Assistive Technology Laboratory
Technology Related Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988
The Technology Related Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (Tech Act) first described an assistive technology device as "any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities."
The Tech Act described an assistive technology service as "any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in selection, acquisition or use of an assistive technology device."
Types of Assistive Technology
A Closed Circuit TeleVision (CCTV)is a video magnification system consisting of a video screen interfaced with a video camera. Video magnification is achieved in two ways - the electronic conversion from the small camera imager to the larger display screen and the optical effect of the camera's zoom lens. The stand mounted CCTVs can be configured with either television receivers, video monitors, or computer monitors. The CCTV system provides high contrast, inverse video display, gray scale, false colors, natural colors, and/or control of contrast level and brightness.
Optical character recognition (OCR) is the process of converting an image of text, such as a scanned paper document or electronic fax file, into computer-editable text. The text in an image is not editable: the letters are made of tiny dots (pixels) that together form a picture of text. During OCR, the software analyzes an image and converts the pictures of the characters to editable text based on the patterns of the pixels in the image. After OCR, the converted text can be exported and used with a variety of word-processing, page layout and spreadsheet applications.
A Screen Reader is the commonly used name for Voice Output Technology. Hardware and software produce synthesized voice output for text displayed on the computer screen, as well as for keystrokes entered on the keyboard. Voice-based browsers use the same technology as screen reading software, but are designed specifically for Internet use.
Screen magnification software is used by people with visual disabilities to access information on a computer's screen. The software enlarges the information on the screen by pre-determined incremental factor [for example, 1x magnification, 2x magnification, 3x magnification, etc,]. Magnification programs run simultaneously and seamlessly with the computer's operating system and applications. Most screen magnification software has the flexibility to magnify the full screen, parts of the screen or provide a magnifying glass view of the area around the cursor or pointer. These programs also often allow for inverted colors, enhanced pointer viewing and tracking options.
Voice Recognition allows a user to use his/her voice as an input device. Voice recognition may be used to dictate text into the computer or to give commands to the computer (such as opening application programs, pulling down menus, or saving work).
Older voice recognition applications require each word to be separated by a distinct space. This allows the machine to determine where one word begins and the next stops. This style of dictation is called discrete speech. Many people (especially those with learning disabilities) prefer these systems to the newer continuous speech.
Continuous speech voice recognition applications allow a user to dictate text fluently into the computer. These new applications can recognize speech at up to 160 words per minute. While these systems do give the user system control they are not yet hands-free.
Voice recognition uses a neural net to "learn" to recognize the user's voice. As one speaks, the voice recognition software remembers the way a user says each word. This customization allows voice recognition, even though everyone speaks with varying accents and inflection.
In addition to learning how users pronounce words, voice recognition also uses grammatical context and frequency of use to predict the word a user wishes to input. These powerful statistical tools allow the software to cut down the massive language data base before one speaks the next word.
While the accuracy of voice recognition has improved over the past few years some users still experience problems with accuracy either because of the way they speak or the nature of their voice.
The Tactile Image Enhancer takes a blank piece of paper and creates a raised print, sensory image. The tactile image can be created easily from a regular photocopy, laser print, or regular pen drawing by inserting the paper into the unit. A raised image document comes out the other side. The enhancer is a great tool for reproducing graphs and charts, maps, and other diagrams.
A Braille embosser is a hardware device for "printing" a hard copy of a text document in Braille. A Braille translation software program is required to translate the text from the computer into Braille. Most Braille translation software programs can translate material into several grades or versions of Braille. There is also a new music Braille software program as well as scanning software to scan Braille into a computer and have it displayed or translated into text.