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Promoting assistive technologies
How AT supports communication

How AT supports communication

Author: David Banes, Chief Executive Officer, Mada - Qatar Assistive Technology Center. Edited by James Thurston, Microsoft Trustworthy Computing Group.

Communication has been properly defined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a basic human right. For many people technology and notably assistive technologies are critical in the reaching of this human right.

Communication takes a variety of forms, but most notably we have challenges posed by barriers to text, and challenges posed by barriers to speech. Technology and assistive technologies can help accommodate each.

Support for Literacy: Dyslexia Case Study
Rhodri was diagnosed as severely dyslexic when he was nine. As a result he began to use voice recognition software. His success can be seen in his video case study he created for youtube for the Westminster eforum

Support for non verbal users: AAC case study
Steve aged 12 has little or no intelligible speech. To help him he has been provided with an Apple iTouch with proloquo2go software installed. By touching sequences of symbols that are available onscreen, Steve is able to create sentences which he can use in a variety of settings. These include buying his copy of TV Guide at the Newsagents, asking his mum for a drink and telling friends what he did last night. Best of all people maintain eye contact with him and not the device because it so small 

Beyond simple communication
New forms of communication are available to us on a regular basis. The growth of the use of email, social networks, video conferencing etc are all areas of interest to people with a disability. In many cases the issue that faces us, lies in ensuring that standard applications such as social networks work with a wide range of assistive technologies. In other cases it is about providing tools that enable access to the communicative process.

For example - Access to email
For many users with intellectual or cognitive disabilities classic email clients such as Outlook are simply too complex. Web interfaces such as Hotmail or Gmail may be simpler, but for many a more specialist interface is required.

Case Study - ICanEmail - RJ Cooper
This software from RJ Cooper is designed for people with cognitive challenges, visual impairments, and physical disabilities. For the user, it operates in a sequential manner, where it asks one question at a time, such as "Who would you like to send this to?" or "If you'd like to speak your message, you can do that here." Reading requirements are small as the software has voice output to support use. The email 'partner' (the recipient or sender) sends and receives mail without any special software at all! To him/her it is just like emailing with anyone else. ICanEmail can also let the user send/receive mail from other users on their system, without even using the Internet at all, even to themselves for practice, with the addition of third party software, you can access account such as Hotmail, etc.