it came with a modem, can mom fax or E-mail work from home? A computer with a CD ROM drive or modem provides paperless access to a wealth of information. Generalizing about the who, when, where, why and how aspects of the product can help the user find a product that meets many, rather than just a specific need. However, remember that if several family members use a device, it will limit access to third party funds.

Strive for simplicity

The best technology solution is a no-technology solution. However, adapted technology users only need what will help in accomplishing the task, in the simplest, most efficient way. For example, a reacher is very simple technology. It allows a person to grab an object they could not otherwise reach. It's uncomplicated, and not very costly. A good solution? Not necessarily. It may be a better solution to move the out-of- reach items within reach so the user doesn't need any technology at all. Keeping solutions simple also reduces maintenance and repair costs. Simple solutions are often easier to use and therefore will be used. Generally they are cheaper solutions, so a funding source (whether it is the user or a third party source) is more likely to fund it.

The next step

Choosing the right adapted technology specialist, vendor, dealer, and training are as if not more important than selecting the best product. Using adapted technology requires a package of both product and service. In the next article, I will list and discuss a series of tough, challenging questions to ask yourself and any adapted technology specialist or dealer.

Please share with us, any other tips have regarding adaptive technologies!!

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