When defined, assistive technology includes any piece of equipment or device that helps to increase the independence of a disabled person. While assistive technology is not new, it is an ever changing and growing type of technology.
The distinction between assistive technologies for disabled people and adaptive technologies for the nondisabled are blurred at times. Some assistive technology inventions have been proven to be ergonomically sound and therefore they have been incoporated as standard features for the disabled and nondisabled. An example of one of those features would be the on/off switch on a keyboard which was originally developed so that disabled people did not have to reach the back of the machine.
Assistive technology has helped to enormously increase the ability of disabled people to lead more independent lives. Assistive technology devices enable disabled people to do all sorts of tasks such as turning on lights and appliances and opening doors while in a wheelchair, speak through synthetic speech systems, and read when they cannot see. The technology is intended to help people have the ability to see, hear, speak, learn, and move about freely, and there are always new items being developed to help with these areas of functioning.
Kinds of Assistive Technology
Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) use electronic sensors that are connected to alarm systems to help vulnerable people who want to stay at home and be independent. PERS include such items as fall detectors for the elderly, thermometers, and various sensors (generally for people with dementia). Many systems can be customized for the user’s particular risks.
Accessible computer input technology reduces the strain of sitting at a desk with a keyboard and amouse. There are various ergonomic accessories such as footrests, arm supports, and adjustable furniture to ensure the correct posture. There are also chorded keyboards that have a handful of keys (one per finger per hand) to type chords which produce different keys and letters. Large print keyboards are another type of assistive computer input technology that can help disabled people. There are also many sophisticated accessible computer input products that can replace normal functioning computer parts. These include joysticks, touchpads, foot mice, speech recognition software, and even eye trackers.
Access and environmental controls are devices that allow someone increased control of things in their environment. These controls include things like remote controls, special keyboards and mice, switches, ramps, and Braille signs.
Aids to daily living include special tools for activities like eating, dressing, and brushing ones teeth. Some aids to daily living are specially designed shower stalls and toilet seats, and adapted plates, cups, and utensils.
Augmentative communication can support a person who cannot talk, or whose speech is not easily understood. There are many types of communication software and computers, picture boards, and voice output communication devices available for these types of disabilities.
Assisted listening can help support someone who has either hearing loss or is completely deaf. Assistive listening devices inclde typing telephones, amplifiers, hearing aids, and captions on television. There are various types of products available depending on the type of hearing loss one is suffering.
Assistive technology has proven a great tool in helping people with disablities live a more independent life. From products for the blind and visually impaired, the deaf, people with learning disabilities, and more there are many resources for individuals with disabilities. While some forms of assistive technology have been around for a long time, there are always new and more sophisticated products emerging.
What is Assistive Technology? – An in-depth but easy to understand description of assistive technology
Assistive Technology Training – information on assistive technology for elementary students with disabilities
AbleData – a database with information on assistive technology and other types of rehabilitation equipment that is available in the United States
ATA – The website of the Alliance for Technology Access which provides support services and information to people with disabilities
Types of Assistive Technology – a list of the different types of assistive technology with examples
K-12 Assistive Technology – a table of the most common assistive technologies and how they can help in the classroom
Assistive Technology Devices – a comprehensive list of assistive technology devices and how they are used
AbilityHub – a website for people with disabilities featuring a directory of adaptive equipment and information on alternative methods of accessing computers