Assistive Technology

A Basic Overview

What Is Assistive Technology?

Assistive technology is defined in several ways.

  • Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), assistive technologies are protected under titles II and III, which protect access and the use of all things that assist people with disabilities, in a broad sense, including assistive technologies.

  • Under the Assistive Technology act of 1998 as amended in 2004, "the term `assistive technology' means technology designed to be utilized in an assistive technology device or assistive technology service."

  • Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), assistive technology is broadly considered as any technology support provided to people with disabilities to help them better engage with their day to day lives.

  • More broadly, assistive technologies do not necessarily just mean computers and high-tech devices.  Assistive technology is a broad term, and covers everything from something as simple as a planner used to help someone with difficulty remembering things due to a disability to high-tech communication devices.  As long as it is used to help someone with a disability better engage with the world, it is an assistive technology.

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Why Assistive Technology?

In a world that is not made for us, disabled people often turn to assistive technologies to navigate barriers that we face every day.  As a disabled person myself, who experiences significant difficulty with writing as well as organization, I would be practically unable to achieve to my full potential without it.  Assistive technologies are proven to help improve not only the academic outcomes of disabled people, but also their experiences inside and outside of the classroom when paired correctly.  To provide a personal example, I have used a laptop since freshman year of high school for most, if not all, of my work.  In high school, I was the odd one out for using a laptop - an unmodified, heavy and bulky piece of equipment in 2011 - and teachers restricted my ability to use the technology to its fullest potential, as well as in some cases demanded I not use it at all for things like note-taking or writing down assignments.  When I was in college, I was able to use it to its fullest potential - something that allowed me to thrive in academia.

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Types of Assistive Technology

There are a number of types of assistive technologies, but they generally fall into one of three categories: low tech, mid tech, and high tech assistive technologies.

  • Low tech assistive technologies generally involve things that require little specialized instruction to use and generally do not have complex features.  Some examples of low tech assistive technology include glasses, walkers, specialized pencil grips, communication boards or social narratives, and large print text, to name a few.

  • Mid tech assistive technologies generally require some electronic or mechanical functions and require some instruction to use, but generally also tend to solve more specialized problems.  Often, they supplement   Some examples include specialized mouses or keyboards, audio books to replace regular books, captions, and noise cancelling headphones, among others.

  • High tech assistive technologies are often complex, electronic and mechanical tools that solve complex problems faced by people with disabilities.  Some examples include power wheel chairs or other mobility devices, hearing aids and cochlear implants, voice recognition software, predictive typing, text to speech software, and more.

Pushback on Assistive Technology

Assistive technology may be a broad, wide-reaching set of supports for disabled people, but often there is push back against its use.  This comes from a number of areas: misconceptions about what assistive technology is, how it will be used, and whether it's "fair" to offer these technologies to disabled people and not to others who might benefit from them, but don't need them for daily use.

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