Tuesday, December 2, 2014

AT Awareness Month: The Future of Assistive Technology

To recap Assistive Technology Awareness Month that was in November, director of the UATP, Sachin Pavithran, provides his thoughts on the history and future of assistive technology.

By Bennett Purser
UATP director, Sachin Pavithran.
UATP director, Sachin Pavithran

Assistive technology has come a long way, and devices are developing fast and producing many options for people seeking independence and success. In the last five years, consumers have seen mainstream technology thoroughly embrace assistive features.

Initially, assistive technology was specialized equipment or devices, always tailored to the needs of whichever disability population the products catered to.

Now that assistive technology has merged into mainstream technology, the concept has moved beyond specialization for blindness, deafness or communicative assistance, to having each of these amenities, and more, in a single device.

Sachin Pavithran, director of the Utah Assistive Technology Program, said, “The mainstream technology companies have realized there’s a population out there who could use the equipment if they add certain features to it."

“Down the road when there's more awareness about what these technologies can do, it will first of all decrease the cost of assistive technology,” Pavithran said. “Because that has been one of the biggest challenges, that assistive technology has always been very expensive.”

But the more AT is merged into general technology, it becomes more affordable for average families. 

“Now people are paying a fixed price, when they buy the latest devices, which happens to be accessible,” Pavithran said.

With these great strides, it is easy to see how the buying market for adaptive features is a far cry from what consumers once used. 

Pavithran notes that even consumers without disabilities are owning assistive devices when they purchase an iPad or Android, even Comcast’s television receivers have become accessible to the blind. 
Android Smartphone
Smartphones like this Android are
becoming more and more accessible.

But where Pavithran believes that awareness is still needed the most is in the classroom. With his work at the UATP and throughout the country, he still sees a lack of discussion about assistive technology in schools. 

While the Center for Persons with Disabilities and Emma Eccles Jones college of Education and Human Services at Utah State University has implemented the use of assistive technology in the classrooms on campus, schools nationwide could benefit from having more devices available to students. 

“In education systems, instructional materials within the university environment, a lot more could be done so students can have equally access to information,” he said. “It’s just that universities are not really putting emphasis on what technology is fully accessible, or using it to fullest extent to so students with disabilities could be having the same or equal experience that every other student has on campus.”

He mentioned that Assistive Technology Awareness Month is important for higher education to see their roles in discussing how technology can be included to ensure students equal access to information and an independent educational experience. 

“Seeing the satisfaction that individuals get when they finally find a conclusion to do things independently is always fulfilling," Pavithran said. "A lot of times people want to do things independently, there’s just a lack of knowledge in place.”

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