Posted by: MandyS | October 19, 2011

Activity 15.1 – specialist assistive technology

For this activity I have researched various specialist technologies which I have little or no knowledge of.
Slide 7:
Text-to-speech software
There is a host of different software which ranges from the simple reading text from a page to inputting text and voice synthesisation. Some are open source and therefore free to use but otherwise the price ranges from about a £100+. The biggest issue appears to be with getting as natural a voice as possible. I listened to a couple which boast this facility but the automation can still be heard and this distorts what is being read. The manufacturers I looked at all provide some sort of online assistance either via support or turorials, but there is no specific training.
Slide 8:
Portable Scanning Pen
This was interesting. Users scan the text using a touch screen and virtual keyboard, hear it spoken aloud, obtain definitions and correct pronunciation. Looked-up words can be transferred to the PC for further practice. Text can also be uploaded from the PC onto the Pen, where it can be read aloud wherever you are. The pens cost from £100+ and the manufacturers provide online support.
Slide 9:
I really hadn’t a clue what this might be but its obvious really. Its a pointing device consisting of a ball held by a socket containing sensors to detect a rotation of the ball about two axes —like an upside-down mouse with an exposed protruding ball. The ball can be rotated with a pointing device or a hand. Basically they replace a mouse and useful for those who ‘need support with fine motor skills’.  They retail from about £50+. It is not clear whether any support is offered in relation to their use.
Slide 10:
Switch input
Another obvious one! A switch is an input device used to control assistive devices and computers. There are a variety of types of switches. Switches make activities easier and are ideal for people who struggle with motor control issues as they can be operated by almost any body part that is able to produce consistent and voluntary movement. Switches can help with sequential message communication, environmental control, and computer functions. There are many different types of switches including sensitive, large button, small button, sip/puff, and foot switches. Some switches can be plugged directly into the computer but most are used in conjunction with a switch interface. The cheapest and most basic is about £15 but on average they are from £50+. Again, it is unclear what type of support is offered.
Slide 11:
Alternative keyboards
There are a wide variety of options aimed at answering any demand not typically met by the more common standard, ergonomic or one-handed keyboard varieties. Examples of Alternative Keyboards include devices incorporating touch sensitive overlays for people who have difficulty using a mouse or standard keyboard, foldable hermetically sealed keyboards, or wireless mini-keyboards which are ideal for shared spaces where a PC user might wish to move about a room more. They are priced from about £70+ but are generally around £200+. Although there was no information from the manufacturers about support, the retailer here offers training and assessment.
Slide 12:
My image of these was the cameras used to police supermarkets and streets so I had to find out more. In actual fact they are Video magnifiers (or CCTV’s) consist of a television or monitor with direct input from a camera (much the same thing). Items (usually print) are placed into the camera’s view and a magnified image is then displayed on the television or monitor. One I looked at showed it being used in the street to read street signs. They are priced from about £300 and again any training appears to be via the retailer.
Slide 13:
Braille embosser
Braille embossers transfer computer generated text into printed Braille output. Braille translation programs convert text scanned in or generated via standard word processing programs into Braille, which can be printed on the embosser. Because of the size of the “cells” that are used in place of letters, the amount of tex normally contained on one 8.5-by-11 inch sheet of paper results in multiple pages when printed in Braille. They are not cheap; £1500+ and it would appear that they are also very noisy given that hoods are advertised as noise reducers; another £500+. I would imagine that something as expensive as this comes with some manufacturer user guide and support, but there is no information. 
Slide 14:
A telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) is an electronic device for text communication via a telephone line, used when one or more of the parties has hearing or speech difficulties. The typical TDD is a device about the size of a small laptop computer with a QWERTY keyboard and small screen that uses LEDs or an LCD screen to display typed text electronically. A new development called the captioned telephone, now utilizes voice recognition. Newer text based communication methods, such as short message service (SMS), Internet relay chat (IRC), and instant messaging have also been adopted by the deaf as an alternative or adjunct to TDD.
TTY Phones are Teletypewriter Telephones. These phones are devices which allow people who are deaf – or very hard of hearing – to communicate through telephone lines. TTY Phones typically consist of a keyboard that sends a character code for each key stroke and a printer that prints letters and characters as their codes are received. TDD Phones (Telecommunications Devise for the Deaf) are used widely by deaf individuals. They supply text communication over telephone lines. The text is typically displayed on a digital display on the phone.
UbiDuoThe UbiDuo is a portable, wireless, battery-powered, stand-alone communication device that facilitates simultaneous face to face communication.
I think what is interesting about the specialist technology for hearing impairments is how the mobile phone has come into its own; and considerably cheaper than the UbiDuo. I have seen the ‘relay system’ in action as a colleague at work used one. Really good so long as the person doing the ‘relay’ understands the person speaking otherwise some quite entertaining messages arrive!
There are clearly a variety of specialist technologies to cater for just about any range of impairments. The prohibitive part for most is the cost, especially if a person has a number of impairments. The training also appears to be a bit haphazard; the software appears to have online support but the hardware is probably reliant on user guides. That is no doubt why I noticed, during my research, the number of companies which will carry out assessment and training (a lucrative business I would have thought) but again this just adds to the overall cost.

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