Since I started organizing around information access issues for
people with disabilities several years ago, I have met hundreds
of blind computer users, listened to their concerns and
identified key problems. Many of the difficulties experienced by
these people, I discovered could have been prevented or highly
minimized through a process that considers needs, involves the
consumer in making decisions and solving problems, and an
understanding of the product, technology and people in the
support system with the product. It brings me no joy to tell
those who stop in at the Loop offices of the Chicago Blind
Computer User Network, or who e-mail or call (sometimes from
overseas) that they bought the wrong product, should have
considered training costs with the product purchase or have
thought through the issues of installation and configuration of
the adapted technology to fit the end user. To fix such
problems, it is often necessary for the consumer to return to the
beginning and do the steps necessary to make an adapted
technology decision that were skipped the first time around.
To avoid these frustrating headaches, I have written three
articles on how to choose adapted technology. The first article
describes how to structure an assistive technology buying
decision and familiarizes consumers with winning approaches. The
second article provides a series of tough, challenging questions
to ask and consider when purchasing assistive technology. It is
the end user's roadmap in making an assistive technology
decision. The final article describes how to choose an adaptive
technology specialist, vendor or dealer. It provides as well
many questions to consider and ask your prospective adapted
technology partner who will help you turn your dreams into
It is being shared in this space because of the critical need for
such basic information and the failure of government agencies,
disability service organizations, and assistive technology
vendors and dealers in helping people with disabilities in
adequately understanding and assessing the technology needs of
blind persons and those with disabilities and matching them with
appropriate tools and services. It is hoped that the information
in the articles can begin to cross the distance of this knowledge
Credit must be given to the folks at the Illinois Assistive
Technology Project, which provided me with the initial material
(on a floppy disk and in an ASCII text file) that formed the
basis of the work below. Their leadership helped me see more
clearly how AT issues and problems were general in nature and
shared by many different kinds of people with disabilities. Like
choosing assistive technology, this series of articles is not and
cannot be a solo project.
To learn more about adapted technology issues for people with
disabilities, check out the web site of Project EASI: Equal
Access to Software and Information at http://www.rit.edu/~easi or
that of the Visually Impaired Pittsburgh Area Computer
Enthusiasts at http://www.city-net.com/vipace
The Right Stuff
How to Choose Appropriate Adapted Technology
by Kelly Pierce
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
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.
Questions to ask in Choosing adaptive technology
by: Kelly Pierce
Technology users need to be informed consumers. That's why in
the last article I emphasized that they need to be smart
shoppers, not satisfied with just having someone tell them what
they need. I suggested that end users consider the strengths of
their support system and use a team to help in making a
technology decision. I suggested further that it is best to find
the simplest solution and to approach the technology issue in a
general way. Blind persons and those with disabilities should
constantly ask questions about how the technology will work for
them. No matter who pays the bill, adaptive technology (AT)
users are obligated to ensure that the device is used. To ensure
that, they need to make sure it fits them.
But, how is that done? By simply asking yourself, the team
(described in the previous article), other users and the
equipment vendors questions and continue to ask until there is a
satisfactory answer. Here are some questions a consumer should
ask to make sure a device will help accomplish the desired goals.
Does it help me do what I want/need to do?
If it doesn't, don't get it! This may sound like a third grade
question, but many people receive AT and from day one it does not
work for them. When this happens, you can be sure the user was
not an integral part of the assessment team. More than likely
the team told the user what would work for him. As a consumer of
technology and services, you should never allow that to happen.
Speak up for yourself and your needs. Remember that the point of
getting technology is to solve a problem or enhance a situation.
Are there any limitations or risks?
Users often see the benefit of AT, but don't bother looking at
the other side. While the AT may help you do what you want to
do, it may also limit other aspects of your life.
For example, a user is considering purchasing an adapted laptop
computer to write letters and reports, access the Internet, and
translate material into formatted braille. He should also know
that laptop computers are delicate, break down regularly, have a
shorter life span, and cost much more than desktops. While it
may improve productivity by permitting work to be done in transit
or in many locations, the repair problems could cause added
expense and lack of access. Does that mean a laptop is not a
good product? Not at all, it just means that the user will need
to measure the pluses and the minuses. Maybe he will want to
have a good desktop computer before buying a laptop. Perhaps he
might buy a Braille & Speak, which is lightweight, solid and
reliable. However, using a Braille & Speak requires being quite
familiar with Braille. This does not make it a bad product, just
that nearly every piece of AT has benefits and limitations.
Is it comfortable to use?
Have you ever worn a shirt a half-size too small? If you have,
when it was time to wear it again, you probably thought twice
about it. If there was another clean shirt in your closet, the
small one would just sit there. The same applies to any AT you
use. If it is not comfortable, you will eventually discard it.
Better to speak up during the assessment process than wait until
it's over and the device is in the closet with you no closer to
your goal than before you started.
May I have a trial period
to see if it works for me?
Let the buyer beware. Don't get caught in the trap of thinking
you have to purchase the device outright before you agree to use
it. Insist on a trial period. Most reputable vendors will allow
you to rent the device for a month or two and then apply the
rental payments toward the purchase. Others have a 30-60 day
return policy on the device if it does not work for you.
Before deciding on any device and taking it home, spend some time
with it hands on. This means using the product yourself, not
just observing someone else use it, for an extended period, such
as 90 minutes. Try doing the things you would likely do with the
product, not just some highly refined test. For example, try
writing and editing a business letter with a Screen reader.
Also, try using several other similar products in this way as a
It's common for users to successfully use a device in an
insulated clinical setting, like a computer lab or demonstration
center, when evaluating or learning about the device. But still
they are unable to use it in a real world setting. Someone may
be able to use a communication device in formal speech therapy
sessions, but be unable to use it to order lunch at McDonald's.
Likewise, speech and braille equipment for a blind computer user
may work flawlessly in a demonstration. However, it can't be
used on your job or with the other equipment that you purchased.
Compatibility problems are common. It's not until you try it in
the real world that you can be sure the device will work for you!
Is it ready to use?
Imagine this. A user receives his adaptive technology. The box
is placed in the center of the room and the delivery person
leaves. The user did not ask about set up procedures or support.
He can't open the box. Even if the box were open, he would not
know how to set the device up. By asking this question ahead of
time, a user can eliminate these problems once the device
This scene is played out most often when consumers buy AT
primarily on the basis of price. While saving money is
important, consumers who put much of their energy into
aggressively seeking a competitive price may not realize that
setup, installation, basic training, and initial customer support
are as important in getting the product to work for them as the
benefits of the product itself. As this article suggests,
consider price as just one of many factors when considering some
kind of AT. Consider the past track record of the manufacturer
and dealer when getting your AT. The cheapest price may have its
tradeoffs. Consider these when confronting a slight difference
in price. The difference could mean a long-lasting partnership
with an adaptive technology specialist or someone literally drops
the device on your doorstep and runs.
What skills do I need to learn?
Let's suppose a user and his team decide a specific computer and
software package is just the thing to help a student benefit from
his educational program. However, he does not know how to touch
type and has never used a computer alone before. He will need
many skills before the device really helps. Until that day
comes, the team needs to have alternate plans in place. The
student needs to become proficient in using the technology. By
asking this question, you ask the team to consider the
technology's appropriateness and any learning curve the user may
need to get comfortable with a device.
How does it work?
The device you are trying out may seem simple enough to use, but
it may have taken the evaluator three days to program it so that
you could use it. Ask about set up, what you will need to know
about it, what other functions it has and how can you access
Where do I get training?
Will the person who conducts the assessment also provide your
training? Do you have a good rapport with him? Will the training
come from the sales representative? Is there a 24-hour support
line available should you need it? How long will that be
available to you?
Are training tapes included as part of the purchase price? If
not, where could someone get them? What do other end users think
about their quality? Is the manual available on cassette or in
braille? If not, how will you learn how to use some of the basic
functions of the product?
Some screen reader companies produce information on how to use
their product only in print and on computer diskette. Disk
manuals can be very helpful, providing in-depth information.
However, blind end users have difficulty getting started with the
product when the device is required to read the disk or the
printed material to use the product.
Is training included in the purchase price?
Wow, what a shock to learn you're responsible for training, when
you assumed the price included it. Unfortunately, some don't ask
ahead of time.
Also, decide who needs training. Certainly the user will need
it, but what about others? Teachers, supervisors, computer
department people, family members, co-workers, and roommates are
just a few examples of others who may need to know the device as
well, or better than the user.
Where can I use the AT?
Think about what uses you have for a specific device. If you
will use it in multiple settings, how well will it travel? Is
there room for it there? Is it noisy? Will it disturb others
around you? Will it need to be reprogrammed to use it in
different settings? Who will do that? Will that limit the use?
An external speech synthesizer offers greater flexibility. You
can stash it in a backpack and use a friend's computer as well as
your own. However, their might be compatibility problems when it
is used with certain kinds of hardware, such as scanners. You
doesn't know things like this unless you ask.
Is it bulky?
A device that works well in a stationary setting, may be just
fine, unless you need to lug it to the library twice a week.
Imagine all the settings you will be using the device in and
consider how portable it really needs to be.
Can I use it indoors or out?
How does moisture affect functioning?
Climate changes can affect how a device works. If you will be
operating the device at the bus stand and it starts to rain you
may need to be concerned about this issue. Ask!
What is the battery life?
Battery life is a HUGE issue when considering AT. If you don't
stop to ask this question PRIOR to the purchase, you may have a
non-functioning device when you need it. If the device requires
recharging after every three hours of use, and you will use it
twice that amount of time, obviously get extra batteries. But if
you don't ask, you won ' know. Batteries eventually wear out.
Find out how soon you will need new ones.
If powered, can you plug it in, or is there a power source where
you want to use it? You can often conserve battery life by
"plugging in." So, think about the places you can hook your AT
to an electric outlet. For example, consider sitting next to the
wall outlet when you take a laptop to class. You will have more
battery life for times when no outlet is convenient.
Repair and Maintenance.
Is it reliable?
The best place to get this information is to ask other users.
They have experience with the device, its quirkiness, features
and reliability. To find other users, contact the Blind Computer
User Network or join an e-mail discussion list. There are more
then 70 blindness-related mailing lists on the Internet. For a
list of these with descriptions, go to
http://www.hicom.net/~oedipus/blist.html. to obtain this list by
electronic mail, send an e-mail message to
email@example.com and leave the subject line blank.
In the body of the message type: get blist info. This file is
more than 200 kilobytes in size. For just an index or listing of
all the mailing lists, send an e-mail message to the address
above with the command "get blist short"
Some blindness organizations offer product reviews. For example,
the National Federation of the Blind (410-659-9314) offers many
product reviews on a floppy disk for $5. Whatever you do, state
clearly that you want to find someone who has used the device.
Remember that the vendors and manufacturers sell products.
Consequently, this makes them not necessarily candid resources
about product reliability. In my next article, I will present
some questions to ask and points to consider in choosing an
adaptive technology specialist, vendor, or dealer.
What is the life expectancy?
Nothing lasts forever and at some point your AT will reach the
end of its natural life. Knowing the life expectancy of a device
will help you decide if it's time to repair or replace the
device. Funding sources should also be aware that eventually
replacing the device is far more cost effective or efficient than
What is average use?
All technology has a lifespan. Not all devices can be used
constantly. Find out what the manufacturer considers an average
amount of use for the device. For example, you plan to purchase
a device and anticipate using it eight hours a day. However,
average use is an hour a day. The device is going to wear out
much quicker than usual. Again, if you don't ask, you don't
What does the guarantee/warranty cover?
Some manufacturers provide a bumper-to-bumper warranty, others
provide a sort of "cash and carry/as is" coverage for their
device. Finding out what the guarantee/warranty covers after the
purchase, is too late. Remember to ask and read the fine print.
Stores and dealers are required to read every word of contracts,
purchase agreements and warranties to consumers with print
impairments, including the blind. It is your right under law
(including the ADA and local accessibility ordinances) to receive
this accommodation. You will not get it unless you ask!
What is the service record of
Again, to be a good self advocate, you must check the
sales/service record of the manufacturer and vendor of the
device. You could find a device that works very well for you,
but unfortunately, other users have had nothing but problems with
the vendor's reliability with follow-up and regular maintenance.
Unless you ask other people who have worked with them, you don't
Is repair service convenient?
Find out where the device will need to go for maintenance and
repair. If you need to send it to outer Mongolia, it's going to
take a long time to get there and get back. Perhaps another
device can do the same job and repairs will be closer. Also,
find out if the vendor has loaner equipment available while your
device is in the shop.
What is considered regular maintenance?
You may be able to perform some of the maintenance yourself.
Other maintenance may need specialized training. Interpoint
braille embossers sound wonderful until the end user learns that
unlike single-sided braille printers, these require regular
cleaning by someone who can take the device apart and put it back
together again. Apparently so much paper dust is generated that
the braille appears distorted and hard to read. Find out what
kind of maintenance your device needs and to prolong the life of
the device, follow the directions carefully.
Financial issues often scare people away from devices. They
think, "I'd love to have that, but I could never afford it."
Don't get caught in that mind set. Often going through the
process of finding out exactly what you need will provide the
documentation that a funding source needs to purchase the device
for you. You may also find out that other funding sources are
more appropriate than the one you originally thought. Further,
it is up to the consumer to do the homework. Understand the
reasons of why state rehabilitation agencies or the Program to
Achieve Self Support allows people to obtain adaptive technology
is just as important as the process for obtaining assistance.
What is the total final cost?
Some devices come all in one piece, others come with add-ons that
will up the cost of the device. Be sure to get the total cost of
the item with all the add-ons you need. Are there package deals?
Will you need a specifically designed mounting system? Will you
need two battery packs instead of one? Do you need a backup
system? What about software needs? It's frustrating to finally
get the device and then find out that you need another item to
make it work for you.
Are there training costs? Is training
included in the purchase price?
If you don't ask these questions prior to purchase, you may find
training costs will make the device unattainable. Purchasing it
and being unable to use it because you lack training is a
Who will fund maintenance and repairs?
Imagine how you will feel if your device needs repair, and you
find out that you are responsible for the cost of repairs and you
didn't know it. Ask before the purchase!
Are rental/lease plans more cost effective?
If you are going to use the device on a short term basis, you may
want to consider renting or leasing options. It's also a good
idea to try out the device before you invest much money in it.
Most reputable dealers have rental/lease options that either will
let you apply the money toward the purchase price, or offer a
30-60 day return policy. You'll need to ask so you know the
specific details of the trial period.
If you are working with a vendor that does not allow that type of
option, look elsewhere. They may not be there after the purchase
if they are so stiffly uncompromising prior to it. Look for my
next article to discuss issues in selecting a vendor or dealer.
Will I need to change
devices or upgrade soon?
If you are gaining or losing skills because of the type of
disability you have (such as a loss of vision), consider how much
time you will be using the device. Measure these factors into
the equation about whether the device will work, really work, for
Will I get a trade-in/upgrade allowance?
With the rapidly changing world of technology, things you
purchase may be obsolete in a year. As long as the device still
works for you, that's fine. However, you need to realize that it
will have very little market value if you need another device or
decide to upgrade.
Blind computer users and technology consumers with disabilities
of all kinds must become advocates for their own needs. Relying
on professionals to figure out what you need means you will not
get the best device for you. Use professionals to help figure
out the kinds of devices that will help you perform certain
tasks; however, the consumer alone will ultimately decide if a
device works. If you are not comfortable with a device for any
reason, speak up, loud and clear! It will be better in the end
if you express your opinions prior to the purchase. Complaining
to a funding agent that a device doesn't meet your needs months
after the fact, is upsetting and disheartening for the funder and
often does not change the situation for the consumer.
Finally, it's important to realize that often the best technology
solution is a simple-tech solution. Consider how additional
training, learning new skills, or environmental adaptations can
meet your needs prior to purchasing any device. Training and
environmental changes are long lasting and usually don't require
ongoing repair and maintenance. However, these aren't the answer
for all the barriers blind people face. After deciding that
training or an environmental change won't work, AT may be the
most practical option; however, always keep in mind that the AT
solution should be appropriate for the task and meet your need as
well as your own sense of who you are. Stay connected. the next
article will give great ideas to consider in choosing an adaptive
technology specialist. Watch for it!
Your evaluator and dealer
How good is the person evaluating or selling the product? One
way to minimize the problems associated with training, repair,
reliability, and hidden costs is to choose an evaluator, trainer
and dealer who is experienced and knowledgeable about blind
computing. These can be different people or the same person. If
someone other than the user is buying the AT, such as a state
vocational rehabilitation agency, school district, or employer,
an evaluation will likely be necessary. This is to find out if
the user can benefit from the AT and what specific skills,
devices and training will be needed for the person to reach his
goal in getting technology. Evaluations are often conducted when
someone exercises legal rights found in the Rehabilitation Act,
the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act, saying that adaptive technology will
allow them do a job on par with the sighted or to fully
participate in a public accommodation, such as a college career
or academic program. Choosing the right product is just half the
journey. Choosing the right person to turn dreams into reality
is the other half.
Who conducts evaluations?
Generally, evaluators (or, people who conduct AT assessments)
fall into four categories: rehabilitation
engineers/technologists, vendors, therapists and consultants.
People conducting evaluations vary widely in their skill level.
Some are licensed, others are not.
Rehabilitation engineers/technologists use the principles of
engineering design and application of adaptive technology for
people with disabilities. They may or may not have Master's
degrees in rehabilitation engineering. A vendor sells equipment
for a company or companies. Therapists are professionally
trained and licensed in a specific medical discipline, such as
speech, physical, occupational or rehabilitation therapy. In
Illinois, these therapists must be licensed. A consultant can be
a licensed therapist, a rehabilitation engineer, a really
creative person or just about anyone. There are no licensure or
educational requirements to hang out a shingle and declare
oneself a consultant. Unless you ask about experience, training
and credentials, you will not know.
Just having a license or degree does not guarantee that a person
is an adaptive technology expert. Nor does the fact someone is a
vendor or consultant preclude them from being an adaptive
technology expert. It is important to ask about a person's
credentials and experience before an assessment. Nevertheless,
do not stop there.
Here are some questions you can ask to learn more about a
potential adaptive technology specialist's skills and talent.
How long has the person been recommending this type of AT? How
many devices of this type has the specialist recommended?
Experience builds credibility, skill, knowledge, and
familiarization with user needs. Evaluators and specialists work
out better when they have been in the field for at least a few
years and have recommended, installed, trained, and serviced many
devices and assisted many users in a general AT area, such as
blindness. Be wary of those who have serviced a limited number
of individuals in the past year, unless they come with extremely
high recommendations from very credible end users.
With what age range and/or disability type does the person
primarily work? Some work with people in a particular age range
or disability type, such as blindness. If you are a 35-year-old
adult and the person has only worked with children up to this
point, be wary. Likewise, if you have reduced vision and are
quadriplegic and the person has only worked with blind
individuals, additional expertise might be needed.
What is the track record? Do the recommendations represent a
variety of manufacturers and devices? Learn about a person's
track record from other blind computer users. Ask others that
you know their opinions of the evaluator. Connect with user
networks such as the Chicago Blind Computer User Network. Ask
for at least three references of blind computer users that you
can contact. Be sure that they have received similar services to
yours or are using similar devices to what you will be using. If
the specialist doesn't have any or says it is "confidential,"
look elsewhere. People with disabilities should be able to
expect that adaptive technology specialists accept the same
degree of performance checking as someone hiring a handyman or
house painter. High-quality evaluators and adaptive technology
specialist are well known and proud of their work. They will be
happy to have you learn about it.
Before buying anything, check out the recommendations with other
end users. One resource that can be quite helpful is the
Internet. This is of particular importance if the person doesn't
live in a really big town like Chicago with many sophisticated
end users. There are more than 75 blindness-related electronic
mailing lists, many on adaptive technology. End users,
professionals, vendors and dealers answer questions and exchange
information, ideas and solutions with each other daily. For a
list of these with descriptions, go to
http://www.hicom.net/~oedipus/blist.html. To obtain this list by
electronic mail, send an e-mail message to
firstname.lastname@example.org and leave the subject line blank.
In the body of the message type: get blist info. This file is
more than 200 kilobytes in size. For just an index or listing of
all the mailing lists, send an e-mail message to the address
above with the command "get blist short"
If the specialist may be called upon to participate in an ADA
complaint, lawsuit, employer grievance, or IDEA appeal, you
should anticipate that the other side would use past cases of the
specialist to question the credibility of the expert. A long,
proven track record of recommending devices that have been used
successfully over time is the best defense.
Are people satisfied with the particular products recommended?
What kind of technology and products do others in a similar
situation use? How independent are they with them? Finding
similar end users and talking to them will take time. Patience
and personal education will translate into long-term success and
avoid costly and irritating headaches when things don't work
Vendors sell the products they recommend. That is ok, many in
the field do. Be careful with those who sell or are familiar
with products from only one company. It is in their interest to
sell their particular product whether it works for the consumer
in question or not. Use dealers that represent a variety of
companies and recommend a range of products. How is the
specialist meeting individual needs if he is recommending the
same device for everyone? Were all of the people really that
much alike? For example, the most popular scanning software for
the blind, Open Book Unbound, did not support until recently the
Keynote Gold speech synthesizer from Humanware, Inc. This
recommendation posed limited flexibility to blind end users who
may desire to add scanning capability to their computer systems.
We will never find things like this out unless we ask, learn
about the relationships the dealer has, and check out user
satisfaction with the specialist, company and product.
If a school district or a state rehabilitation agency is paying
for the evaluation, the evaluator should not be the one selling
the equipment. Also, if the evaluation might be used later in
contesting an IEP or in an ADA complaint, this can be cited as a
conflict of interest and might damage the credibility of your
How can you help me after the sale? Realize that for success and
independence, the end user is initiating and developing a long-
term relationship with the adaptive technology specialist.
Technology changes rapidly. New products are released daily.
Existing products are upgraded regularly. Technology opens more
and more opportunities for people with disabilities. What worked
for someone in the past may not meet their needs now. Treating
adaptive technology specialists like order takers or disposable
agency bureaucrats will deny the end user of the tremendous
benefits of a long term partnership.
Be mindful of the industry practice known as "stop and drop," and
as the name implies, little followup happens after the initial
sale. This can often happen when a consumer aggressively selects
a local dealer solely on the basis of the lowest price for the
product. However, for a product to work for most consumers, it
needs to be setup, installed, and configured to meet the specific
consumer's needs. Additionally, quality technical support and
assistance is essential at the outset for a product to really
work for the consumer in the long run. The lowest price is not
always the best. The consumer is not simply buying a product but
a relationship with a company and dealer. At some level, we get
what we pay for.
Good evaluators and adaptive technology specialists keep
customers and don't need to solely rely on product sales to earn
a living. They have the talent to earn money through services
such as training, installation, maintenance, and upgrades. They
should know about products and services that they don't sell such
as training tapes, books, online mailing lists, community college
courses and other resources that assist the end user in learning
and conquering the technology.
Adaptive technology specialists, evaluators, and dealers may be
independent business owners or work for an agency or institution.
Independents may be highly adaptable to individual needs and
flexible in their services. They also may have little contact or
exposure with the disability community beyond their job.
Agencies are as good as the people that work there. Consider the
strengths and experience of the person working at the agency, not
just the strengths of the agency itself. Agencies can be biased
too. For example, the largest Chicago blindness agency has a
financial relationship with an Indiana-based producer of screen
readers. Not surprisingly, this agency invariably recommends
only the screen readers that it sells.
What assessment procedures does the evaluator use to arrive at a
Will the user actually try the device? For how long? What
outcomes or behaviors were observed during the device usage? If
you have not used the device before, this is a must. The
evaluation should go beyond a demonstration of how the adaptive
technology works. It should include hands-on use of equipment
and software in the actual situations and settings faced by the
end user. If it doesn't work, it is convincing evidence not to
purchase the device. If it works for the end user, it is a
nearly irrefutable justification. A natural experience with a
product during several weeks in the real world is far more
convincing than the unnatural experience of a half-hour long
highly structured evaluation at a demonstration center.
What standard does the evaluator use for his recommendation? Is
it consistent with the legal standard in question? This is
important if an employer, state rehabilitation agency, or a
school district is purchasing the adaptive technology, the
evaluator should be familiar with the standards and procedures in
the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act as
amended in 1992, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act. These standards may vary considerably from the professional
opinion of the AT specialist or the preferences or desires of the
user. What is best for the user may not be "appropriate" under
IDEA, or "effective communication" under the ADA. Likewise,
rehabilitation funding allows for devices "necessary for
employment" and Medicaid will cover only those things "medically
necessary." These are not complicated definitions to understand,
but the At specialist should be familiar with their meaning and
requirements. For assistance in obtaining a specific standard,
contact a parent's group, ADA technical assistance center, or a
blind computer user network.
Can the evaluator, trainer, or dealer use the device like the end
user? People who sell, service, and evaluate adaptive technology
products such as screen readers should be end users. Would you
buy a car from someone who doesn't drive? Rarely do sighted
evaluators, trainers, or vendors have the screen turned off when
working with a blind end user. With the low expectations our
society holds for people with disabilities, it can be difficult
to understand what works, REALLY WORKS, for the end user if
someone is not one himself.
Above all, trust yourself. Things that can't be described can
mean a lot. You may feel difficulty in trusting the adaptive
technology specialist. You may feel that he really doesn't
understand your needs or situation. He may speak only in
generalities and not specifics. He might be vague about the
experiences of other customers. My experience finds that if the
end user is uncomfortable or unsure about the adaptive technology
specialist, blurred outcomes often result. It is better to wait
and continue asking questions until one is comfortable then to
move forward. Our feelings tell us a lot about ourselves. Use
them to make the right choices.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Sun Dec 02 2012 - 01:30:04 PST