What is assistive technology?
An Assistive Technology device is any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, off the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capacities of individuals with disabilities. It can help people learn, compete in the work environment, achieve independence, or improve quality of life. The use of assistive technology is not an end in itself, but is part of an ongoing therapeutic process to improve functional capabilities. Devices can replace a missing limb, help prevent the worsening of a condition, help improve physical functioning, help improve a person's capacity to learn, or strengthen a physical or other weakness.
Do you have questions about Assistive Technology? Click on the following links below for more information.
- What are some categories of Assistive Technology?
- What are some examples of "Low Tech" Assistive Technology?
- What are some examples of "High Tech" Assistive Technology?
- How does Assistive Technology help people at work?
- What are the costs to Assistive Technology?
- How can a person find out what Assistive Technology he or she needs?
- Why isn't "Assistive Technology" just "technology"?
- South Dakota's Assistive Technology Act Project
1. Aids for Daily Living: Devices that help in daily living and independence: modified eating utensils, adapted books, pencil holders, page turners, dressing aids, adapted personal hygiene aids.
2. Augmentative Communication: Devices that help persons with speech and/or hearing disabilities communicate: communication boards, speech synthesizers, modified typewriters, head pointers, text to voice software.
3. Mobility Aids: Devices that help people move within their environments: electric or manual wheelchairs, modifications of vehicles for travel, scooters, crutches, canes and walkers.
4. Seating and Positioning: Adapted seating, cushions, standing tables, positioning belts, braces, cushions and wedges to maintain posture, and devices that provide body support to help people perform a range of daily tasks.
5. Computer Access Aids: Headsticks, light pointers, modified or alternate keyboards, switches activated by pressure, sound or voice, touch screens, special software, voice to text software.
6. Environmental Controls: Electronic systems that help people control various appliances, switches for telephone, TV, or other appliances which are activated by pressure, eyebrows or breath.
7. Home/Workplace Modifications: Structural adaptations that remove or reduce physical barriers: ramps, lifts, bathroom changes, automatic door openers, expanded doorways.
8. Prosthetics and Orthotics: Replacement or augmentation of body parts with artificial limbs or other orthotic aids such as splints or braces.
9. Sensory Aids for Vision/Hearing Impaired: Aids such as magnifiers Braille and speech output devices, large print screens, hearing aids, visual alerting systems, telecommunication devices
10. Recreation: Devices to enable participation in sports, social, cultural events: audio description for movies, adaptive controls for video games, adaptive fishing rods, cuffs for grasping paddles or racquets, seating systems for boats.
Eating utensils or toothbrushes with weighted handles help a person with limited hand control. Sandwich holders help people with a weak grip.
A communication board with simple pictures helps someone communicate basic needs.
Pencil grippers help a student hold onto a pencil, pen, crayon, or magic marker. Easy grip doorknobs or car door openers help people with weak hands.
Big button phones help people with limited vision or hand control.
Tape recorders help students who have trouble with note taking. A mouthstick can help a person turn the pages of a book without using his or her hands.
Computer screen magnifiers help people with visual impairments. Text telephones or phone amplifiers help people with hearing impairments.
- Computers operated by voice command instead of a keyboard.
- Environmental controls allow a person to operate appliances from one remote control.
- Special lifts help a person get in and out of the bathtub or in and out of bed.
- Software which gives immediate positive feedback for a student with a learning disability.
- Talking calculators "speak" math operations as they are performed.
- Talking software helps a child see and hear as he learns.
- Reading machines convert printed material into synthesized speech.
Workplace accommodations help a person in a wheel chair to access the necessary equipment around the workplace, such as bookshelves, computers, or worktables. Headset phones and telephone amplifiers help a person with disabilities to answer the phone. A motorized lift helps a farmer with disabilities to get into the tractor. Tape players and headphones drown out noises for an employee with attention deficit disorder.
1. Where do people find the money to pay for assistive technology?
Private insurance companies may pay for technology, especially if it will help improve a condition or prevent it from getting worse. State agencies are a major source of funding. Technology that is necessary for education in the "least restrictive environment" may be funded by the school, school district, college or tech school. Technology that helps a person in employment may be funded by state agencies like Vocational Rehabilitation, Commission for the Blind. Medicaid and Medicare may fund assistive technology which is "medically necessary." foundations and service clubs are often funding sources.
2. How does the use of assistive technology save money?
By allowing a person to function more independently at home, families and the government can save on the cost of attendant care of placing someone in residential facility. When assistive technology helps prevent worsening of a condition, the cost of further medical expenses is reduced. For example, proper seating and positioning for a child can prevent his or her condition from getting worse because there is less strain on muscles and joints. A national study on disability showed that assistive technology saved the government significant money in the amounts of SSI and SSDI payments. Assistive technology helps a person become a tax payer instead of a tax burden.
Finding the "best fit" between a person, his or her environment, and available technology is a process involving the consumer, family members, educational and medical professionals, caretakers, and anyone who often works with the person using the technology. A wrong or hasty decision can cause wasted time, money and patience. Determining what the person needs technology to do for her or him may help identify which agency might help with an assessment.
Often the actual technology being used by the person with a disability is no different than technology used by any person. In addition, many devices used by people with disabilities have been only slightly modified from typical devices, if modified at all. Whether a technology is called "assistive" is often determined only by the fact that a person with a disability is using it. At times there is good reason to classify a technology as "assistive", for example, to fund a device or service through a special program. In addition, there are numerous devices which are designed specifically for individuals with functional limitations. However, in many cases, classifying technology as "assistive" may be unnecessary and may call attention to minor or nonexistent differences in the technology used. Technology, by its very nature, improves the functional capability of the person using it, regardless of whether or not one has a disability.