Top Five AT Devices from an AT Advocate

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Written by: Luke Hsieh, Assistive Technology Advocate Community Access Center

For this top five countdown, I will be ranking my my five favorite assistive technology devices from high-tech to low-tech.

By September next year, I will have worked a full decade as an assistive technology specialist for an Independent Living Center.  The first generation iPad sitting silently in my drawer was once the darling of the tech world; it is now old enough to attend grade school.  It still feels like yesterday when I was obsessed over which voice engines produce the most human sounding voice. Now there are commercially available companion robots and artificial intelligence that are capable of not only understanding vocal commands, but physically altering the environments of one’s surrounding. Technology evolves faster today than it ever has at any point in human history.  We are fortunate to live in a time when tomorrow not only promises new technologies, but delivers them like clockwork.  Today, so much assistive technology has been incorporated into mainstream consumer electronics it’s become almost impossible to tell what constitutes an assistive technology device.  I personally have a very broad and expansive view of what constitutes assistive technologies. Here is my list of favorite assistive devices.

1) Self-Driving Car

A picture of a white Google self-driving car. CFILC''s former Executive Director, Teresa, can be seen through the window of the car.

No, I have not had the pleasure of being inside the ultimate dream of every eighties kids. Remember the KITT from the Knight-rider?  With Google, Uber, Nissan, and Tesla all developing prototypes, I truly believe I will sit in one in my lifetime, alongside my robotic companion. (Read a SacBee Article written by CFILC’s former Executive Director, Teresa Favuzzi, here.)

2) Accessible Smartphone and Tablet Computer, Smart Speakers and Echo Show

The Amazon Echo Show, it is a device with a 7 inch screen and speaker, it is displaying the weather forecast.

Remember The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams? When I was reading this delightful title all those years ago, I had absolutely no idea he was writing about a Smartphone, and the Galaxy was a Samsung.  Seriously though, these high-end smartphones equipped with ultra-high resolution cameras and over four gigabytes of RAM can perform feats that used to be done by bulky dedicated devices at a fraction of the cost, including things such as: Word processing, Spreadsheets, Optical Character Recognition (OCR), Text-to-Speech and Voice Recognition.   Amazon’s Echo Show is basically something plucked right out of the eighties Star Trek Movies.   A computer with a seven-inch display entirely operated using voice commands. (Click to find similar items in the AT Exchange.)

3) Electronic Magnifiers with OCR and Text-to-Speech

A woman using a CCTV screen to magnify the text of a book.

If you do not wish to deal with computers or have a technological learning curb, but still need a high-performing magnifier, then there are a wide range of electronic magnifiers available for you to choose from.  They include a standalone CCTV with upwards of +-20x magnification capability, high contrast options, and OCR Text-to-Speech functionality.  While a high-end smartphone camera normally has native digital zoom of between 4x to 8x; these babies can magnify things to the upward of between 15x to 25x.  The size, shapes and functions may vary and depends on your preference and needs; but broadly speaking, these are:

Desktop CCTVs with +-17” display, HD Output that may or may not come with OCR and Text-to-Speech.   An example of this is Enhanced Vision’s Merlin Elite, these magnifiers typically set your wallet back between $2500 and $4000.

Handheld Magnifiers, these do the same thing as the above-mentioned desktop magnifiers. They typically come in somewhere between 3.5” to 10”, and some have OCR Text-to-Speech capabilities.   Some example of these are:

Zoomax’s M5, M5 Plus HD, Snow 10 Pro.

Freedom Scientific’s Ruby

The handheld magnifiers will set your wallet between $500 and $1000 (Click to find this item in the AT Exchange.)

4) Wearable electronic magnifier

A senior woman is wearing the Jordy device on her head to read the text of a book. A younger woman is sitting next to her.

These things takes the concept of portability to the next level, why not just mount a camera and a display on your head, along with a headphone for the OCR Text-to-Speech goodies? Oh, Google Glass, how I mourned your passing.

Some examples of these head-mounting contraptions are:

Jordy by Enhanced Vision

Cyber Eyez by CyberTimez

Revo-Sight by Zoomax.

These cyborg looking contraptions costs anywhere between $2400 and $10000. (Click to find this item in the AT Exchange.)

5) Amazon delivery services, Uber etc.

There is a white iPhone. The screen is black and has a pink logo. The logo is round and has a car in the circle.

The ultimate low tech AT (sending people to do an errand) just got a high-tech boost. With Amazon Prime Now, you can have something delivered to you within the hour. (I tried it at CSUN when my headphones broke and I ordered a new one to be sent to my hotel room.)

In some areas, you can also buy food using Amazon Fresh.


So, here we go, these are the AT device(s)/services that I love and look forward to loving. How about you? What technology do you love or are anxiously expecting?

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