Switch Technologies

Switch Technologies

Cindy Nankee
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-817-3.ch010
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The purpose of this chapter is to provide information about the use of switches in the field of assistive technology. Information included in this chapter will benefit assistive technology professionals, case managers, educators, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, rehabilitation counselors as well as students of these professions and consumers. The information will apply to all age groups including birth to six, all levels of primary and secondary education, adulthood and senior services. This chapter will go from assessment to implementation. First this chapter will look at the background information including the what, why, when, and where of switches. Next, this chapter will provide instruction on a variety of assessments available to aid in matching an appropriate switch to a client’s skill set and task requirement. The chapter also discusses types of switches that can access toys, computers, communication devices, environmental controls, recreation, and mobility options. Finally, the chapter presents strategies for successful implementation including the prompt hierarchy, an action plan, data collection, and writing assistive technology into the Individualized Education Program.
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A switch is a device or piece of equipment commonly used to turn things on and off as in a light switch. The light itself is a separate fixture with light bulbs and wiring and a plate for securing it to the ceiling with nuts and bolts. The light switch is not the light fixture; the switch simply turns it on and off. A switch used as an assistive technology (AT) device turns things on and off as does a light switch. It is important to point this out when talking about switches and AT because using a switch with a student or client is not an activity, it is simply the access to the activity, turning it on and off, making the connection. A switch provides access to an activity for the physically and cognitively challenged.

A switch may be a simple on and off connection or a complex electronic switch programmed to perform a multitude of functions. A switch is used in conjunction with other technologies, allowing access to a communication device or computer, making it possible for someone who is physically or cognitively challenged to interact with the same instructional technology the rest of their classmates have access to.

Technology is so vast with definitions for an expansive list of technologies. The differentiating phrase for AT is in the IDEA (Individual with Disabilities Education Act) definition describing the user as “a person with a disability.” The identification of “a person with a disability” may range from mild to severe and may involve cognitive impairment or physical impairment or both. Individuals with disabilities have the potential to benefit from technology in many areas including communication, education, employment, and independent living.

The intent of this chapter is not to delve into the definitions and historical background of AT, but to focus on the specifics of switch technologies. For an in-depth study of the historical background of AT and the historical legal mandates, Blackhurst (2004) writes a chapter on Historical Perspectives in the Handbook of Special Education Technology Research and Practice.

The implementation path for information/educational technology (IT/ET) may require acquisition of the technology, it may require instruction, a trial period with follow-up support and this is enough for the individual to benefit from the technologies available to help them become more informed, efficient and independent at school and in the work place. Individual's with significant physical impairment may also benefit from the same technologies and implementation path including acquisition, instruction, trial and follow-up support, though may have the inability to access the technology due to physical or cognitive limitations. This is when switch technologies or access must be considered. The implementation of AT for access to communication, education, employment, and independent living for individuals is the focus of this chapter. The many applications of IT and ET available once access is achieved through switch technologies are extensive and will not be covered in this chapter.

The objectives of this chapter are to:

  • Provide information of best practices in the area of switch technologies.

  • Provide information of various switch technologies in order to assess clients and make appropriate recommendations.

  • Provide information of appropriate assessments to be used in selecting and locating switches for maximum benefit to the client.

  • Provide information in teaching strategies for successful switch use.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Environmental Controls: This may be a remote control system or computerized software that controls electronically operated devices including but not limited to: lights, doors, television, radio, and answering the phone.

Switch: In relation to AT, a switch is a device that provides access to an activity by connecting and disconnecting an electrical circuit.

Assessment: A method of acquiring information about the consumer, the environment and the required task in order to recommend an appropriate AT tool. Assessment differs from evaluation in that it is not standardized and it is ongoing over time.

Implementation: Refers to putting into practice or carrying out a plan to effectively use, in this case, a switch as an AT device.

Assistive Technology (AT): Any item, piece of equipment, or product system whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized that is used to increase or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

Disability: The inability to perform a physical or mental activity in what is considered a normal level of performance.

Access: The method a person uses to control an activity.

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