#blogging4charity – A is for Assistive Technology
I wrote a blog last week about My Ideal App. I was inspired by taking part in a weekly Twitter chat about accessibility, #AXSChat. Before taking part in the weekly discussions I never really thought about assistive technology and took it for granted at university. However, if I didn’t have the programs on my laptop, attaining my university degree would have been an even bigger mountain to climb.
Most of my experience with assistive technology has been within the education system which is reflected within the blog.
Assistive Tech and Me
I remember in high school, before I was accessed for dyslexia, being given a laptop to use to help me with writing. It was in fifth or sixth year, I don’t recall which and I don’t recall why they finally decided to support me in this way. What I do remember is that the laptop wouldn’t charge and after a few days I had to return it. They told me the laptop had been donated to the school and if it didn’t work, well that was too bad. So my experience with the laptop was very short-lived indeed!
My first PC was built by my first boyfriend for free. He used to build computers and he made mine out of random spare bits he had available. It ran Windows 98 and could connect to the Internet. It also had the capability to set the screen to a light blue colour. I didn’t realise the how much I would rely on coloured screens in later years.
It was from the age of 16/17 that I became far better at spelling. Because I had the Internet and a computer at home, I used to use chat rooms and instant messenger apps a lot to talk to people all over the world. I think the combination of trying not to come across as stupid to people mixed with the ability to see words clearly drastically improved my spelling capabilities. Although my handwriting is clear, I find it far easier to see a spelling error in type than by my own scribbles. I still struggle to spell words out loud and often say groups of letters as one letter, for example ch-a-t-t-e-r saying c and h as one letter sometimes even ch-a-t-t-er with e and r becoming one letter. That has led to some embarrassing moments before I knew that I am dyslexic. If I can write the word down, I have a far better chance of getting it right. I can’t see words in my head, I have to see it on paper or on a screen. I soon realised just how helpful having a computer was! I’d have far rather had typing classes at school than IT and Business Studies, both of which I refused to do for Standard Grades or Highers.
It was the second time at college when I was 25 that I really started using assistive technology. After my dyslexia assessment, the wonderful learning support people at college let me borrow a laptop (which worked!) and a dictaphone for recording my classes so I could listen back to lectures if I needed to. This was a huge step and I found life far easier being able to type up notes in class rather than my horrible messy scribbles I was used to at school, covered with scribbled out misspellings and random letters added to words, for example I always write an e on the end of with when writing by hand but rarely if I type unless I am really tired. And the dictaphone was like a security blanket just in case I had missed something in class, I had an ability to listen back and hear what was actually going on. The other great thing was being able to use a computer in exams to type up my answers. The signal between my brain and hand when writing by hand seems to be very delayed so I forget what it was I was trying to write. With a computer, my typing skills are much quicker than writing by hand so although I still struggle to keep up with my brain processes, I get far more information down than I was ever able to by hand.
When I started university they assessed me for my needs based on my assessment report and what I had used in the past. They then sent a list of items I needed and helped with my DSA application (Disabled Student Allowance). I received a whole load of goodies, though it didn’t arrive until far too late in my first semester. I was given a laptop and a dictaphone like I used at college plus a scanner so I could scan books from the library rather than rushing to try to read them, a printer for essays and reading materials, overlays and reading rulers. On the laptop were a number of apps to help me out. ClaroRead, ClaroView, Screenruler were the three I used the most. I stopped using Microsoft Word for note taking in class and started using Microsoft One Note which worked like a folder with tabs. I could add photos and audio to my notes including recordings from my dictaphone. The other app I had was ClaroCapture which I tried to use in first and second year but gave up as it didn’t do as it was meant to. It was hopeless!
I became so accustomed to using my assistive technology on my laptop that it made my first job post university quite difficult. Despite telling them I was dyslexic at the interview and when I started, I had very little support. Even a few minor adjustments would have made the whole experience a lot more pleasant. I am hoping that whatever job I end up in next will have better support or make the work more accessible for all their employees.
What I Would Like to See in Future
I would love to see schools and employers embracing assistive technology not only to support dyslexia, but for all those that need extra support. I don’t think it’s really too much to ask. Perhaps if Microsoft, Apple and co decided to make their computers have the basic assistive technology as standard it would be useful for a good percentage of society. There are so many different apps and software available it is sometimes difficult to work out what would be the most helpful, so a basic package would still allow other companies to come up with their own programs and apps.
My blog from last week on apps really reflects what I would love to see in a single app. And I am pretty sure if such a thing existed more schools and companies would be willing to pay for one piece of software or one app opposed to 3 or 4.
How To Donate
To donate to #blogging4charity, visit my JustGiving page at https://www.justgiving.com/Blog4Char2015. There you can donate from most countries within your own currency.
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