Assistive Technology (AT) can be defined as any software or hardware that the user with a disability employs. AT can make the computer, the Internet or other electronic tools or resources accessible to, and usable by a person with a disability. Some forms of AT are quite expensive, and can be purchased only from specialized manufacturers, while others forms can be bought at local electronics stores.
Who benefits from AT?
AT may be a reasonable modification for students with disabilities who experience a number of functional limitations. These are some of the functional effects of disabilities that AT is used for to level the playing field:
- Reading Barriers, due to blindness, learning disabilities or other disabilities.
- Hearing limitations due to deafness or other hearing impairment.
- Keyboard or writing barriers, due to repetitive motion injuries, spinal cord injuries, etc.
- Spelling or expressive writing limitations.
How can I find out about AT?
Disability Services Coordinators work with individual students to determine which reasonable modifications the student is eligible to use and may want to use, including AT. If there are possibilities of assistive technology being useful to the student, the Coordinator may then refer the student to our AT Coordinator for demonstration and training in use of a particular assistive technology.
Where is AT on campus?
Disability Services maintains assistive technology in the Mansfield Library and in computer labs on the Mountain Campus and at the Missoula College and at the Bitterroot College campuses with the cooperation and support of other UM departments. The AT in these locations is available for use whenever these libraries or labs are open.
Here are descriptions of AT available in UM’s Mansfield Library and general computer labs:
JAWS is the premier screen reading program for computer users who are blind, have low vision or experience other significant reading barriers, including learning disabilities. JAWS makes your computer talk, and can be used with nearly every standard application; including word processors, databases, spreadsheets, web browsers and email applications. It can read virtually all text that appears on the computer screen, including navigation elements, dialogue boxes, menus, and, of course content. JAWS also allows users to select which of those elements it will read and which it will not read. In UM labs, JAWS is activated by pressing the Control + Al + J keys simultaneously.
WYNN (What You Need Now) will scan and read print documents and books back to you. In addition, WYNN reads word processing files, web sites, e-mail, the powerful text-only DAISY format, Adobe .PDF and scanned documents aloud, and provides a variety of tools to help you read, learn and understand the material you are studying. WYNN is great for students with reading barriers not related to vision, including learning disabilities and ADHD. It can improve reading speed and comprehension. It also has assistance for writing. Using WYNN, you can access text and add your own notes, highlight words and phrases, and insert bookmarks. WYNN can enlarge the displayed text, increase line and word spacing and decrease column width to improve access to text material. In addition, WYNN provides language tools, including a thesaurus, a dictionary, a pronunciation guide, and spell-check.
Open Book scans and reads back print documents to the user. It is built for blind and low vision users, relying on keyboard commands rather than "point-and-click" functions using the mouse. Open Book can also read Adobe .PDF files, any word processor or other formats, including formatted digital Braille files. Open Book’s display options include font choices, enlarged fonts, and a variety of background/foreground color choices. It also has bookmarking features, and can translate files into electronic Braille formats, as well as back-translating them (out of electronic Braille format).
Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS)
DNS is speech recognition software that enables users to control a computer and enter information by speaking. With DNS, a microphone takes the place of the keyboard, and, for some, the mouse. Dictating word processing documents is easy even for beginning users, and Dragon can be trained to accomplish more complicated tasks as well. Dragon works in conjunction with many popular software packages, including the Microsoft Office suite of programs. Once Dragon is running, you can use your voice to start a program ("Start Microsoft Word"), open a file ("File, Open, File Name"), dictate your document, save your document ("File, Save"), print your document ("File, Print") and close the program ("File, Exit") Recent versions render high accuracy without "training" the software to recognize the user's voice. Even so, an initial half-hour training enables most users to achieve 90% or better accuracy, and accuracy increases the more you use the program.
FS Reader is installed on all Windows machines that also have JAWS. It is able to play audio DAISY formats from Learning Ally as well as text-only DAISY from Bookshare.org and from our Alternate Materials department.
In addition to the hardware and software Disability Services integrates into UM's computing, some AT is checked out to students through Presentation Technology Services (PTS). This equipment is authorized by the student's Coordinator at Disability Services, as part of their discussion and identification of reasonable accommodations. Here is a partial list of the PTS AT hardware:
Victor Reader Stream
Stream can play audio DAISY formats from Learning Ally as well as text-only DAISY from Bookshare.org and from our own Alternate Materials department. In addition, they can play text files that are not in the DAISY format.
Disability Services has a small number of Apple iPads equipped with software for reading a variety of alternate formats. They are useful in augmentative communication, document magnification, and other AT applications as well.
What are ALDs?
A number of UM classrooms and other public venues are pre-wired for transmission to Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) for students with hearing impairments.
ALDs (sometimes referred to as FM loops), are issued to students with hearing impairments in order to provide better auditory access to class lectures. The student receives both a microphone, which is given to the instructor to wear, and a receiver. The particular equipment issued depends on the type of hearing loss, hearing aids, etc. Disability Services Coordinators work with students regarding equipment and authorization to use them.