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What is Assistive Technology (AT)

Assistive technology can be a "device" or a "service." A device is any item, piece of equipment or system that increases, maintains or improves the functional capabilities of people with disabilities. Assistive technology devices help people with disabilities do what they are able to do better and longer.

Augmentative or alternative communication devices provide speech for people who cannot speak independently. Telecommunications devices "for the deaf" (TDDs), text telephones (TTYs) and television decoders enhance communication and socialization for people with hearing loss. Alerting systems use lights or vibrations to warn people who are deaf or have hearing loss about dangers. To people with communication disabilities, these innovations bring independence and accessibility to community services and jobs.

Robotic arms and other environmental control systems turn lights on and off, open doors, operate appliances. Locational and orientation systems give people with vision impairments information about where they are: what the ground nearby is like, if there is a curb close by.

Assistive technology includes modifications to buildings, rooms and other facilities that let people with visual disabilities move more freely, people of short stature and people who use wheelchairs reach and use pay phones, operate elevators. Accessibility to shopping centers, places of business, schools, recreation, transportation is possible because of assistive technology modifications.

Assistive technology is often thought of as expensive, very noticeable in use, difficult to learn about, find and use. It is true that some "high tech" assistive devices cost a lot, are quite noticeable and often complicated to use. Examples include:

  • a motorized wheelchair
  • communication board
  • assistive listening systems
  • environmental control systems
  • or adapted vehicle are high tech assistive devices.

But other "low tech" equipment is not expensive and not difficult to use. Examples of low tech assistive devices include:

  • velcro
  • large print materials
  • talking calculators
  • big button phones
  • magnifiers
  • tape recorders
  • adapted eating utensils
  • dressing aides
  • adapted writing aides
  • canes
  • walkers etc.

Simple solutions can make a big difference for people with disabilities.