Drexel University Online - March and May

Assistive Technology Need Not Be So Technical

When most people think of the word “technology,” they imagine iPads, tablet PCs, or internet-ready glasses. Technology, though, just means machinery or equipment developed for practical purposes. This different understanding of the word “technology” can shift a practitioner’s focus from high-tech tools like iPads and electronic voice-boxes to any device that can help a person complete a practical task. A simple machine like a lever, a pulley, or a wedge can be considered technology, and these low-tech tools are both simple and powerful in that they are found easily but can enhance a person’s natural strengths to help him complete a task successfully. In my professional role as a coordinator of vocational training, I spend much of my time coming up with simple solutions to stubborn workplace problems. For individuals with autism—be they children, adolescents, or adults—low-tech assistive technology can be immeasurably helpful as new academic and workplace skills are learned and mastered.

Technology for autism does not need to be restricted to Durable Medical Equipment like expensive communication or transportation devices; something as simple as a laminated information card with vital information—and individual’s name and address and his likes and dislikes—can be considered “technology.” The less intrusive and less obtrusive a tool is, the more likely an individual with autism is to be able to use said tool in the school, the home, and the workplace. A pocket-sized book of PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) can be a priceless resource for individuals who are non-verbal in unfamiliar environments. Easy fixes that can be speedily and efficiently reproduced can make a huge impact on the lives of individuals with autism. Again, much of my job is spent identifying low-tech solutions to consistent vocational problems and executing these solutions on a large scale for vocational training.

Working from a low-tech paradigm can save time, money, and frustration. What follows are some examples of low-tech solutions. A simple solution to the persistent issue of the quality of folded shirts, both at home and in retail environments, is a shirt-folding board, sometimes called a “jig,” that consistently folds shirts along the same creases for easy stacking and storing. Such a device can easily be purchased online for around $15 or made at home. A similar issue is the consistency of folded towels and washcloths in a hospitality setting; a quick fix for this issue is sewing matching colored dots along the creases so that individuals have a guide via which they can make consistent and accurate folds. Physical assistive technologies like jigs and visual cues can make an adult’s job much easier and can both improve the quality of his work and the likelihood of maintained paid employment. Similar tools can be applied to academic environments. A wooden board with pre-drilled holes that is equipped to secure drawer knobs and handles can help students complete loosening and tightening tasks as they work on fine-motor skills and other occupational therapy. Again, any device that helps to achieve a practical task is considered a piece of assistive technology.

Many people without disabilities use assistive technology. Those who wear glasses, use GPS systems, recline on back pillows, or type on ergonomic keyboards all use assistive technology. Tools that aide individuals with autism do not have to have all the “bells and whistles” of electronic devices nor do they need to be the latest product for sale; simple, easy, and inexpensive solutions to everyday problems—when applied consistently and thoughtfully—can be truly life-changing.

For more information, please contact Matthew Ratz at mjratz@gmail.com.

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