What’s Going on in the AT Lab?

Today’s article salutes BridgingApps’ Assistive Technology Lab Services and our latest financial gift from Comcast. Unless otherwise specified, all information below is from our Program Director, Cristen Reat.

We are so grateful for Comcast’s ongoing support. For nearly ten years, Comcast has supported the BridgingApps mission of “bridging the gap” between technology and people with disabilities. Lab equipment purchased with the help of Comcast grants includes:

  • Eye-gaze devices
  • iPads and Android tablets
  • Wheelchair-mounted devices
  • Custom accessories to meet unique needs for individuals of all ages.

Comcast’s commitment to digital equity has also enabled us to provide in-person and virtual digital skills training, aimed at increased employability for youth with disabilities.

What Is an AT Lab?

Assistive technology (AT) is any item, device, or piece of equipment used to help someone with disabilities maintain or improve their functional skills, allowing them to function independently in education, employment, recreation, and daily living. So, an AT Lab is an organized environment that allows its community to explore a variety of AT equipment. BridgingApps partners with the Texas Technology Access Program (TTAP) to manage three AT labs in the greater Houston area: our main lab at Easter Seals Greater Houston headquarters on Loop Central Drive, and the smaller satellite labs in The Woodlands and Stafford.

The central lab hosts weekly “open lab” hours (Tuesdays from 4–6:30) where anyone can drop in to explore technologies and ask questions—no appointment required. Or you can schedule an appointment at whichever lab location is most convenient. If you find a potential fit for your or a loved one’s needs, but would like to try it at home before purchasing your own, you can ask whether that item is available for free short-term loan (up to 4 weeks). Loans are arranged through TTAP and mailed directly to homes (with pre-paid return postage): our BridgingApps staff can help with your request form.

Who Uses AT Labs?

Amy Fuchs, our Program Manager, notes of current AT inquiries: “Among our most popular options are ‘reader’ technologies that ‘translate’ scanned text into audio form. And not just for clients with age- or diabetes-related vision loss, or other low-vision disabilities: the technology is also helpful for people with dyslexia, cognitive disabilities, and other conditions that affect the ability to read. ‘Reader’ options range from hand-held devices to apps that install on smartphones and tablets.

“For e-readers or any other assistive technology, the right fit depends on a client’s individual needs and goals. BridgingApps team members always start lab-assistance sessions by learning more about the client, and how they want to use a device.”

Still more equipment options from our lab:

  • Personal amplifiers for hearing disabilities
  • Digital magnifiers for low-vision issues
  • Tablets with preinstalled communication apps
  • Adaptive joysticks for computers.

For just about everyone, we have some device that will help improve everyday functioning.

What If I Can’t Get to a BridgingApps Lab?

For interested parties who live in the greater Houston area but would find our labs difficult to travel to, BridgingApps takes our “Lab on the Go” to schools, parent support groups, senior centers, libraries, and all sorts of other places. We’re also happy to do virtual demonstrations of our equipment. And we’ll always respond to phone calls asking about currently available equipment; plus, we’re happy to keep anyone updated at their request.

If you really want an in-person demonstration, and still don’t have a convenient BridgingApps option, many other organizations offer their own AT labs. For anyone living in Texas, TTAP has demo lab locations throughout the state. And if you’re outside of Texas, there are other demo centers across the U.S.: the AT3 Center is a good resource for locating one. There’s always an option that will work for you!

(P.S. Watch our Facebook feed for BridgingApps Live sessions—short videos sharing tech tips, details on equipment or apps, and other lab-related topics.)

Author’s Note

For more information on assistive technology itself, see our blog archives for “What Is Assistive Technology?” and other AT posts. If you’re considering what might fit your family’s needs, it’s important to know that “assistive technology” doesn’t necessarily mean “bulky, expensive, and complicated.” We’ll talk more about AT-related misconceptions in a future article.

Leave a Reply