Adaptive Software Technology and Design
Adaptive software is a special class of computer programs created to assist people with physical or mental challenges, expanding the capabilities and independence of the disabled. To use this technology, a computer system usually requires a combination of specialized hardware and software. People with physical disabilities involving sight, hearing, and mobility are among the potential candidates for adaptive software technology, though people with learning disabilities may also benefit from these tools.
Disabled individuals have a variety of options for assistive software technology depending on their specific physical needs. For example, speech recognition software enables computer users with motor impairments to control a computer system using the voice instead of a mouse and keyboard. Individuals with a visual impairment can use text-to-speech software, which translates speech into text that is displayed on the computer screen and can also read the content on the screen out loud. People with limited vision might add programs or hardware to a computer system that will magnify the screen to make it possible to see the text more easily.
Peripheral devices such as an enhanced mouse, pointing device, special keyboard, or joystick are also available, which can make it possible for a person with limited mobility to use a computer. With a head pointer, a user wears a device on the head that can push keys, eliminating the need to use their hands on the mouse or keyboard. Tools such as a head pointer are sometimes used with specialized keyboard mounts to hold the keyboard in a comfortable position for use. Someone who has the use of only one hand might use a keyboard designed for just left- or right-handed use. An eye-tracking device can monitor eye movements, enabling a disabled person to use a computer simply by moving their eyes. And a single-switch entry device works with an on-screen keyboard, allowing the user to manipulate the switch to move an on-screen cursor and select keys on the keyboard.
Some people also struggle with other types of disabilities, such as dyslexia, which bring special challenges when using a computer. Software is available to assist people who need help with things such as reading, spelling, writing, and organization, and specialized fonts have been created to improve the readability of text for dyslexic people as well. Anyone who struggles with visual learning could use a program that converts charts and diagrams to outline format to help them process information in a different way. Although these programs cannot replace human intervention and assistance, they offer valuable augmentation when used in conjunction with participation in a therapeutic program. By using software installed on a computer system, a person struggling with a learning disability can become more independent and confident in both professional and personal situations.
Technical and medical consultants can assist disabled individuals to help them find adaptive software and devices to meet their needs. Special education teachers are also familiar with this technology, so they might be able to offer suggestions for software and other adaptations that can help students succeed no matter what barriers they may face. In many cases, people can receive assistance with paying for this technology, either through private insurance or financial aid provided by government programs, school systems, or employers.
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