What Is Assistive Technology?

Assistive technology (AT) is the application of any technology to a human disability to improve access, function, or independence. This applies to technologies designed specifically for a disability as well as to the application of existing technologies to new uses or populations.

Categories of AT include power wheelchairs, ramps, vans, reading devices, speaking devices, writing devices, educational software, computer access tools, specialized utensils, special bath or toilet equipment, accessible kitchens, hand dexterity aids, environmental controls, door openers, adapted sports equipment, robotic limbs, even sailboat controls for quadriplegics or bikes that blind individuals can safely ride.

Specialists in AT are called Assistive Technology Professionals (ATPs) who adapt and apply existing technology to persons with a disability, or they may specialize in the invention, production, and distribution of devices. ATPs can be therapists, special educators, or engineers before they get involved with AT. Certification is provided by RESNA, the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America.

AT is important for special education departments in schools and colleges because consideration of the AT needs of a student is mandated by law. AT is important to employers, contractors who build public buildings, and transportation officials because of the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. AT is important to the medical community because it is a natural extension of the rehabilitation disciplines to consider when a person receiving services needs special equipment to return to or to maintain independent living.

Finally, AT is great for everyone. We have noticed how much AT designed for people with a disability can help non-disabled people do things too. The idea that a new product or facility should be usable by anyone is called "universal access."

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Tech Matrix


Teachers frequently ask for help choosing software designed to assist students with learning or other disabilities. There is a great new resource on the internet for helping teachers and AT professionals select software products that do all the right things for a student with a disability.
The matrix is easy to use. You can limit your search to products for math, reading, or other subjects. You can also refine your search to look for certain features. Products in your chosen subject appear along the top row. Features the products either do or don’t have are listed along the column on the left. A checkmark means that the program has that feature. This allows you to narrow your selections down to only those products with the features your student needs.

Just a reminder, “best practice” is still to try before you buy. Even if a program has the features a student needs, it doesn’t mean your student will be willing to use it. Many software suppliers will send you a free demo version of their product for trial use so you can try it with a particular student to make sure.

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