By Steven Kelley, CVRT Assistive Technology (also referred to as Access Technology, Adaptive Technology, or simply, AT) is the technology used to gain access to a computer or device that may otherwise be inaccessible. For example, screen magnification software, such as the magnifier in Windows, or screen reading software, such as VoiceOver built into the Mac and iOS operating systems, are examples of Assistive Technology. Assistive technology is often not built into computers, and must be installed later, such as the software screen magnifier ZoomText and screen reader NVDA, or NonVisual Desktop Access.

Finding Assistive Technology Training

Some jobs require high-tech solutions that require lengthy training, which is especially true in jobs that involve the regular use of computers. You can obtain training in the following ways:
  • First, contact your State Department of Rehabilitation and ask if they are able to help you learn about new technologies.
  • Adult education programs offer job training that might meet your needs. If they do not have the latest assistive technology software and manuals for an individual who is blind or has low vision, ask if these materials can be purchased and added to their existing manuals. For example, a community Adult Ed course on touch typing could be made more accessible for someone in the community with a recent vision loss if Assistive Technology, such as large print keyboards or Talking Typer software, were included in the class.
  • The TRACE Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison offers a resource page on Assistive Technology Resource Links for locating online training and resources.
  • Local community colleges and universities that have Centers for Students with a Disability often have equipment and software available for students. By enrolling in a class, you can access the technology and become familiar with the programs. Some of these Centers may be part of your state’s Assistive Technology Act Program. Search for your state’s AT Program at the Catalyst Project.
  • Under the guidance of your Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, and before purchasing a computer or access software, check with a local agency serving people who are blind or have low vision and ask if a loaner is available or if short-term use of their technology is an option.
  • Technology vendors often provide equipment or software on a short-term basis. Some software is available with time limits to allow you to examine it and determine if it meets your needs. Lions Clubs, libraries, and your State Vocational Rehabilitation agency may also offer this service. Some software is available with time limits, to allow you to examine it at no cost and determine if it meets your needs.
  • Once you’ve determined which technology you’d like to use, discuss it with your Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor. She/He will advise you on the steps to take to either purchase the equipment or seek financial support from other sources. It’s usually recommended that you obtain these products directly from a vendor or company that makes or sells this technology. Training manuals are often available for purchase in different formats (braille, large print, electronic text, or audio) and allow you to select the product or products that best fit your needs.
  • Find a friend who is blind or has low vision and is willing to act as your technology mentor. Many people enjoy technology and like to share their experiences, expertise, knowledge, and information.
  • Check with the American Foundation for the Blind, the American Council of the Blind, or the National Federation of the Blind mentorship programs.
  • Subscribe to technology podcasts or download them to your Talking Book Player to learn on your own. The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired offers Seminars@Hadley, a great resource for free podcasts on technology, employment, and more. From the United Kingdom, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has a great Technology Support page with resources for self-help. The Talking Computers audio magazine often has articles for beginners on Assistive Technology.
  • Many of the issues associated with adjustment to access technology can be overcome through regular use and continued practice. Frustration in the initial stages is to be expected! For example, many new users report becoming disoriented when first learning to use screen magnification software or video magnification. Persevere! It will be worth the effort!
  • Allow yourself to have an adjustment period. Don’t expect to feel comfortable using new technology overnight. Even though you may already be computer literate and have excellent keyboarding skills, it will still take a while to feel comfortable using adaptive technology.
  • Look into full-time vision rehabilitation training programs. These programs are often government and state-sponsored and are designed to help people who are blind or have low vision adjust to daily living through training in a range of vision rehabilitation services, including courses in adaptive computer training. You can learn more about these programs from your Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor and community agencies serving persons with disabilities. Note: Although a full-time program is usually recommended, there are regions of the country where such programs are not readily available. Your counselor will be able to discuss these options with you.