Volume VIII Number 2, September 2002

A Review: Adaptive Technologies for Learning and Work Environments - Second Edition

Reviewed by:

Jean Balutanski, M.A., CRC
Ramapo College of New Jersey

by Joe Lazzaro

As the instructor of a graduate level course on assistive technology, I am always searching for new professional and student resources that are current, comprehensive, and readable. Published materials on the topic in book format are scarce, and new entries into the pool are viewed with hopeful anticipation. I am pleased to report that the second edition of Adaptive Technologies for Learning and Work Environments by Joseph J. Lazzaro will not disappoint readers seeking a comprehensive, reliable source of information about the current status of adaptive technology and its applications in academic and employment settings.

In addition to extensive updating of information covered in the original version of the book published in 1993, the second edition includes new chapters that address timely adaptive technology issues, specifically: new accessibility features built into Windows and Macintosh operating systems; adaptive technology designed for individuals with learning disabilities; and the importance of ensuring information technology access for all users through adaptive technology and accessible design. The reader should note that Mr. Lazzaro uses the expressions "adaptive technology" and "assistive technology" interchangeably throughout his book, but seems to favor the former expression rather than the more universally used term "assistive technology". His use of the expression "adaptive technology" will be followed within this review.

The core of Mr. Lazzaro's new book is a detailed overview of the various types of adaptive technologies available for individuals with disabilities. Although many stand-alone products are discussed, the primary focus of the book is on adapting personal computers through a wide variety of adaptive devices and software products. Unix and Macintosh operating systems are included in the discussion, but Mr. Lazzaro concentrates on the Windows system, recognizing it as currently dominant in the computer industry.

The book is organized according to type of disability, with a separate chapter covering each of the following groups: individuals with visual disabilities, individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, individuals with motor disabilities, individuals with speech difficulties, and individuals with learning disabilities. In each of these chapters, Mr. Lazzaro first identifies access barriers specific to the disability, and then provides access solutions through the use of appropriate adaptive technology. All technologies are discussed in the context of education and employment applications. Especially useful are Mr. Lazzaro's evaluations of the various types of adaptive computer technologies with regard to ease of installation, reliability of function, practical applications, and effectiveness versus limitations in achieving a desired level of access. This information is conveyed without the overuse of computer jargon, making the book very user-friendly. When technical terms are used, they are fully explained.

The chapter covering learning disabilities is an important addition that was missing in the 1993 version. Its inclusion in the second edition reflects current trends in the use of personal computers with specialized software by persons with learning disabilities as a compensatory technique for reading, writing, and performing other academic and work-related tasks. Though this chapter is brief, it covers two important issues that readers need to know if they are planning to acquire adaptive technology. First, Mr. Lazzaro cautions his audience about the need for a thorough evaluation by a qualified professional before recommending or obtaining adaptive technology for a specific person. Secondly, he discusses the importance of considering adaptive technology as part of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) planning process for all elementary and high school students classified as having a disability.

Each of the chapters describing categories of adaptive technologies related to a particular disability has a corresponding section in the Appendix where specific products, specifications, and vendor information are listed. In this way, the reader is provided with both conceptual and practical information for taking the first steps in identifying a need for adaptive technology and for following through with appropriate resources for evaluating and prescribing specific adaptive technologies.

In the new chapter Driving the Computer from the Keyboard, Mr. Lazzaro clearly and thoroughly discusses keyboard navigation, keyboard commands, and screen and sound modification features built into the most recent versions of operating systems. Both Windows and Macintosh "native accessibility utilities," as Mr. Lazzaro calls these features, are covered in the chapter and in the corresponding Appendices where pages of detailed commands are handily provided for the reader.

The third new chapter raises the extremely important and timely issue of accessing electronic information technology. Although his book is primarily about adaptive technology, to his credit Mr. Lazzaro emphasizes that access to the Internet and online communication venues such as email and chat for individuals with disabilities requires well designed web sites and software in addition to adaptive technology. While not going into great detail, he does introduce the concepts of accessible web design and web site validation, and includes resources for exploring these topics in greater depth.
Rounding out Adaptive Technologies for Learning and Work Environments - Second Edition are chapters that cover fundamental computer concepts for the novice, adaptive technology evaluation, training, and support issues, resources for funding adaptive technology, and guidelines for creating infrastructures for supporting adaptive technologies in learning and work environments. These chapters update sections of the original edition and provide basic information.

The overall review of Adaptive Technologies for Learning and Work Environments - Second Edition by Joseph J. Lazzaro is enthusiastically positive. Mr. Lazzaro has taken a good book and has made it better. Through careful revisions and additions, he has created a second edition that is reflective of emerging trends in adaptive technology applications. This book provides a useful overview for individuals with disabilities, advocates, family members, employers, teachers, librarians, and other professionals who work with individuals with disabilities and are interested in learning about adaptive technologies for use in the classroom or workplace. Professional practitioners responsible for selecting, purchasing, installing, and supporting adaptive technology would need to pursue these topics through additional sources. Selected technology resources, a listing of relevant technology and disability rights legislation, and national resources for individuals with disabilities included in the Appendix provide these professionals with a good starting point for further investigation.

Books about computer technology by their very nature quickly become outdated. For this second edition, Mr. Lazzaro has chosen an organizational format different from the first edition that successfully overcomes the problem inherent in trying to describe a body of information that is constantly changing. He accomplishes this by placing the enduring information - the background, history, practical applications, categories and concepts associated with adaptive technology - in the body of the book, and by relegating the ever-changing specific product, vendor, and other resource data to the Appendices. If supplemented by the reader, as needed, with the most current product and resource data from the Internet and other sources, Adaptive Technologies for Learning and Work Environments - Second Edition can serve as a valuable reference about adaptive technology for years to come.

For all of the positive features highlighted in this review, I have chosen Mr. Lazzaro's book as the primary text for the graduate level course I teach on assistive technology. This book will meet the needs of interested students in a variety of professional fields. It can be the sole source of information for those wanting only a good, basic overview of the field of adaptive technologies, or it can serve as the jumping off point for those wanting to pursue the topic in great depth.

As an added bonus, Adaptive Technology for Learning and Work Environments - Second Edition, is available in an accessible HTML version on CD-ROM for individuals with disabilities who require alternate access, also making it an excellent choice for a college course text. Both the print version, which retails for $48.00, and the CD-ROM, which retails for $35.00, are available through the Special Needs Project at www.specialneeds.com, books@specialneeds.com, or 800-333-6867, or through all standard booksellers including Amazon.com.

ISBN# 083890804-7 (Print Edition)
ISBN #083890814-4 (CD-ROM Edition)

Balutanski, J. (2002). A review: Adaptive technologies for learning and work environments, second edition [Review of the book Adaptive technologies for learning and work environments - second edition, by Joe Lazzaro]. Information Technology and Disabilities E-Journal, 8(2).