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Promoting assistive technologies
Implementing assistive technologies

Implementing assistive technologies

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

The following section provides an overview of key issues to consider in procuring assistive technologies. Further policy advice is available for developing  public procurement policies. 

In procuring technology for an organisation or individual there are a range of issues to consider. These can broadly be divided into two areas:

  1. Is the Assistive technology appropriate to the needs of the user/users?

  2. Does the platform/infrastructure provided support assistive technologies?

The first of these can be addressed through the implementation of effective an assessment model to meet individual needs. This is discussed below.

In reviewing the latter of these there are a number of issues to be addressed. These include:



Hardware - Platform

How will the platform support a range of third party input and output devices.?


What connectivity to third party input/output devices will be available?


Is the hardware compatible with widely used access software solutions?


Will drivers for input/output devices be available on this platform ?


What support can be provided for input/output based on legacy connections?

Hardware - Laptops

What range of screen size will be available?


How much do any specified portable devices  weigh?


Are ruggardised devices available?


How do the devices open and start up - Ease of use?


What is the battery life

In Hibernate

In continuous use?


Can the selected device accommodate peripherals such as scanners, CCTV/magnifiers, joysticks?

Managed Services

How will local specialist technician knowledge integrate with provider services?


What provision of instant replacement services is applicable to users with Individual Needs?


Can the systems be accessed by users of non standard technologies?


Will users have access to the control panel features?


Can user profile for accessibility features be accessed at login anytime anywhere?


What are the timescales and related dependencies for approval and installation of access technologies?

Operating System

What accessibility options are available in the operating system?


What third party access software is available?


How will non keyboard or non literate users log on to the system?


What range of applications and software will run on the system and will those option work with assistive technologies?


Will the applications comply with accessibility standards?


How will any bundled content created be managed  - How will the accessibility of content be assured?


Can it be accessed by users of non-standard technologies?

Assistive Technology

Can AT solutions be managed across the network?


Is network licensing of assistive technologies appropriate?


How will Assistive  technologies be maintained in line with OS and application upgrades?


How will people with Special Needs access any online applications/workstations/laptops/mobile devices?


How will assistive technologies be funded year on year for new users and as users needs change ?


Are drivers for assistive technologies preloaded onto the system?

Building Design and Furniture

Are suitable power sockets and network access points available to support pupils throughout the building and immediate environment?


Is furniture accessible and suitably adjustable for individual needs?


Is technology sited for ease of access?


Does Lighting reflect on the screen or create undue glare?

Can it be locally adjusted (e.g. turned off.)?


Is there sufficient space allowed in the classroom for equipment to be manoeuvred and to promote access for people with limited mobility?

An effective procurement model can be based upon some simple questions:

  • Does the proposal meet recognized standards?

  • Does it pass your testing?

  • Will the vendor commit to compliance?

  • Is there an acceptable interim position?

This is represented in the flow chart below from the Employers Forum for Disability.

Fig (to be included)

Assessment models
This section discussed some pros and cons of traditional and looks to some  innovative models.

Traditionally assessment has been conducted through either, an intervention by an individual through a personal visit and assessment of needs, or by an intervention from a multidisciplinary team including AT professional, Speech therapist, physiotherapist, ergonomist etc.

Increasingly however a more structured escalating model has evolved which utilises collaboration technologies to lead to an agreed solution. This has included telephone review, on line self assessment and remote assessment using a loan bank of technologies and communication tools including voice and video over IP.

Each model has strengths and weaknesses, selection of a suitable model should be identified according to a series of criteria:

1. Cost

2. Available Time

3. Experience of user with technology

4. Availability of broadband 

Training solutions
Similarly it is possible to explore an escalating model of training to assistive technology users. Traditionally users received training through visits to classrooms or by a trainer delivering their training at home, school, college or workplace. There have been a number of low cost solutions to this need including the work of organisations such as ucandoIT in the UK, Digital Unite, and Telecentre-Europe.

Such programmes of training usually offer users an opportunity to both develop their skills in using a computer per se, and also in learning to use assistive technology to effectively access the computer.     

However many users have found the model of training to be both demanding and expensive and as a result other forms of training delivery have been developed to address needs.

These include e-learning and webinars.  

Online Learning

The UK NGO AbilityNet has established a portal to a range of training resources that are available on demand. The resources are used both to introduce assistive technologies and approaches, to reinforce prior learning and to address specific questions as they arise.

Online learning reduces the cost of training and is of value in augmenting other approaches including classroom and face to face training.



The Australian AT company Spectronics has been regularly running webinars introducing and training people on specific assistive technologies over the past two years. A number of the webinars have been recorded and can be viewed on demand.

Live webinars offer an additional benefit for training by allowing a degree of interactivity between learners and trainer. They are of particular benefit where geography and cost are key factors.

Joint working across sectors

Case Study: Defra

The UK governmental department "Defra" were planning to implement a complete refresh of the technology provided for employees. As part of this process they had determined that they wanted to ensure that they fully complied with best practice for their disabled team members. IBM were contracted to provide the hardware with Windows Vista being the operating system chosen. To ensure this, Microsoft introduced a UK NGO to the implementation team at Defra in April 08 and as a result initial work packages were identified and a costing for those packages for the initial phase of the roll out. The joint work then took a number of forms.

Initial Review of Platform
At the point of engagement the platform identified for the renew desktop had already been confirmed. However the NGO reviewed the combined hardware and vista platform to confirm that it provided a sound basis for reasonable adjustment for disabled employees. From this work it was possible to note strengths and weaknesses of the system and implications for users, and to highlight areas of risk such as lockdown of ease of access centre that could be avoided in the final build.

Gap Analysis
Defra already had an approved list of Assistive technologies that were supported by IBM. The NGO reviewed that list to provide a benchmark of best practice of solutions that could be recommended and supported across the department in the future. This was completed in three stages

1. List of current technologies

2. Updated list and benchmark for current platform

3. Updated list and benchmark for renew desktop platform

This allowed the team to identify upgrades and patches required for the new platform and those solutions that were incompatible, to guide any recommendations for alternatives at implementation.

Initial Interventions
Initial interventions were then planned. These interventions took a three stage process

1. Telephone Screening exercise
This exercise offered background on the user and allowed us to confirm that a current suitable solution was available, where this was the case we confirmed details with the team to initiate implementation. However often the solution identified was not resolving all of the needs of the user, or needed significant revision for the new systems. In all of these cases the intervention was escalated to a personal consultation.

2. Personal Consultation
At the personal consultation, the NGO carried out one of two activities. Either to review the current setup and ensure that it would operate on the renew desktop. This was often required where a successful solution was in place but the equipment could not be identified by model number etc. However in many cases a full assessment was required as new needs had been identified or the current solution was not fully compatible with the new platform

3. Training Needs Analysis
The final stage of this process was to complete a TNA on the individual to see if they needed further training on the new solution if it represented a significant change from current solutions.

It was interesting that that visibility of the level of support provided, encouraged some of those that had not disclosed that they were having problems with access to their desktop in the past to come forward and find a solution.

Simultaneously with the interventions above a series of background activities were taking place

1. Support for implementation / Floor walking
As renew desktop was rolled out within a department and to individuals with disabilities, the team was available on site to assist with any unanticipated problems that emerged

2. User Acceptance Testing of new solutions
The accessibility team were engaged in the model office as part of the wider UAT team to ensure that new solutions, including those identified in the Gap analysis were fully compliant with the full renew desktop. Products reviewed included Dragon Naturally Speaking, Wivik, Zoomtext and Jaws

3. Ongoing reviews of recommended solutions
As the project progressed vendors were introducing patches and upgrades that increased the range of available solutions to Defra. The team maintained the list of supported solutions throughout this process.

4. Website and Intranet Access (SharePoint)
In this case, the NGO, AbilityNet, were working with Defra to ensure that the applications and web content that employees and customers were accessing were fully compliant with the needs of assistive technology users. The approach taken combined compliance with technical standards, with pragmatic issues of ease of use.

Training of teams and individuals
As an outcome of the grassroots reviews carried out the team undertook to train some of the users in the technologies that had been identified (in other cases third party suppliers were recommended in the TNA) and also held a two day workshop on accessibility in Vista and Office 2007 for members of the wider implementation team.

There is much to be commended in the relationships and work that was carried out between Defra, IBM, Microsoft and AbilityNet. The work demonstrates an exemplary model of inclusive transformation. This model has been backed with real investment of time and funding to ensure that the transition is as painless to users as possible.

The work demonstrates how the Public, Private and voluntary sectors can work together, offering niche expertise and experience to produce a seamless service to users with individual needs.

This section has demonstrated the power of ICT to empower people with a disability through the use of assistive technologies. We have demonstrated that regardless of need, there is a choice of solutions available to ensure that access is established, and that many of these solutions are free or very low cost. The case studies highlighted, demonstrate the real impact that these solution have to enhance the lives of people with a disability.

The following are references that span a wide range of information on AT and related topics.

(ABLEDATA 2009). "AbleData - Your source for assistive technology information"

AHEAD. "Text Access. Ireland's Resource Guide & Union Catalogue for the Print Disabled at Third Level"

(AssistiveWare 2000-2009). "AssistiveWare videos on computer accessibility"

(ATA 2009): "The Alliance for Technology Access"

(ATIA 2009). "Assistive Technology Industry Association"

(Enable Ireland). "Enable Ireland AT Services: AT-Training courses"

(Freedom Scientific 2009a). "Freedom Scientific : PAC MateTM Portable Braille Displays"

(Freedom Scientific 2009b). "Freedom Scientific: JAWS for Windows ® Screen Reading Software."

(Gateway 2009). "Gateway. Guidance for Assistive Technology in Education and Workplace Advancing Young People with Disabilities"

(GNOME 2007). "GNOME: Orca screen reader"

(GW Micro 2009). "GW Micro - Window-Eyes"

(NVDA 2009). "NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) Screen Reader"

(OATSoft 2009). "OATSoft Open Source Assistive Technology Software"

(OneSwitch 2009). " Fun enabling technology ideas"

(TUKE). "ATTRAIN - Assistive Technology Consultant/Advisor Training Development and Delivery"

(University CSUN 2008)."Assistive Technology programme."

(University of Buffalo 2009). "Assistive Technology Training Online Project"

(University of Rochester 2009)."EASY. Online web accessibility training course."

Enable Ireland (2009). "AT Training CD-ROM from Enable Ireland"

Brownsell, S., D. Bradley, et al. (2003). "Assistive Technology and Telecare"

(Cook, A. M. and J. Polgar 2007). "Assistive Technologies: Principles and Practice"

(Ding, D., R. A. Cooper, et al. 2003). "Integrated control and related technology of assistive devices"

(Gateway 2009). "Gateway. Guidance for Assistive Technology in Education and Workplace Advancing Young People with Disabilities"

Hawking, S. (2004). "Computer Resources for People with Disabilities: A Guide to Assistive Technologies, Tools and Resources for People of All Ages"

(Hersh, M. A. and M. A. Johnson 2003).  "Assistive Technology for the Hearing Impaired, Deaf and Deafblind"

Hersh, M. A. and M. A. Johnson (2008).  "Assistive Technology for Visually Impaired and Blind People",

Nisbett, P (1996)."Integrating assistive technologies: current practices and future possibilities"

(Vanderheiden 1998). "Universal design and assistive technology in communication and information technologies: alternatives or complements?"