Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review of The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology and Devices by Suzanne Robitaille

Suzanne Robitaille's goal in writing The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology and Devices was to provide "the most useful and up-to-date technologies that are available for purchase today." She succeeds admirably! This book is a very comprehensive survey of assistive technology (AT) for all types of impairments: visual, hearing, physical, communication and cognitive/learning disorders. It touches on all of the technology needs within a specific disability whether for work, home or lifestyle. It includes low-tech and high-tech hardware, software and gadgets with "closer attention to products at the higher end of the technology spectrum."
Prior to discussing assistive technologies for a particular disability, Robitaille succinctly describes the main characteristics of it to aid the reader in understanding the problems that AT is solving. She explains the purpose of each type of technology, highlights issues in specific areas, mentions lower cost alternatives, and discusses advantages and disadvantages.
The tools and gadgets are well classified within each type of disability which makes locating a particular type of technology easy. The best examples of actual products are mentioned so that you have a starting point for further research. Several of these are illustrated with well selected black-and-white photographs, screen shots or diagrams. The book is also well-indexed.
Robitaille goes beyond presenting a catalogue-style product listing in several ways. She intersperses tips about specific products or services throughout the book, and includes several "user stories" that describe a person and the particular assistive technologies that are helping them to deal with their impairments within a specific context of use. She also discusses societal issues (e.g. deaf culture, campaign to end the use of the R-word) and legal issues (e.g. inaccessible software and web sites).
Given its comprehensiveness and readability, at 232 pages this book is not a tome. You will need to look elsewhere for specific product details. The Resources section will help with this. It lists vendors by disability type including their mailing address, web site address and the products mentioned in the book.
Another useful chapter at the end of the book offers suggestions for how to pay for AT. But the book is US-centric, so readers from other countries will have to use these funding resources as a guide to the types of resources they should seek out in their own locale.
The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology and Devices is highly recommended for AT specialists for two reasons. First, it is a challenge to stay current. Never have there been so many AT product offerings and we are also witnessing the incorporation of AT into mainstream products like never before. This book was published in December 2009 so it will update you (but it would be great if there was a companion web site to maintain the currency of the information). Second, even if you focus on a specific type of disability, clients often present with multiple impairments so having a broad understanding of AT across the spectrum may allow you to point such clients in the right direction.
Robitaille says that for the AT user, the real challenge is "finding the right devices and gadgets, for the right purpose, at the right price." Her book is an essential resource for anyone who needs to meet that challenge or assist those who do.
Note: This book is available in a variety of alternative formats from (Braille, large print, MP3, DAISY, NISO 2005).

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