Assistive technology has always been a big part of my life because I have cerebral palsy. I think it’s so important that companies don’t just focus on the mainstream clients but also help clients that need adapted products. Even if an adapted device does exist, companies don’t often advertise it front and centre. Access:technology have been helping me get the most out of technology for a couple of years now and I decided that I wanted to make a difference too. That’s why I decided to join the team. My name is Alastair Haigh and I am the new Assistive Technology Ambassador.
Firstly, to learn a bit more about me, I am going to tell you what I enjoy doing. As you have probably guessed, I am a huge fan of any kind of technology, whether that be to help with work, entertainment or to make my life a bit easier. I spent about a year or so gathering all kinds of information for what I wanted in my first desktop PC. I had always loved technology before this but this is where my passion and interest truly started. I would spend hours looking, reading and watching videos on PC hardware and software. When I eventually got my PC I used it everyday and I still do to this day. I currently go to Barnsley College where I study I.T. I love college as it gives me the freedom of becoming more independent whilst studying my favourite subject. Access:technology have helped a lot with my education including finding out and putting into place what computing equipment I need. They have also been great at fixing any I.T. problems that occured with my computing equipment. Access:technology have also been really good at bringing new ideas that I would never have thought of by myself.
Another one of my passions is powerchair football. It is a sport that is not very well known but it has a growing community all over the world. I had tried different sports before but never competitively but this soon changed. I have been playing for around six or seven years now and I regret not finding out about the sport sooner. In my time playing I have become a team member for Leeds Powerchair Football Club’s first team, the Chariots. We currently play in the WFA (the Wheelchair Football Association) National Championship League where we currently sit third out of twelve in the table. We did play in the WFA National Premiership League last season but we were unfortunately relegated. We also play in the North East Regional League where we also sit third out of five teams in the table.
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At Access:technology, we aim to provide disabled children, in their homes or at school, with the best technology solutions whether that be better accessibility to their schoolwork or just trying to be more independent in their lives. Access:technology will always try to help in any possible way. I’ve witnessed the difference that this can make and that’s what makes it special for me. Knowing the difference this can make is just fantastic!
My aim is to inform people of the best assistive technology devices. As previously mentioned, I use a lot of assistive technology devices every day. The device that I use the most is the Pretorian wireless joystick on my computer as my mouse. I am unable to use a regular mouse so when Access:technology introduced me to the Pretorian wireless joystick, it completely changed the game for me. I’m always sitting at my desk on my computer so being able to use my computer quickly and easily is perfect for me. I used to use a wired joystick a few years ago but having the freedom of no cables is perfect for my setup. Although, it is just one small part of my setup, it is absolutely crucial and I wouldn’t be able to use my computer without it. I think that it’s amazing that such a small thing can make a world of difference.
Smart home technology is becoming very popular and it really helps people who have a disability. For example, I use smart plugs. I can control them from my phone via Wi-Fi and it saves me having to get out of my wheelchair and trying to reach a plug socket in a hard to reach place. Smart home technology is designed to assist the user and it certainly does that for me. The only thing I’m not a fan of yet is smart voice-activated assistants such as Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. I think that the idea is brilliant. Being able to ask questions and get the answers straight away is incredibly convenient. The only thing that needs to get better is the accessibility of it. Due to my cerebral palsy, my speech is slurred and can be hard to understand. This is what makes me not able to use smart assistants. Apple does have a type to Siri feature which is great for non-questions such as adding an event to your calendar but, for questions, it may just be easier to search your question on the internet as you’ll most likely get a wider search which brings up more answers. I have no doubt that smart assistants will get better with speech recognition over the years to come but, as of now, it’s not really worth it for me, personally. Even TV’s are becoming smarter. Smart TVs are not just TVs that have a variety of applications. Smart TVs can now be controlled from a phone. This is great for people who cannot go and pick up the TV remote. Smart home devices are helping people with disabilities to be more independent which is a massive positive.
I think it is amazing that companies are helping people with disabilities without even knowing it. A perfect example of this is smart home technology. It is incredible that companies are making devices that assist people with disabilities without realising or focusing on people with disabilities. If companies can achieve this then what products can they make when they do focus on people with disabilities?!
Although assistive devices are mainly physical devices (hardware), software is also extremely important. When I was at school, I used a piece of software called Splash! City. The software is designed to be able to help students do maths on a computer. There aren’t many pieces of software that do this. Before I was introduced to Splash! City, I was using a scribe which worked but I couldn’t do it myself and trying to do charts and graphs with a scribe was a complete nightmare. Splash! City allows you to use a blank page or a PDF file as a background and then type on top of that. It also includes a lot of maths symbols too. Splash! City is simple to use but it does take some time to completely master it. I was able to use Splash! City within my exams and it worked very well. Although the software is designed for maths, I was able to use it in other subjects such as science. The only issue that I found with Splash! City is that you have to import each PDF page individually which, when you have a 20–30 page exam, can become annoying. Also, Splash! City only takes image file formats such as JPGs and PNGs. This means that if you have any other file format then you need to convert it to one of the supported file formats.
My goals for the future are to help as many people as possible with technology. Technology is one of my huge passions that I love reading and talking about. I aim to use my wide range of knowledge on technology to assist people to make their lives a bit easier. The devices that Access:technology have introduced me to have changed the way my life. I hope I can do the same for other people.
My role of Assistive Technology Ambassador means that I will be doing blog posts, reviews and helping out at events. I am extremely excited to get started and I look forward to my time with Access:technology. Even if I introduce someone to the smallest thing that makes their life easier then I will be extremely happy.
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