Assistive technology

Assistive Technology (AT) is a generic term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices and the process used in selecting, locating, and using them. AT promotes greater independence for people with disabilities by enabling them to use items that they were formerly unable to use by providing enhancements or methods of using the technology. According to disability advocates, technology, all too often, is created without regard to people with disabilities and unnecessary barriers make new technology inaccessible to hundreds of millions.

Universal (or broadened) accessibility means excellent usability, particularly for people with disabilities. But, argue advocates of assistive technology, universally accessible technology yield great rewards to the typical user; good accessible design is universal design, they say. The classic example of an assistive technology that has improved everyone's life is the "curb cuts" in the sidewalk at street crossings. While these curb cuts surely enable pedestrians with mobility impairments to cross the street, they have also aided parents with carriages and strollers, shoppers with carts, travellers and workers with pull-type bags.

Consider an example of an assistive technology. The modern telephone is, except for the deaf, universally accessible. Combined with a text telephone (also known as a TDD and in the USA generally called a TTY), which converts typed characters into tones that may be sent over the telephone line, the deaf person is able to communicate immediately at a distance. Together with "relay" services (where an operator reads what the deaf person types and types what a hearing person says) the deaf person is then given access to everyone's telephone, not just those of people who possess text telephones.

Another example: calculators are cheap, but a person with a mobility impairment can have difficulty using them. Speech recognition software could recognize short commands and make use of calculators a little easier. People with mental disabilities would appreciate the simplicity; others would as well.

Toys which have been adapted to be used by children with disabilities, may have advantages for "typical" children as well. The Lekotek movement assists parents by lending assistive technology toys and expertise to families.

Telecare is a particular sort of assistive technology that uses sensors and a community alarm system (to carers) to help manage risk and enable vulnerable people to stay independent at home longer. A good example would be the systems being put in place for elderley people such as fall detectors, heat detectors (for hypothermia risk), flooding and unlit gas sensors (for people with mild dementia). The principle being that these alerts can be customised to the particular persons risks. When the alert is triggered, a message is sent to a carer or contact centre who can respond appropriately. The range of sensors is wide and expanding rapidly.


Assistive technology products

Further reading

  • Behrmann, M. & Schaff, J.(2001). Assisting educators with assistive technology: Enabling children to achieve independence in living and learning. Children and Families 42(3), 24-28.
  • Bishop, J. (2003). The Internet for educating individuals with social impairments. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 19(4), 546-556. Available as a free download (
  • Cain, S. (2001). Accessing Technology - Using technology to support the learning and employment opportunities for visually impaired users. Royal National Institute for the Blind. ISBN 1858785170.
  • Franklin, K.S. (1991). Supported employment and assistive technology-A powerful partnership. In S.L. Griffin & W.G. Revell (Eds.), Rehabilitation counselor desktop guide to supported employment. Richmond, VA : Virginia Commonwealth University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Supported Employment.
  • Lahm, E., & Morrissette, S. (1994, April). Zap 'em with assistive technology. Paper presented at the annual meeting of The Council for Exceptional Children, Denver, CO.
  • Lee, C. (1999). Learning disabilities and assistive technologies; an emerging way to touch the future. Amherst, MA: McGowan Publications.
  • McKeown, S. (2000). Unlocking Potential - How ICT can support children with special needs. The Questions Publishing Company Ltd. ISBN 1841900419
  • Nisbet, P. & Poon, P. (1998). Special Access Technology. The CALL Centre, University of Edinburgh. Available as a free download ( The CALL Centre. ISBN 189804211X
  • Nisbet, P., Spooner, R., Arthur, E. & Whittaker P. (1999). Supportive Writing Technology. The CALL Centre, University of Edinburgh. Available as a free download ( The CALL Centre. ISBN 1898042136
  • Rose, D. & Meyer, A. (2000). Universal design for individual differences. Educational Leadership, 58(3), 39-43.

External links

UK-based organisations for assistive technology


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