Realistic Expectations

By Thomas Jakobs June 05, 2010

Realistic Expectations

By: Thomas Jakobs

The first time people hear about assistive technologies their eyes usually light up. Initially they can’t believe a computer can be controlled without a keyboard and a mouse. The more they hear, the more obvious it is that access to a computer opens a world of opportunity. And it is true – sort of. Don’t get me wrong, technology holds a lot of promise for people with severe disability, but I see too many people fail to realize that promise. I think this is true for three main reasons:

  1. User expectations are unrealistic.
  2. Technology requires more support than expected.
  3. Sometimes there is a mismatch between the technology and the user.

Here’s an example of unrealistic expectations. I was the best boy-typist in my eighth grade summer school class. I received a trophy for typing six words per minute. No joke! How pathetic is that? Needless to say, the girls were considerably better. I thought a summer would be plenty of time for me to become a good typist. Here it is forty years later and I still stink at typing, even after thousands of hours of practice. Learning to enter data into a computer using alternate methods like voice, head tracking, a switch, or eye tracking takes time and practice. Most people will find that these alternate access methods are much slower than typing with their fingers. The good news is I am confident that you’ll learn to type faster than the boys in my typing class.

How many people really understand computers? InvoTek has six engineers. All of them are really smart – and they all get frustrated with technology. One day the printer decides to stop working. Another day a software program has to be reinstalled – twice! I recently lost two weeks of work on a research proposal (I eventually found it). In my experience, assistive technology requires more support than a typical computer. Add to this that it is unlikely that your usual tech support team (consisting of your smart teenager and weird Uncle Bob) has ever seen anything like a head tracker, and all of a sudden small problems loom big. Make sure that your technology provider offers technical support – and then use it. What you are doing is unusual and important. Take the time to talk with the support people when things aren’t going well.

I like a bargain, but price shopping for assistive devices usually doesn’t work out well. I know assistive devices are expensive. But given all the challenges a disability presents it is important – no critical – that the technology for controlling a computer is efficient, reliable, and set-up properly. Efficiency requires a good match between the access method, how you want to use it, and your physical skills. If the technology is inefficient, the person using it will get tired too quickly, make more mistakes, and lose confidence. If it isn’t set up properly it won’t work reliably during use. Take the time to set it up “right”. If at all possible, use a system before you buy it. And not just for two minutes either! Use it until you start to get tired. It is at this point that you’ll start to understand the skill and effort required to use the technology, and whether it will help you achieve the goals you have set. And if you get tired after two minutes – that should be fair warning that the technology you’re using may not be a good match.

Everyone at Be Extraordinary is here because we like to help people. If you need some advice or just want to talk through your computer access options, give us a call or send an email. It doesn’t matter whose technology you are using, we’ll do our best to help you. The promise of technology is real, but it takes some effort. Let me know what you think!