Computer Accessibility for Special Needs Individuals

Photo courtesy of Flickr: Jil Wright

Recent advances in technology, especially with computers, are helping to close the gap for individuals with special needs. Thanks to such technology, those with special needs are able to learn in the classroom along with other students, work alongside their able-bodied coworkers, and live more independently than ever. This new kind of technology used by individuals with special needs is often referred to as assistive technology, or AT, and includes communication devices, visual aids, adaptive wireless systems, accessible computers, specialized switches, and special writing instruments.

Computers are becoming commonplace wherever we go. They are used in the school for learning, at work for doing business, and in the home to make life more manageable and convenient. With the advancement of such wide computer use, another phenomenon has been taking place. Computers have the ability to be adapted for any user, and for families who have a special-needs family member or for the special-needs individual themselves, this is very exciting. With the rise of adaptive computer technology, it has never been a better or more exciting time for individuals with special needs to learn, work, and live independently. This technology is available for those with any type of special need, including visual, hearing, or motor impairments. There are also special types of technology that help with other issues, including learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, and Down syndrome.

While the technology is there to help those with special needs, one of the biggest challenges is to try to find what technology works best depending on the need. This involves family members, caregivers, teachers, employers, and medical personnel all working together to find the best kind of assistive technology that will improve the quality of life for the disabled individual. What makes this even more challenging is that even with similar issues, each individual is just that - an individual. Two students in the classroom might both have motor impairments and be in wheelchairs, but one of them might be more high-functioning than the other, making their technology needs different. It can take patience, perseverance, and knowledge to help find what kind of technology or computer adaptation works best for a particular individual. More often than not, though, if someone has special needs, there is a way to make computers accessible and to figure out what type of assistive technology works best for them.

Individuals with disabilities can learn, work, and gain independence with the use of accessible computers and assistive technology, like software that can read the contents of a Web page out loud for the blind or alternative input devices for those who can't use a mouse or keyboard due to motor impairments. By using such technology, not only can their confidence and self-esteem increase, but it gives them new ways to explore their world. No longer does the world belong to able-bodied people or those who do not have any type of disability. By making computers and assistive technology available to those with special needs, they, too, will have the tools needed to learn, work, and grow in their schools, places of work, and communities.

These resources give caretakers, individuals with disabilities, teachers, and employers information on how to best equip those with special needs to reach their fullest potential and to learn, work, and live independently. Some of these resources are specific to certain kinds of disabilities, such as visual or hearing impairment, while others can be used for any type of special need:

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