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Thursday, March 29, 2012

AT Solutions at Work--Helping a Person with ALS maintain employment

From Assistive Technology Center, New Jersey

AT Solutions at Work--Helping a Person with ALS maintain employment

Software and tools for working efficiently

Software and tools
Assistive technology can be a critical component in helping someone with a disability maintain employment by bridging the gap between their abilities and their job requirements. This is the case for Bob, an Occupational Therapist and Certified Hand Therapist, who ran into challenges performing his work tasks due to muscle weakness caused by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Although Bob is able to do the most critical aspect of his job, the actual hand therapy, he has difficulty with his computer-based documentation, which is a necessary component of his job. Bob gets tired quickly when typing his notes or using an external mouse with the laptop provided by his employer. Bob found he had to space out his documentation time or take frequent breaks to complete it. His goal was to be able to complete his documentation with greater speed and less fatigue.

Advancing Opportunities’ Assistive Technology Specialist Kristen Russell, OTR, ATP, conducted an assistive technology evaluation with Bob. Together they explored many computer access options. At the top of the list was Dragon Naturally Speaking, a voice recognition software program that allows a user to dictate text into the computer and have it transcribed into typed text. Bob uses this program successfully at home, but wasn’t sure how it would work with his online documentation program. Armed with a few "work-arounds" he and Kristen discussed just in case, Bob discovered that Dragon Naturally Speaking works very well with his documentation software. Since Bob felt that putting on the headset style microphone would become increasingly difficult, Kristen recommended a desktop style microphone.

Even though Dragon Naturally Speaking worked well with the documentation software in many areas, there were some places where it wasn’t effective. Pull-down menus and check boxes were a few of the problem areas. In addition, as many Dragon users would tell you, there are times where it is easier to type text on the keyboard rather than dictate. Because of Bob’s muscle weakness, it was difficult for him to lift his arms up above the mouse or keyboard placed on a desk while typing or controlling the mouse. After testing out several options, Bob borrowed a lightweight, laptop sized wireless keyboard with built-in touch pad from Advancing Opportunities’ Technology Lending Center. Bob rested this keyboard on his lap, which was much less fatiguing, as he did not have lift his arms against gravity. This gave him quick access to both the keyboard and mouse for those times when Dragon Naturally Speaking was not being used. After trialing for a week, Bob determined that this keyboard works very well for him, and being wireless, allows for very easy set-up.

In addition to these technology solutions, Bob also worked with Garth Heid, Assistant Director of ATS at Advancing Opportunities, who assisted him with home and workplace modifications for accessibility. Garth made recommendations on how to make Bob's home and workplace safer, while also allowing him to be more independent.

For Bob, a vital component of this process was the ability to trial many different options by borrowing them through Advancing Opportunities’ Technology Lending Center. With guidance and access to technology to trial, Bob was able to create a solution that enables him to maintain his employment.

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