What is Assistive Technology

According to Wikipedia, Assistive technology (AT) is a generic term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities and includes the process used in selecting, locating, and using them.

AT promotes greater independence by enabling people to perform tasks that they were formerly unable to accomplish, or had great difficulty accomplishing, by providing enhancements to or changed methods of interacting with the technology needed to accomplish such tasks.

Developing an Accessible Technology plan (Source: Microsoft/enable)

Definition, objectives and context of Assistive Technology

A formal, legal definition of assistive technology was first published in the Technology - Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (The Tech Act). This act was amended in 1994; in 1998, it was repealed and replaced with the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 (AT Act).

Throughout this history, the original definition of assistive technology remained consistent. This same definition was used in the Access Boards Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards, developed as required by 1998 amendments to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Assistive technology is any item, piece of equipment, or product system whether acquired commercially on the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

Disability in the ICF classification serves as an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations or participation restrictions.

Assistive Technology (AT) can be a very complex and multifaceted field, yet in some cases be a relatively easy and creative problem solving process.

AT can have numerous definitions, depending upon the population, the desired outcomes, the type of technology used, and the experience and orientation of the consumers and professionals involved.

The terms, assistive device and adaptive device, are frequently used as a single phrase when discussing the general topic. In reality, many people use them interchangeably. The evolving trend is to use the term, assistive technology, to encompass both types of devices, plus services associated with their use.

One definition of assistive technology may be a system of no-tech, low-tech, and high-tech tools and strategies that match a persons needs, abilities, and tasks. AT is a tool to assist in the accomplishment of tasks that would be difficult or impossible to complete without assistance using only the available resources in the available time.

Assistive Technology Products can enable people with disabilities to accomplish daily living tasks, assist them in communication, education, work or recreation activities, in essence, help them achieve greater independence and enhance their quality of life.

AT can help individuals increase their independence, build self confidence and self esteem, improve the quality of life, and break down barriers when providing the tools for possible employment and educational opportunities.

The benefits of Assistive Technology cross age, disability and/or health challenges. From young children to seniors, a person may face a range of possible physical and or cognitive challenges.

In General, any technology that enables someone to do something they otherwise couldn't, can be termed as Assistive Technology, facilitating access and achieving previously unreachable goals. Individuals challenged by a disability can benefit from technology in many facets of their personal life; education, employment, recreation and social, any item, piece of equipment or system that helps bypass, work around or compensate for learning difficulties.

Assistive technology can include mobility devices such as walkers and wheelchairs, as well as hardware, software, and peripherals that assist people with disabilities in accessing computers or other information technologies. For example, people with limited hand function may use a keyboard with large keys or a special mouse to operate a computer, people who are blind may use software that reads text on the screen in a computer-generated voice, people with low vision may use software that enlarges screen content, people who are deaf may use a TTY (text telephone), or people with speech impairments may use a device that speaks out loud as they enter text via a keyboard.

Cognitive Disabilities (i.e. Traumatic Brain Injury, Learning/Speech Impairment) For individuals with speech problems, electro larynxes enable the person to speak using the vibrating mechanism placed against the neck. Augmentative communications systems provide synthesized speech from typed data. Newer models care roughly the size of a calculator and run on AAA batteries. Individuals with TBI and learning disabilities may obtain different types of software, which in educational, vocational communicative advancement.

Mobility Disabilities
(i.e. Spinal Cord Injury, Stroke) Electric scooters and wheelchairs are very popular. Many accessories such as clamp-on desks, mobile arm supports, camera mounts, help wheelchair users to enjoy greater freedom and independence in their work and home environments. Several types hands-free computer access software using speech-recognition and 'point-of-gaze' technologies such as Eye-Gaze enable the individual to do computer allows the disabled invidual to operate a variety of electrical appliance (i.e. stereo, bed, telephone) remotely.

Sensory Disabilities
(i.e. Blind/Low Vision, Deaf/HoH) Books on tape, talking watches and clocks make life easier for individuals who are blind or with low vision. Also, talking calculators, thermometers and hand-held scanners that convert print to synthesized speech are available. New voice synthesizing such as JAWS and outSPOKEN convert computer text and graphics to voice. Although they are expensive, they are incredibly helpful for the blind user. For individuals with low vision, large display digital and analogue timepieces, large print publications and large numbered phone sets are often used. Adaptive software for word processing programs such as Eye Relief, VisAbility or ZoomText can enlarge text up to 1.5 on a computer screen, an improvement over the usual fonts. For individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing (hoh), lights added to telephones and doorbells flash when the phone rings or someone comes to the door. Some fire alarms have strobe lights that flash when activated. Through all television set with screens, 13 or larger have built-in closed captioning systems since 1993, set top decoders can work with older or smaller sets. Hearing aids are becoming tinier, yet more powerful than before. Text Telephones (TTY's) and other telecommunication devices are on sale in many stores and are widely in use. Handset amplifiers allow voice telephone conversations. Wireless listening amplification systems are available and it consists of a clip-on microphone transmitter and a receiver. Some public facilities such as theatres and classrooms have listening systems built in that work with the hearing-aid or with a special receiver. These can be very useful in lectures, meetings and other cases where understanding every word is imperative. Some recent technologies in wide use also benefit deaf/HoH people such as fax, E-mail and vibrating pagers.

Aids for disability - glossary

Information technology
A tremendous variety of assistive technology is available today, providing the opportunity for nearly all people to access information technology (IT). However, an individual having proper assistive technology has no guarantee having an access. IT accessibility is dependent on accessible design. IT products must be designed and created in ways that allow all users to access them, including those who use assistive technologies. For more information, see the Access IT Knowledge Base article What is accessible electronic and information technology? Accessible electronic and information technology is technology that can be used by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. It incorporates the principles of universal design. Each user is able to interact with the technology in ways that work best for him or her. Accessible technology is either directly accessible - in other words, it is usable without assistive technology - or it is compatible with standard assistive technology. Just as buildings that have ramps and elevators are accessible to wheelchair users, products that adhere to accessible design principles are usable by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. Examples of accessible electronic and information technology:

Accessible software applications may include features specifically designed for users with disabilities. However, they always give users more than one way of accomplishing a task. They use established standards for displaying menus and prompts that can be interpreted by assistive technology. They allow users to use the mouse alone, the keyboard alone, or a combination of the two. They rely on more than color to convey information. Installation instructions, user guides, and other documentation are available in alternate formats, such as large print, Braille, and electronic text.

Accessible multimedia products, which may be distributed on videotapes, CDs, DVDs, or the World Wide Web, include synchronized text captions for spoken information and other audio content and provide synchronized audio descriptions for visual content. They o er more than one way to input commands or respond to prompts. For instance, imagine that a character's voice on a CD tells a child to click on an animal to learn more about it. Children who are deaf or hard of hearing cannot hear the instructions. Children who are blind cannot click on the animal because they cannot see what is on the computer screen. Providing captions in addition to spoken instructions allows children with hearing impairments who can read to participate. Providing keyboard commands for all functions of the software allows children with visual impairments to participate. Captioning and alternative ways of navigating can make a big di erence in the ability of students with disabilities to use these technologies independently. Descriptive narration and audio navigation (talking menus) are also essential in order for those with vision impairments to access videos and DVDs independently.

Accessible websites are designed to be usable by individuals with a broad range of abilities and disabilities; they are designed so that all visitors can navigate the site, access content, and participate in interactive web activities. Accessible web sites provide a text equivalent (typically a description) for all nontext elements, such as audio, video, graphics, animation, graphical buttons, and image maps. This allows those who cannot see the screen to access the information with a screen reader that can read the description of a picture but cannot read the picture.

Accessible copy machines can be operated in more than one way using keypads, touch screens, or voice recognition. Height and position can be adjusted so that controls are within easy reach and the display can be viewed easily. Document feeders are located at desk height, putting them within reach. Ergonomics plays a very important role in proper arrangement of accessible human - machines or human - computer interfaces.

Ergonomics. A discipline that has as its object the human activity in relation to the environmental conditions, instrumental and organizational, in which it is carried out. It has the aim of the adaptation of such conditions to the requirements of the man, defined from its characteristics and its activities. This discipline rose with the task to study and to enforce, in the planning, some norms that protect the life of the worker and increase the efficiency and the reliability of the man-machine systems. The application field has been extended in function of the recent changes in well-being and health issues. Currently it contributes to the planning of objects, services, atmospheres of life and work so that they respect the human limits, in order to empower the operating abilities and to reduce the uneasiness and the malaises. It reaches to the scientific and technological acquisitions that promise to improve the quality of the living conditions, in all the daily activities. It has appeared in Italian dictionaries since the beginning of the 1980s. Ergonomic is an ancient term that has recently acquired various important meanings; it indicates, in a generalized manner, every type of balanced relationship between an agent and its context. It is no longer simply concerned, as in the past, with rehabilitation or its related aids, but now also with techniques and accessories that can easily enter in the daily life as supports that can avoid waste of energy.


1. ICF International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health,
2. R. Andrich, D. Simsik, A. Galajdova:The Assistive Technology Handbook, Tempus Phare 14 226-1999, Technical University of Kosice, 2000, ISBN 80- 7099-953-5, EAN 9788070999530.
3. C. Buhler and H. Knops (Eds.): Assistive Technology on the Threshold of the New Millennium, IOS Press, 1999,AAATE 99 Conference. European Conference for the Advancement of AT in Europe.
4. Technology-related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988, Public Law 100-07, August 9, 1988.
5. Proc of the AAATE 99 Conference. European Conference for the Advancement of AT in Europe, 1999.
6. A.E. Blackhurst, and D.L. Edyburn: A brief history of special education technology, Special Education Technology Practice, 2(1), 2000, 21-35.
7. http://www.washington.edu/accessit/index.php
8. http://sweb.uky.edu
9. http://natri.uky.edu

More pages