According to the United States National Institutes of Health, up to 53 million Americans have some form of disability, and 33 million have difficulty completing basic daily activities due to being disabled. Courtesy of technology, however, people with disabilities that range from visual to learning issues are now better able to interact and integrate with the individuals and world around them. Just as there is a wide range of disabilities, there is also a broad choice of tools or aids that can help improve the quality of one's life. These aids, which typically fall under the category of assistive technology, may come in the form of devices or software. To get the most out of either assistive technological tools or software, it's crucial that one chooses the right device or item to suit their needs and that they are properly trained in its use.
Due to the many different types of disabilities, there is no one specific device that can help all disabled people. There is a wide variety of assistive technology tools that are available to serve an individual's special needs. A common assistive technology device is the hearing aid, which helps those who have impaired hearing. Because computers are such an important part of functioning in modern society, people with hearing loss can benefit from software that allows them to see visual cues in place of computer sounds such as those that are made by alerts. Depending on the severity of one's visual impairment, a person may use computer screen enlargement software to make video, text, and graphics more visible, while other individuals may require dictation software, screen readers, and Braille printers. Other devices useful to individuals with impaired vision include low-vision or talking clocks and watches.
Augmentative communication systems can provide a synthesized voice for people with speech impairments and deficiencies. These may be devices that are designed to be speech generating or software used to make one's computer into a speaking device. Those with learning disabilities can take advantage of portable note-taking devices, word prediction software, talking calculators, digital pens, and more. For the mobility impaired, there are hand control systems and other driving aids that can help people with no or limited use of their legs to safely operate a motor vehicle. In addition, there are high-tech wheelchairs that can climb stairs, and amputees often benefit from prostheses or artificial limbs. Motor-impaired individuals may also use computers with the help of adaptive keyboards or devices that allow them to use verbal commands to navigate their computers and the Internet.
These assistive technology tools are of significant benefit to both the individual and society in general. On one hand, people with disabilities who rely on technological aids can more easily live independently, become more productive citizens, and live a fuller and happier life. They can function among able-bodied people more as equals as well as find greater opportunities for employment. Society, on the other hand, benefits when people with disabilities are able to achieve more of their potential. Using assistive technology, disabled people ranging from entertainers to programmers, scientists, and doctors are able to contribute more significantly to their community and to the world at large.