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In a world that is becoming increasingly reliant on technological advancements, it is more crucial than ever before that people with disabilities have access to assistive technology and adaptive equipment. Having the ability to live independently, participate in society and contribute to the broader conversation are rights that belong to everyone regardless of ability. Assistive technology gives the disabled community the opportunity to do just that.
With that being said, here are my top six pieces of assistive technology that not only help me to live a more independent and fulfilling life, but also offer a means for me to be creative, enjoy others’ creativity and share with my friends and family.
My latest addition and my current favourite, the SensePlayer by HIMS Inc. is a talking book player designed for the blind and visually impaired. It fits comfortably in my hand and has an easy-to-learn, intuitive layout. Its tactile buttons are easy to identify due to their unique shapes, and the audio output is top-notch.
It boasts several features, including a podcast player, voice recorder, an online DAISY [Digital Accessible Information System] player, FM radio, web radio and a myriad of other functions including a calculator, sleep timer, countdown and more
With the amount of audio I consume through audiobooks, radio dramas, podcasts and music, my phone was in a perpetual state of “low battery.” To sustain it a bit longer, I decided to find a device that I could designate for my media. As a teenager, I’d had a first generation Victor Reader [this is a much newer version but still similar] which was perfect for that, but I was looking for something with more functionality and an updated model. The SensePlayer was the perfect solution.
II. QBraille XL
Thanks to the generous support of donors on last year’s GoFundMe campaign, I’m now the proud owner of a QBraille XL Braille display by HIMS Inc. My previous braille notetaker, the BrailleSense U2 [no longer manufactured by HIMS], was on its last legs and as a writer, I needed a sustainable, trustworthy device to take its place. The QBraille XL has been just that.
The QBraille XL is a braille display. Unlike Braille notetakers which have stand-alone functionality, Braille displays work best when used in tandem with a mobile phone, tablet or laptop via a Bluetooth connection. However, it does have some built-in features which I appreciate such as the text editor, file manager and calculator. I’m still in the process of learning the intricacies of using it as a display connected to my iPhone, but I am excited to learn and discover how that may open up more opportunities in the future.
As a Braille user, it was paramount for me to have a device which allowed me to read and write in Braille, and I’m happy [and grateful] to report that the QBraille XL surpasses all my expectations.
III. Envoy Connect
The Envoy Connect is another media player, but specifically for books downloaded from CELA Library [Centre for Equitable Library Access].
It’s simplistic functionality is perfect for easy listening because when I’m engrossed in the latest thriller, the last thing I want to focus on is technology. The Bookshelf button cycles through the downloaded titles and with one press of the Play/Pause button, you’ll be right back where you left off. There is a sleep timer, fast forward and rewind buttons, and volume controls. And through the CELA Connect software, it’s easier than ever to download or remove books from the Envoy Connect.
Needless to say, I take this with me everywhere because with how portable and lightweight it is, there’s no reason not to. And this way, I’m never without a good book!
Yes, their logo is a shark. But unlike the 1975 movie, JAWS [Job Access with Speech] is a screenreader by Freedom Scientific. A screenreader is a “software program that enables a blind or visually impaired user to read the text that is displayed on the computer screen with a speech synthesizer or braille display.” Through audio output, JAWS allows me to navigate my computer with the keyboard and specific key commands. With these, I can move amongst links, headings, graphics and other elements as well as be fully-functional in programs such as Microsoft Word and Excel… all without a mouse. To learn more about this concept, check out The #NoMouse Challenge.
VoiceOver is Apple’s screenreading software and is available on all Apple products. Like JAWS, VoiceOver reads aloud the text on the screen of my iPhone, and with unique, VoiceOver gestures, I am able to navigate fully independently.
But as good as screenreaders like JAWS and VoiceOver are, there are still gaps in their accessibility capabilities. Many apps and websites are not screenreader-compatible, forcing users to seek out alternatives. The cost of a JAWS user license is expensive and unaffordable by many individuals, and though VoiceOver is quite intuitive, learning these programs do take time and training by professionals. Increasing the accessibility of these programs is crucial to increasing the accessibility and independence of those who use them to live independent and fulfilling lives, and this is what I am fighting to accomplish.
VI. Perkins Brailler
Last but not least, the Perkins Brailler is an oldie but a goodie that belongs in the home of every Braille reader. Like a manual typewriter, the Perkins allows me to write hardcopy Braille instantly. Just insert a sheet of paper, roll it up to the top, and begin typing [and wait for the pleasant DING that warns when you’re nearing the end of the line]. I use this for writing out lists to keep on the fridge, brailling labels for household objects or just for fun, because while Braille is not only useful and extremely important for literacy, it is great for encouraging creativity. Check out these Braille drawings you can make with a Perkins Brailler
I love my assistive technology, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like without the innovations and creativity by others that help me live with independence, freedom and joy.
What’s on your assistive technology essentials list? Tell me in the comments.