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Assistive technology

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Assistive technology

Hearing aid

Assistive technology is an umbrella term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities and also includes the process used in selecting, locating, and using them. Assistive technology promotes greater independence by enabling people to perform tasks that they were formerly unable to accomplish, or had great difficulty accomplishing, by providing enhancements to, or changing methods of interacting with, the technology needed to accomplish such tasks.


  • Assistive technology and adaptive technology 1
  • Mobility impairment and wheelchairs 2
  • Mobility impairment and walkers 3
  • Personal emergency response systems 4
  • Accessibility software 5
  • Assistive technology for visual impairment 6
  • Augmentative and alternative communication 7
  • Assistive technology for cognition 8
  • Prosthesis 9
  • Assistive technology in sport 10
  • Assistive technology in education 11
  • Computer accessibility 12
  • Home automation 13
  • See also 14
  • References 15

Assistive technology and adaptive technology

The term adaptive technology is often used as the synonym for assistive technology, however, they are different terms. Assistive technology refers to "any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities", while adaptive technology covers items that are specifically designed for persons with disabilities and would seldom be used by non-disabled persons. In other words, "assistive technology is any object or system that increases or maintains the capabilities of people with disabilities," while adaptive technology is "any object or system that is specifically designed for the purpose of increasing or maintaining the capabilities of people with disabilities."[1] Consequently, adaptive technology is a subset of assistive technology. Adaptive technology often refers specifically to electronic and information technology access.[2]

Mobility impairment and wheelchairs

A typical modern battery powered chair

Wheelchairs are devices that can be manually propelled or electrically propelled and that include a seating system and are designed to be a substitute for the normal mobility that most people enjoy. Wheelchairs and other mobility devices allow people to perform mobility related activities of daily living which include feeding, toileting, dressing grooming and bathing. The devices comes in a number of variations where they can be propelled either by hand or by motors where the occupant uses electrical controls to manage motors and seating control actuators through a joystick, sip-and-puff control, or other input devices. Often there are handles behind the seat for someone else to do the pushing or input devices for caregivers. Wheelchairs are used by people for whom walking is difficult or impossible due to illness, injury, or disability. People with both sitting and walking disability often need to use a wheelchair or walker.

Mobility impairment and walkers

A walker or walking frame or Rollator is a tool for disabled people who need additional support to maintain balance or stability while walking. It consists of a frame that is about waist high, approximately twelve inches deep and slightly wider than the user. Walkers are also available in other sizes, such as for children, or for heavy people. Modern walkers are height-adjustable. The front two legs of the walker may or may not have wheels attached depending on the strength and abilities of the person using it. It is also common to see caster wheels or glides on the back legs of a walker with wheels on the front.[3]

Personal emergency response systems

This voter with a manual dexterity disability is making choices on a touchscreen with a head dauber

Personal emergency response systems (PERS), or Telecare (UK term), are a particular sort of assistive technology that use electronic sensors connected to an alarm system to help caregivers manage risk and help vulnerable people stay independent at home longer. An example would be the systems being put in place for senior people such as fall detectors, thermometers (for hypothermia risk), flooding and unlit gas sensors (for people with mild dementia). Notably, these alerts can be customized to the particular person's risks. When the alert is triggered, a message is sent to a caregiver or contact center who can respond appropriately.

Accessibility software

In human–computer interaction, computer accessibility (also known as accessible computing) refers to the accessibility of a computer system to all people, regardless of disability or severity of impairment, examples include web accessibility guidelines.[4] Another approach is for the user to present a token to the computer terminal, such as a smart card, that has configuration information to adjust the computer speed, text size, etc. to their particular needs. This is useful where users want to access public computer based terminals in Libraries, ATM, Information kiosks etc. The concept is encompassed by the CEN EN 1332-4 Identification Card Systems - Man-Machine Interface.[5] This development of this standard has been supported in Europe by SNAPI and has been successfully incorporated into the Lasseo specifications, but with limited success due to the lack of interest from public computer terminal suppliers.

Assistive technology for visual impairment

Many people with serious visual impairments live independently, using a wide range of tools and techniques. Examples of assistive technology for visually impairment include the Canadian currency tactile feature, which a system of raised dots in one corner, based on Braille cells but not standard Braille.[6] For general computer use access technology such as screen readers, screen magnifiers and refreshable Braille displays has been widely taken up along with standalone reading aids that integrate a scanner, optical character recognition (OCR) software, and speech software in a single machine. These function together without a separate PC.[7]

Augmentative and alternative communication

An AAC user uses number coding on an eye gaze communication board

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is an umbrella term that encompasses methods of communication for those with impairments or restrictions on the production or comprehension of spoken or written language.[8] AAC systems are extremely diverse and depend on the capabilities of the user. They may be as basic as pictures on a board that the are used to request food, drink, or other care; or they can be advanced speech generating devices, based on speech synthesis, that are capable of storing hundreds of phrases and words.[9]

Assistive technology for cognition

Assistive technology for cognition (ATC)[10] is the use of technology (usually high tech) to augment and assistive cognitive processes such as attention, memory, self-regulation, navigation, emotion recognition and management, planning, and sequencing activity. Systematic reviews of the field have found that the number of ATC are growing rapidly, but have focused on memory and planning, that there is emerging evidence for efficacy, that a lot of scope exists to develop new ATC.[11] Examples of ATC include: NeuroPage which prompts users about meetings,[12] Wakamaru, which provides companionship and reminds users to take medicine and calls for help if something is wrong, and telephone Reassurance systems.[13]


A prosthesis, prosthetic, or prosthetic limb is a device that replaces a missing body part. It is part of the field of biomechatronics, the science of using mechanical devices with human muscle, skeleton, and nervous systems to assist or enhance motor control lost by trauma, disease, or defect. Prostheses are typically used to replace parts lost by injury (traumatic) or missing from birth (congenital) or to supplement defective body parts. Inside the body, artificial heart valves are in common use with artificial hearts and lungs seeing less common use but under active technology development. Other medical devices and aids that can be considered prosthetics include hearing aids, artificial eyes, palatal obturator, gastric bands, and dentures.

Prostheses are specifically not orthoses, although given certain circumstances a prosthesis might end up performing some or all of the same functionary benefits as an orthosis. Prostheses are technically the complete finished item. For instance, a C-Leg knee alone is not a prosthesis, but only a prosthetic component. The complete prosthesis would consist of the attachment system  to the residual limb — usually a "socket", and all the attachment hardware components all the way down to and including the terminal device. Keep this in mind as nomenclature is often interchanged.

The terms "prosthetic" and "orthotic" are adjectives used to describe devices such as a prosthetic knee. The terms "prosthetics" and "orthotics" are used to describe the respective allied health fields. The devices themselves are properly referred to as "prostheses" and "orthoses" in the plural and "prosthesis" and "orthosis" in the singular.

Assistive technology in sport

A New York City Marathon competitor uses a racing wheelchair

Assistive technology in sport is an area of technology design that is growing. Assistive technology is the array of new devices created to enable sports enthusiasts who have disabilities to play. Assistive technology may be used in adaptive sports, where an existing sport is modified to enable players with a disability to participate; or, assistive technology may be used to invent completely new sports with athletes with disabilities exclusively in mind.

An increasing number of people with disabilities are participating in sports, leading to the development of new assistive technology.[14] Assistive technology devices can be simple, or "low-tech", or they may use highly advanced technology, with some even using computers. Assistive technology for sports may also be simple, or advanced.[15] Accordingly, assistive technology can be found in sports ranging from local community recreation to the elite Paralympic Games. More complex assistive technology devices have been developed over time, and as a result, sports for people with disabilities "have changed from being a clinical therapeutic tool to an increasingly competition-oriented activity".[16]

Assistive technology in education

In the United States there are two major pieces of legislation that govern the use of assistive technology within the school system. The first is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the second being the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which was first enacted in 1975 under the name The Education for All Handicapped Children Act. In 2004, during the reauthorization period for IDEA, the National Instructional Material Access Center (NIMAC) was created which provided a repository of accessible text including publisher's textbooks to students with a qualifying disability. Files provided are in XML format and used as a starting platform for braille readers, screen readers, and other digital text software.[17] IDEA defines assistive technology as follows: "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 capabilities of a child with a disability. (B) Exception.--The term does not include a medical device that is surgically implanted, or the replacement of such device." [18]

Assistive technology in this area is broken down into low, mid, and high tech categories. Low tech encompasses equipment that is often low cost and does not include batteries or requires charging. Examples include adapted paper and pencil grips for writing or masks and color overlays for reading. Mid tech supports used in the school setting include the use of handheld spelling dictionaries and portable word processors used to keyboard writing. High tech supports involve the use of tablet devices and computers with accompanying software. Software supports for writing include the use of auditory feedback while keyboarding, word prediction for spelling, and speech to text. Supports for reading include the use of text to speech (TTS) software and font modification via access to digital text. Limited supports are available for math instruction and mostly consist of grid based software to allow younger students to keyboard equations and auditory feedback of more complex equations using MathML and Daisy.

Computer accessibility

A sip-and-puff device which allows a person with substantial disability to make selections and navigate computerized interfaces by controlling inhalations and exhalations

One of the largest problems that affect people with disabilities is discomfort with prostheses.[19] An experiment performed in Massachusetts utilized 20 people with various sensors attached to their arms.[19] The subjects tried different arm exercises, and the sensors recorded their movements. All of the data helped engineers develop new engineering concepts for prosthetics.[19]

Assistive technology may attempt to improve the ergonomics of the devices themselves such as Dvorak and other alternative keyboard layouts, which offer more ergonomic layouts of the keys.[20][21] Assistive technology devices have been created to enable people with disabilities to use modern touch screen mobile computers such as the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. The Pererro is a plug and play adapter for iOS devices which uses the built in Apple VoiceOver feature in combination with a basic switch. This brings touch screen technology to those who were previously unable to use it. Apple, with the release of iOS 7 had introduced the ability to navigate apps using switch control. Switch access could be activated either through an external bluetooth connected switch, single touch of the screen, or use of right and left head turns using the device's camera. Additional accessibility features include the use of Assistive Touch which allows a user to access multi-touch gestures through pre-programmed onscreen buttons.

For users with physical disabilities a large variety of switches are available and customizable to the user's needs varying in size, shape, or amount of pressure required for activation. Switch access may be placed near any area of the body which has consistent and reliable mobility and less subject to fatigue. Common sites include the hands, head, and feet. Eye gaze and head mouse systems can also be used as an alternative mouse navigation. A user may utilize single or multiple switch sites and the process often involves a scanning through items on a screen and activating the switch once the desired object is highlighted.

Home automation

The form of home automation called assistive domotics focuses on making it possible for elderly and disabled people to live independently. Home automation is becoming a viable option for the elderly and disabled who would prefer to stay in their own homes rather than move to a healthcare facility. This field uses much of the same technology and equipment as home automation for security, entertainment, and energy conservation but tailors it towards elderly and disabled users.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ C. Barrué. Personalization and Shared Autonomy in Assistive Technologies. Ph. Thesis. Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. 2012
  4. ^ Web accessibility guidelines
  5. ^ CEN EN 1332-4 Identification Card Systems - Man-Machine Interface
  6. ^ Accessibility features - Bank Notes - Bank of Canada Archived April 29, 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^
  8. ^ ASHA (2005).
  9. ^ Gilliam & Marquardt, pp. 356–359.
  10. ^ LoPresti, E.F., Mihailidis, A. & Kirsch, N. (2004). Assistive Technology for cognitive rehabilitation: State of the art. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 14, 5-39.
  11. ^ Gillespie, A., Best, C. & O'Neill, B. (2012). Cognitive function and Assistive Technology for cognition: A systematic review. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 18, 1-19.
  12. ^ Wilson, et al. (1997). Evaluation of NeuroPage: A new memory aid. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 63, 113-115.
  13. ^ Telephone Reassurance. Accessed 2009-08-06.
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b c
  20. ^
  21. ^
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