lions of U.S. citizens with disabilities who need this technology to make their lives more functional and independent. The goals of this law have been operationalized through the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) with an annual budget of $39,065,414 (fiscal year 95 allocations for state technology assistance) for the 50 states and U.S. territories that are participating in this program. However, despite the money spent implementing the Tech Act amendments of 1994, many key issues still remain, according to a 1995 report on Technology and People with Disabilities prepared for the U.S. Congress by the Office of Technology Assessment. The report states that, in spite of states' technology-related assistance programs carried out under the Tech Act, there remains ''a need to support systems change and advocacy activities to assist States to develop and implement consumer-responsive, comprehensive state-wide programs of technology-related assistance for individuals with disabilities of all ages." Even with these limitations, more individuals than ever before are using assistive technology to compensate for their disabling conditions and enhance the environment in which they live and work.

Universal Design

It is frequently the case that the built environment can be modified permanently so that functional limitations become less disabling and personal or temporary assistive technologies are not needed. For example, the presence of ramps increases the ability of wheelchair users to get around and thus decreases the degree to which the condition that led to their use of a wheelchair is disabling. White and colleagues, (1995) found an increased frequency of trips out of the house and into the community for two-thirds of wheelchair users after ramps were installed in their houses. Wider doors, lower bathroom sinks, and grab bars are other examples of modifications to built environments that decrease the degree to which a building itself may be disabling. Lighting patterns and the materials used for walls and ceilings affect the visual ability of all people, even though the largest impact may be on improving the ability of the person who is hard of hearing to hear in a particular room or the ability of a person who is deaf to see an interpreter or other signers.

Universal design is based on the principle that the built environments and instruments used for everyday living can be ergonomically designed so that everyone can use them. Traditionally, architecture and everyday products have been designed for market appeal, with a greater focus on fashion rather than function. However, as the population of older adults and people with disabling conditions increases, there has been a greater trend toward universal design.



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