A look at low-cost assistive technology and training solutions for blind consumers
The below talk was given by Joe Steinkamp and Ricky Enger at the CSUN 2013 conference in San Diego. It covers using social media and podcasts to build a network of professionals and consumers, and examines Serotek’s low-cost solutions for performing common tasks.
Vocational rehabilitation professionals face a number of seemingly insurmountable challenges. Each day, these professionals must meet with consumers to determine their academic and vocational needs, find assistive technology solutions that fit those needs, provide training specifically tailored to the consumer’s learning style, and all this must be done using a limited amount of time and resources. Given the constraints of shrinking budgets and the speed of emerging technology, how can a vocational rehabilitation professional provide quality assistance to each consumer?
The task of matching technology to individualized plans is not as impossible as it seems. In this session, we will explore a number of ideas and solutions that save both time and money, and still allow for a quality experience for the rehab professional and the consumer.
What’s out there?
The first step to providing quality service to your consumers is to identify what the market is currently offering. The search for products that meet your consumer’s needs can seem like a daunting prospect when the number of solutions has multiplied in recent years. It can be tempting to choose the most popular solution, regardless of how well this solution fits a consumer’s unique requirements. Rather than taking this approach, consider the following:
Tune into the world of podcasts.
Search for podcasts that discuss assistive technology. Many AT companies produce podcasts about their own products and services. There are also podcasts with a more unbiased look at available tools and resources led by recognized experts in the field. Through such podcasts, you can learn valuable tips about using various types of assistive technology and identify key differences between product feature sets. The SeroTalk Podcast Network, produced by Serotek Corporation, contains a great deal of valuable information about mainstream and assistive technology. In addition, the free iBlink Radio for iOS and Android platforms gathers a wide variety of community resources such as podcasts and community radio that can be extremely beneficial in drilling down for details about specific solutions.
Use social media.
Social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter have become popular vehicles for near real-time communication. Beyond the purely social aspects of these tools, they can be used to gather on-the-ground information about a wide range of pertinent topics. As a rehab professional, you can build a network which includes other professionals like yourself, as well as users of the technology you are researching. In this way, you can gather a lot of useful information in a very short amount of time.
A Look at one Company’s Low-cost solutions
There is no single company who can create a product which is all things to all people. While there are many companies and products you will want to research, this presentation will focus on low-cost products and services from Serotek, arguably the most affordable option in the market today.
One of the most important pieces of assistive technology for a blind or visually impaired person is a screen reader. Having a functional screen reader that the person understands how to use makes all the difference in ensuring the person is productive and successful. Serotek’s System Access is designed to be effective with very little training. Serotek aimed to make a product which was easily usable by someone brand-new to the computer, yet still powerful enough to meet the needs of the more tech-savvy professional. Furthermore, the product can be used absolutely anywhere, not just on a single PC. This level of accessibility is accomplished through a web-resident version of the screen reader, or through a version installed on a thumb drive. The screen reader is about half the cost of other assistive technology on the market, and best of all, there are no maintenance agreements for the software. Your consumers will always have the most up-to-date version of the software at no additional cost.
For busy students and professionals, it is essential to have access to the printed word. Traditionally, it could cost over $1000 to provide a single consumer with the necessary hardware and software to scan and convert materials to readable text. Also, the software could only be accessed from a computer specifically configured for the purpose. With DocuScan Plus, the landscape has changed. This cross-platform solution can be access from both Windows and Mac, and can even be run directly from the web with no installation necessary. The software converts materials in to a variety of formats, and is approximately 1/3 the cost of standard assistive scanning solutions.
Regardless of your consumers’ technology needs, it is usually necessary to provide training. This training may include how to use assistive technology, or how to be productive on the computer with email, word-processing, browsing the web, and so on. The problem with training in the traditional way is that it can be quite expensive and time-consuming. There are travel expenses and travel time to consider. Sometimes, you might even encounter a situation where a consumer’s issue could’ve been resolved in 5 minutes if only you had access to the computer, but 3 hours of total travel time were expended to solve the problem.
Remote training makes a great deal of sense. Not only can you save time and money by never needing to leave the office, but the consumer can be trained in the comfort of their own home. Serotek’s Remote Incident Manager makes telecommunication possible for both blind and sighted rehab professionals. By connecting in a shared session with your consumer, you will be able to watch and listen as the consumer performs a given task. A consumer can also watch and listen as you, the trainer, perform a task. Files can be transferred from one computer to another, and you can even maintain a voice chat session while you work. With remote training, you and your consumer can have a fully interactive session just as you would face to face, but neither of you ever have to concern yourselves with the logistics of traveling to make it happen.
The technology landscape is ever-changing, and we believe it is changing for the better. By being aware and taking advantage of these advancements, you can serve your clients efficiently and effectively, and you can do so without breaking the bank.