Assistive devices

There is a variety of equipment developed specifically for individuals with disabilities to make the activities of their daily living easier. These tools,known as assistive devices, help maintain or improve the ability of a disabled individual to perform regular functions such as bathing, dressing, openingdoors, reading, writing, and eating. For example, an individual with impaired use of the upper extremities would benefit from the use of writing grips, jar openers, weighted utensils, or non-slip placemats.

Technological advances make it easier for an individual with a disability towork inside or outside the home or pursue an education. For example, computerequipment such as Braille printers enable the visually impaired to read computer printouts; and touch screens or switches allow computer access through eye blinks or head or neck movements. Vehicle modifications include wheelchairlifts and hand controls for driving. An assistive technology device may be funded by outside agencies if the device is necessary for the individual to achieve his or her vocational goal.

A variety of assistive devices also make life easier for those with hearing loss. These devices can be used in conjunction with a hearing aid (or in placeof one), and can be grouped into one of three categories: 1) Amplifying devices: These are connected to a sound source, such as a TV or radio, and transmit the sound to a set of headphones; controls allow for adjustment of volumeor pitch without interfering with the sound coming from the speaker. Inexpensive models use a long cord to connect to the amplifier and headphones, thoughwireless systems allow more freedom of movement. An amplifier for the telephone receiver allows for volume adjustment in hearing the caller. 2) Alertingdevices: These use a very loud noise, flashing lights, or a vibrator attachedto the wrist or bed to communicate; more advanced systems use a built-in microphone to listen for specific sounds that then trigger an alert. These devices can be programmed to flash or sound differently in conjunction with the telephone, doorbell, alarm clock, smoke detector, clothes dryer, or oven. 3) Decoding devices: These convert audio into written text that scrolls across a television screen. All news and prime time programs, as well as many syndicated television shows and videos, are closed captioned in this way. There are also specialized teletypewriters (TTYs) that convert telephone audio into written text to facilitate conversation. Most audiologists and medical supply stores carry or can order assistive devices for individuals with a hearing impairment. Prices range from approximately $25 for a basic telephone amplifier tomore than $300 for a TTY.

An evaluation by a competent specialist, conducted whenever possible in the environment where the technology will be used, will help determine the appropriate options from which the person can choose. Evaluators may come from different disciplines. A speech pathologist, or one who specializes in speech therapy, may evaluate the need for an augmentative/alternative communication device, while a specialist in physical therapy or occupational therapy would evaluate the need for a customized, motorized wheelchair. The range of assistivetechnology devices is constantly expanding to meet the functional needs of individuals with disabilities.

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