Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities and the “Figure it out yourself” factor

I recently read an article in the NY Times which discusses how some school districts are dropping innovative programs using laptops for students after disappointing results. It points out various problems, such as students using the laptops to hack or play games rather than study. But the point that it raises which I found crucial is that more time is being spent on repairing the laptops than was spent on training students or educators to use them in their courses.

As a person with a disability who uses extensive technology to work, I know that any product I buy is only as good as the time I put into it. Generally the more sophisticated the device is in a technological sense the more time it takes for me to benefit from its use and achieve productivity from it. This takes a commitment of time on my part which is much higher because no training is available with many of these products – and often results in less producivity and utility of the producct than possible.

When I buy a copy of voice recognition software now, I no longer enjoy the level of customer service I did years ago. The product has been mainstreamed which is good but the company has pulled back on their level of commitment to assist customers with using the product. Fortunately, along with this, the product itself has improved and is easier to use, but it’s just not helpful to someone like myself who cannot afford even their best suited product for my disability, much less their training.

I also bought an electronic head cursor so I won’t have to use a head pointer. I found this product fairly easy to use, but when I had questions about it in relation to my disability, I was told that most people use it for gaming and I would have to “figure it out for myself”. I did but not without using many hours of time that I could have spent – well – working.

I could go on and on listing products that I’ve purchased that I need to do my job independently which came with no training even when they were marketed to people with disabilities. I added up the time I spend training myself on new equipment every year and it came to approximately a month of full work days which equals 160 hours a year of lost work time.

Lack of regulation in this area makes things dicey. Companies have no obligation to train users on a product. Some customer service people are willing to extend themselves for a consumer with a disability. Other times I am told that I “should” be getting these services through state agencies or through my insurance. I do explore the options and I am often left with a gap between the technology I so desperately need and the knowledge to use it most productively. At times I’ve paid for training out of my funds if that is cost effective – but it means that I can afford to get less technology I need, repair devices I am using or hire the help I need to do what technology still can’t.

Like the students and teachers who will lose their laptops because school districts saw no results, it makes me wonder how many people with disabilities never fully utilize the equipment they receive either.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan

1 Comment

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One response to “Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities and the “Figure it out yourself” factor

  1. Wouldn’t you have thought that computers would have been made a lot easier to use and fix. Instead, they become more and more complicated, well out of the league of any non techy to fix.

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