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Revision 19-1, Effective March 1, 2019
Evaluating Assistive Technology
Assistive technology evaluators must:
- have earned a degree from an accredited college or university with a specialization in computer science, education, rehabilitation, or a related field, with one year of work experience in the education or rehabilitation of persons who have visual disabilities and/or other disabilities; or have earned a high school diploma or passed a General Educational Development (GED) test, with four years of progressively responsible work experience in the education or rehabilitation of persons who have visual disabilities and/or other disabilities;
- be knowledgeable about computers and assistive technology, the applications of technology, and the methods of evaluating technology for persons who are blind or visually impaired;
- possess the ability to simulate computer and technological environments, similar to the situations that an individual may encounter on the job or in school;
- have the ability to conduct objective evaluations; and
- have the ability to make objective recommendations.
Assistive technology evaluations must be conducted one-on-one, with one evaluator assigned for each consumer.
Assistive technology evaluations determine the most effective assistive technology for meeting the consumer's independent living goals.
Assistive technology evaluations give consumers who are blind access to:
- the services of a knowledgeable assistive technology evaluator; and
- the latest assistive equipment.
Minimum Assessment Requirements
To meet the minimum requirements, the consumer must have:
- a typing speed of at least 30 words per minute (WPM), if the independent living goal is related to the purchase of computer software such as ZoomText, Window-Eyes, or JAWS; and
- a braille reading speed of 50 WPM in Grade 2 (uncontracted braille) using braille devices, when braille is the preferred reading format, if the independent living goal is related to the purchase of a braille display or braille note taker.
These minimum assessment requirements are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. For example, these requirements may be waived for consumers who have secondary disabilities that limit the use of one or both hands and for consumers who have sustained a traumatic brain injury. The evaluator should discuss these circumstances with the consumer's service provider as appropriate.
Evaluation Period for Assistive Technology
The length of time required to complete an assistive technology evaluation is based on the consumer's individual circumstances; therefore, there are no set time requirement for each evaluation. It is recommended, however, that the evaluator plan for about 2.5 hours.
Conducting the Evaluation
The evaluator must:
- remain impartial and objective throughout the evaluation process;
- not express personal opinions, make other comments, or take other actions that may be mistaken for bias or promoting one product over another during the evaluation;
- show consumers only the products that will assist the consumer in meeting his or her independent living goals;
- conduct the evaluation (including the evaluator's interview with the consumer) in a confidential manner; and
- not grant any person permission to observe the evaluation, unless:
- the consumer expressly agrees to allow the person to be present; and
- the observer agrees not to ask questions, make suggestions, or otherwise comment during the evaluation process.
Assistive technology evaluations include the following three components:
- A private interview is held with the consumer to discuss the individual's background and to review information developed by the service provider.
- The consumer's ability (or potential ability) to use assistive technology equipment and to benefit from the service provider's recommendations is assessed and observed.
- A closing interview is held to summarize the results of the evaluation process and is documented in the evaluation report.
Interview Process—Evaluation of Video Magnification Systems
The evaluator asks the following questions during evaluation interviews for video magnification systems (including closed circuit televisions or CCTVs):
- Is color identification critical to the consumer’s independent living goal?
- What specific tasks will the consumer be completing with a video magnification system; for example, reading (only) or reading and writing?
- Is the consumer able to read in an efficient manner using magnification of a video system? What level of magnification is required to read using the video magnification system?
- Does the consumer use a computer at home?
Interview Process—Evaluation of Scanners
During evaluation interviews for scanners, the evaluator should determine:
- whether the consumer has significant eye fatigue;
- whether the consumer has video magnification that is too large to be productive;
- whether the consumer feels nauseous when using the video magnification system;
- what the nature of the consumer's degenerative eye condition is;
- whether the consumer is fully aware of other resources, such as:
- the Texas State Library; and
- reader services (oral reading or related services for individuals who are blind); and
- what the consumer's computer needs are for using braille or speech-related features and any tasks that the consumer will perform using a scanner, including:
- entering scanned documents into a computer (Has the consumer brought samples of documents to be scanned or can he or she describe the documents?); and
- manipulating scanned documents on a computer.
Interview Process—Evaluation of Computer Applications
The following areas are addressed during evaluation interviews for screen magnification devices, refreshable braille display devices, and screen reader systems:
- If the consumer is using a computer to meet his or her independent living goals, the evaluator notes:
- the kind of computer the consumer is using;
- the software the consumer is using; and
- the access equipment the consumer is using.
- The evaluator discusses as many aspects of the consumer's independent living goal as possible, takes notes, and rechecks the consumer file for discrepancies. If possible, the evaluator uses information documented in the file to elicit additional details about the consumer's independent living tasks.
- The evaluator documents the consumer's skill level, including:
- typing speed;
- accuracy; and
- keyboard familiarity.
- The evaluator notes the consumer's previous computer experience, including:
- the type of computer used;
- the type of software used;
- where and when the consumer acquired the experience; and
- whether the experience was acquired before the loss of vision.
- The evaluator asks whether the consumer has experience with:
- computer access equipment;
- video magnification systems, including CCTVs;
- computer braille devices;
- refreshable braille display devices; and/or
- synthesized speech devices.
When the interview and product evaluations have been completed, the assistive technology evaluator:
- discusses with the consumer the evaluator's equipment recommendations and the consequences of the recommendations; and
- answers any questions the consumer has about the recommendations and/or the evaluation process.
The service provider also reminds the consumer that:
- the purpose of the evaluation is to enable the evaluator to make recommendations; and
- the only decision that the consumer’s evaluator can make is whether to purchase (or not to purchase) assistive technology equipment.
Documenting the Assessment
Documentation of the assessment should contain the following:
- Information about any specific evaluation requirements for the type of assistive technology evaluated.
- Minimum assessment requirements addressed (such as typing speed or braille reading speed) or the reason for waiving the requirement.
- A list of the products that were evaluated with the consumer.
- Any previous experience the consumer has had with assistive technology.
- The final recommendation and an explanation how the assistive technology will assist the consumer in meeting his or her independent living goals.
Providing Training on Assistive Technology
Training is provided to prepare a consumer to use assistive technology effectively to meet the consumer’s independent living goals. Training may be provided at a facility, on-site at a consumer's home, or in a community resource center. Facility-based trainers or on-site trainers can provide group training.
Assistive technology trainers must:
- have a high school diploma or GED;
- be knowledgeable about computers and assistive technology that is designed for people who are blind or visually impaired;
- be familiar with computer and assistive technology applications for people who have visual disabilities and/or other disabilities;
- be familiar with appropriate instructional methods for people who have visual disabilities and/or other disabilities and participate in required training as developed that may include confidence builder training or its equivalent;
- have the ability to vary training to meet the specific needs of each consumer; and
- demonstrate proficiency in assistive technology training on specific assistive equipment, in accordance with HHSC standards and any periodic proficiency tests required by HHSC.
For conducting group training on assistive technology, the staff-to-consumer ratio may not exceed one staff member to three consumers (1:3).
Scope of Services
Assistive technology trainers provide the following services:
- Baseline assessment
- Training that includes:
- basic computer hardware and software, including keyboarding (for approved facilities only), introduction to computers, introduction to application software, use of the Internet, and printing and faxing using computers that are equipped with assistive software and designed for users who have low-vision or are blind;
- advanced computer software, including advanced skills training in computer hardware and software applications; and
- assistive technology, including training in specific assistive technology products
- Post-training assessment
The assistive technology trainer administers a basic skills test to each consumer who is referred for assistive technology training. The baseline assessment is used to determine the level of training required for each consumer.
Assistive technology refers to mechanical aids that substitute for or enhance physical or mental functions that are impaired. Assistive technology can be any item—whether homemade, purchased off the shelf, modified, or commercially available that is used to help an individual perform a task of daily living. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as amended, defines assistive technology device. See 34 CFR, §300.5, Assistive technology device.
Using assistive technology can increase a person’s level of independence by:
- improving the quality of life;
- increasing productivity;
- expanding educational options;
- increasing opportunities for success;
- reducing the need for support services; and
- increasing participation in activities.
Assistive technology helps persons with disabilities become independent. It improves self-esteem and quality of life.
Assistive Technology Services
Assistive technology services help an individual with a disability select, acquire, or use an assistive technology device.
The services can include:
- assessing the individual's need for assistive technology;
- training the individual to use the assistive technology;
- training the family and/or supervisor to use the assistive technology for reinforcement and backup; and
- fitting, adapting, maintaining, and repairing the assistive technology, as needed.
Examples of Assistive Technology
Assistive technology includes low-, mid-, and high-tech devices or equipment.
Low-tech Assistive Technology
Low-tech assistive technology refers to devices or equipment that does not require much training, that is relatively inexpensive, and that does not have complex or mechanical features.
Handheld magnifiers, large print text, canes or walkers, color coding, automatic lights, and specialized pen or pencil grips.
Mid-tech Assistive Technology
Mid-tech assistive technology refers to devices or equipment that may have complex features, may be electronic or battery-operated, or may require training to use. Mid-tech devices and equipment are also more expensive than the low-tech devices and equipment.
Talking spell-checkers, manual wheelchairs, electronic organizers, closed-caption televisions, amplifiers, text pagers, larger computer monitors, books on tape, remote controls for the user’s environment, and an alternate mouse or keyboard for a computer.
High-tech Assistive Technology
High-tech assistive technology refers to the most complex devices or equipment. High-tech items have digital or electronic components, may be computerized, will likely require training and effort to learn to use, and cost more than low- and mid-tech items.
Power wheelchairs or scooters, prosthetic devices, digital hearing aids, computers with specialized software such as voice recognition or magnification software, electronic aids to daily living, voice-activated telephones, and communication devices with voices.
Assistive Technology Can Reduce Barriers
Using assistive technology reduces barriers and increases independence. It allows a person with disabilities to perform essential functions. Many consumers know what type of assistive technology device is needed to accomplish a task. If a consumer does not know, talking with the consumer and trying available low tech items may help figure out what will work best. Other times, obtain a formal assistive technology evaluation to assess the person’s circumstances and abilities and to determine what assistive technology device or equipment is needed. Finally, talking with someone who has been through a similar experience may help you figure out which assistive technology device to use.
One Size Does Not Fit All
People with the same disability do not always have the same functionality. An assistive technology that works for one person may not work for another. It is best to work with rehabilitation professional to obtain an assessment before buying a high-tech item. Many low- or mid-tech items can be purchased off-the-shelf from a vendor of durable medical equipment.
Resources for Obtaining Information on Assistive Technology
To obtain advice before purchasing assistive technology, contact an unbiased resource, such as the Assistive and Instructional Technology Lab at the University of Texas Austin. Many vendors can offer professional advice, as well; however, use caution and consider whether a less-expensive product will meet an individual’s needs.