Specific needs AT can help
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)
"AAC includes all of the ways we share our ideas and feelings without talking." Specifically, TechOWL can assist with AAC "Aided Systems" of devices. An aided system uses some sort of tool or device. There are many types of aided communication systems. A pen and paper is an example of a basic aided system. Pointing to letters, words, or pictures on a board is a basic aided system. Touching letters or pictures on a computer screen that speaks for you is a high-tech aided system.
Levels of AAC
Picture Communication Board (Light Tech) -
Go Talk (Mid Tech) -
iPad Communication App (High Tech) -
Dedicated AAC Device (High Tech) -
TechOWL resources for AAC
TechOWL has a robust library of digital content about AAC and Communication devices. We recommend that if you are interested in this topic, an aspiring Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP), an educator, a family friend or caregiver and someone who could benefit from aided communication systems to check out our resources and content that take you through the basics of AAC to instructional videos and op-ed blogs about AAC.
AAC Community Blog - This is a blog run by our very own SLPs. She frequently updates this blog with original content and is a wealth of knowledge about AAC.
Consider Communication full curriculum - This is a curriculum that came out of a huge project organized by all the SLPs that work at TechOWL. The goal of this curriculum was to have it online for everyone to learn from. The content is organized to be very accessible to understand but below each page are academic articles to refer to in the case you are interested to go further into the concepts.
Apps for Our Whole Lives (Communicating) - Apps for our whole lives is a blog post that is frequently updated with the newest apps for all functions in daily life. Here you'll be able to see the big apps in the field of AAC with links to the websites as well as the stores that you can download them.
Youtube AAC Instructional Videos - TechOWL has a growing youtube presence. Our SLP team has taken this opportunity to continue their effort to make the information about AAC devices more accessible to all. Here you will find more technical videos about how to set up a profile on an AAC app and some of the mechanics of the apps.
AT Lending Library - TechOWL has a free Assistive Technology Lending Library that is accessible to all Pennsylvanians. Here you can loan out up to 5 devices at a time for 3 weeks. This resource is to allow people to "try before they buy", to see the best options of assistive technology out there for them before they go out and purchase the device or program. AT is expensive and we want Pennsylvanians to make the most informed decision possible.
What does it mean to be blind or have low vision?
We hear about these terms all the time and many might consider blind as a singular thing. However, vision loss and blindness is an incredibly wide spectrum and the majority of people who identify as blind have some residual vision with varying degrees of functional use.
To get technical for a moment, most government agencies and health care institutions agree that legal blindness is defined as a visual acuity (central vision) of 20/200 or worse in the best seeing eye or a visual field (peripheral vision) that is limited to only 20 degrees. Visual acuity of 20/200 means that what the legally blind person can see at 20 feet, the average person can see clearly at 200 feet. As for the visual field, the average person can see 140 degrees without turning his head.
There are many ways that a person can become blind, but TechOWL uses technology to find solutions to help people who are blind or have low vision to live independently. These technologies are as low tech as dots to put on a microwave button to screen reading computer software.
Blind/Low Vision technologies
Magnifying glass -
Handheld Video Magnifier -
Refreshable Braille Display -
Braille Note -
Victor Reader Stream
ARIA and glasses -
Popular Computer Software
There are many computer programs that allow people who are blind or have low vision to access computers through screen reading functions. Here is a list of some of the most popular screen-reading software on the market:
- JAWS screen reader software from Freedom Scientific:
- Free screen reading option from Non-Visual Desktop Access (NVDA)
- Zoomtext with or without speech support
- Provides enlargement of text and images, alternative color themes, cursor, and pointer enhancements
- Grid 3: Access your computer using eye gaze, pointing devices or switches
Apps for Blind/Low Vision
Apps for Our Whole Lives for Blind/Low Vision - TechOWL has an online resource with a detailed list of applications for people to try out and explore. There are countless apps for people who are blind or have low vision. This list is a comprehensive list and reviewed list created in collaboration with our Blind and Low Vision specialist JuleAnn here at TechOWL.
Video of ARIA
HAT - Hearing Assistive Technology
"Isn't hearing assistive technology just hearing aids?" Actually, hearing aids are just one assistive technology that the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HOH) community can choose to use. There is a wide range of technologies that Deaf and HOH people can use.
Check out this video of a variety of different technologies by Harris Communication that Deaf and HOH people can use:
This is not an advertisement for their products. This is simply a video to demonstrate the wide variety of available technologies for the Deaf and HOH community.
Apps, Apps and more Apps!
In addition to the devices that Deaf and HOH people can use, it is important to remind people how useful a smartphone can be for the Deaf and HOH community. Check out the Apps For our Whole Lives post and click of the "Hear" section to learn about different apps that Deaf and HOH people use.
Progress doesn't stop here. Check out this amazing link about a new product called Wavio that is in the beta test stage made by 3 deaf men to help them identify the sound in their homes. Wavio Start-up Article
How does Assistive Technology help to learn?
Imagine that you were attending college in the early 1900s. What types of technologies did that have back then in school? A typewriter? Pens? Paper? Most homes in the early 1900s didn't even have electric lights yet.
Nowadays, we have laptops, iPads, apps, computer programs, gadgets, gizmos, DIY hacks... the way that we learn today is drastically different from how we learned a meer 10 years ago. More so, the technologies that help people with disabilities are more robust than ever.
What is Assistive Technology for learning?
Assistive tech for learning is literally ANY piece of technology that helps a person learn. This could be as simple as a highlighter or a pencil grip or as complex as a program that reads a text to you. Everything counts.
There's an app for that!
Now more than ever, I find myself telling people that there is an app for that! Whether you need audiobooks, speech-to-text, speech-to-text, recording, color identifiers, Seeing AI, daily organizer... I am sure, that a quick google search or a glance at the app store, you will not only find some solutions, but they might be FREE!
TechOWL has taken the time to organize some incredibly useful and affordable/free apps that we highly recommend on our website page "Apps For Our Whole Lives". We could talk for hours about apps because there are literally millions of apps on the market, but the best use of time is to explore the apps that are related to your needs and desires.
Assistive Technology in action
Access the Computers and Mobile Devices
Assistive Technology for Accessing the Computer
Depending on a person's abilities and body, accessing a computer or mobile device might look a little different than how a computer and mobile device is typically used. There are three primary ways that assistive technology tries to provide equal access to the computer:
- External devices, gadgets, or DIY hacks.
- Software that one can download.
- Built-in accessibility features on the mobile device or computer.
1. External Devices, Gadgets, or DIY hacks
The list is endless of different gadgets, devices, and hacks that can be made or purchased to assist a persons ability to access a computer or mobile device. However, here is a list of common and popular gadgets that TechOWL frequently recommends.
- Alternative Keyboards
- There are many types of keyboards, from high contrast to angled keyboards to onscreen keyboards to a keyboard activated by "taps".
- Like Keyboards, there are plenty of options for mice if a typical mouse doesn't work for you. Additionally, there are great hacks like gluing a ring to a mouse to hold your finger on the mouse.
- Arm Support
- Touch Screen
- if you cant isolate a finger, consider getting a pair of gloves and cutting off one of the tips of the gloves to expose one fingertip.
- Mouth Stick/ Head pointer with an on-screen keyboard
Check out TechOWL's Lending Library to
2. Software for Computer and Mobile Device Access
With the growing attention of Assistive Technology all over the tech scene, there is an ever-growing number of software and programs that one can purchase and download to allow greater access to a computer or mobile device. Unfortunately, many of these programs are expensive. TechOWL offers a small $200 grant called the "Del Sordo Fund" to aid Pennsylvanians in accessing assistive technology. Additionally, there is PATF which provides low to no-interest loans to Pennsylvanians with disabilities to afford assistive technology.
3. Built-in accessibility features
Many do not realize that most computers and mobile devices have built-in accessibility features! This varies from device to device, but with a little exploration of your device, you will find out many amazing modifications that you can change your computer or mobile device at this very second!
Here is a list of some amazing and commonly used examples of built-in accessibility:
- Windows 10 Ease of Access
- Cortana: Windows personal digital assistant
- Magnifier: enlarges all text and images
- Narrator (screen reader): provides text-to-speech and some support for menu and control navigation
- High Contrast
- Closed caption
- Keyboard and mouse accessibility
- User customization
- Apple Mac built-in accessibility features in Utilities:
- Enable type to Siri
- Magnifier known as Zoom
- Text-to-speech as known as VoiceOver
- User customization
- iPhone or Andriod phone
- Go into your settings
- Find the tab "Accessibility"
- Explore all the modifications you can make!
- More Computer Access Software
- Adobe Acrobat Reader
- Built-in accessibility features in Google docs
- Google Chrome Extensions
Light tech to High tech for Daily Living
What do you think about when you hear the phrase "Assistive Technology for Daily Living?" One might think that this is talking about technology in the home. Perhaps for daily functions like assistance in eating, moving around our home and controlling our environment. These are all correct.
The amazing thing about assistive technology for daily living is that there is an enormous range of technology that helps us all in the home.
Not your standard switch
How do you turn on your light? You "flick the switch", correct? In the world of assistive technology, we talk a lot about switches. Just like your light, a switch can be used to turn something on and off. There are many switch-operated toys for kids as well as switches that can be adapted to be used for daily functions.
Check out this video made by TechOWL that describes the technology that helps make a kitchen appliance switch-operated:
Smart Home Technology
As you might imagine, Google Homes, Eco Dots, and things of the like are VERY USEFUL to help people control their environment and make their homes more accessible. What functions can these smart home devices help you with? Check out this video describing just some of the endless capabilities that smart home technology can provide.