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Last modified: Monday, March 21, 2011

Tips for purchasing adaptive technology

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Purchase a useful technology present that will outlast any fad. During the holiday season almost everyone wants to receive a new form of technology. From iPhones to iPads, there is probably some form of technology on someone's holiday wish list. And the holiday wish lists for friends and family members with disabilities are no different - with the exception of some adaptive features to consider during the gift purchase. "People with disabilities are just as interested in current technology," said Sherril York, executive director of the National Center on Accessibility, Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies at Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "Technology is actually a great equalizer." For example, deaf youth are able to communicate through text messaging, which puts them on the same playing field as everyone else, York said. Buying adaptive technology does not have to be tricky - in fact, many everyday items include adaptive features, but are not called "adaptive technology." A lot of adaptive equipment is relatively inexpensive and can be purchased at a local Radio Shack or Lowe's. "Assistive technology is at a store near you, it's just not called that," York said.

The technology should help with simple tasks - not cause more of a hindrance. York said that before you make any adaptive technology purchases ask yourself these questions:

- What does the gift recipient do for recreation and leisure?

- How can the gift technology help them pursue their interests?

- Does the technology meet their needs?

- Can they benefit from the technology I'm giving them or will this be more complicated than it needs to be?

The technology purchase should be easy to understand and useful to them. For example, there are many new cell phones and smart phones on the market designed for older adults. The Jitterbug cell phone is easy to use because it has large buttons and a large display screen, which makes it simpler to read and manipulate, York said. The phone doesn't have any fancy features that are the norm for most cell phones including, text messaging, music, games and a camera phone. "Many older people want a cell phone with no bells and whistles," York said.

York offers these suggestions while shopping for the perfect technology present for an aging family member or friend with a disability:

Select subtle over glitz. Select a technology that is assistive to the recipient without calling attention to them. "People with disabilities typically do not want to use something that makes them stick out too or be different from others," York said. "If the gift technology stands out too much they may not embrace it even if they do need it."

Explain how the gift can help them pursue their leisure interests. "Help them recognize that they have a need for this technology," York said. "For older people, they probably recognize they don't do some things as well as they once did, but they haven't thought about how technology can help them. It's a fine line. They need to accept their limitations(s). It doesn't matter what technology has been purchased for them, if they don't accept the gift of find it useful - the technology will not be of benefit."

Demonstrate the technology and help them get acquainted with the new features. Even if you think the technology you have purchased is self-explanatory, take the time to explain how to use it - and illustrate how it fits into their life - otherwise; your purchase will remain unused. "If they see the product being used they will be more accepting of it," York said. "Give them time to use it." York suggests that you be their liaison to this new technology. "As a whole, the aging population resists technology because they assume that it will be too complicated," York said. However, for people with disabilities, the abandonment of technology is a huge problem. "There needs to be a buy in it for that person," York said. "You don't just want to buy technology for the sake of technology." And a support system is key to the success one has with technology. "Without support from those close to them, the person with disability may not realize the need for or have the needed assistance in using the technology," York said.

More gift ideas for friends or family members with disabilities:

• For children with disabilities consider toys that are easy to manipulate. If they have lights or sounds, make sure they are easy to turn on and off.

• Exercise accessories like pedometers and heart rate monitors with large displays. Some models have a "talk feature" with a voice that gives the distance traveled or current heart rate.

• Cardio machines, such as stair climbers, Nordic tracks and ellipticals are now designed for use in a seated position.

• Adaptive gear for improved gripping and use of kayak paddles, fishing reels, or golf clubs.

• For the cycling enthusiast, three-wheeled trikes can help individuals who have difficulty with balance, a step and go cycle or a recumbent cycle for operation in either the standing or reclining position.

• Balls that flash and/or beep for games like Dodge Ball or Goal Ball.

• Reading lights and personal magnifying lamps for someone who enjoys sewing, knitting or crocheting.

• For the avid card player, large-print playing cards, playing card holders, talking dice and/or dice with large labels.

• For the iPod/iPhone/iPad enthusiast, be sure to search "accessibility" for new apps introduced each week in the iTunes store. There are many new apps that enable the devices to read text aloud, magnify the screen, dictate, and use communication symbols and even sign language.

York can be reached at and 812-856-4422.