Why Assistive Technology is Important for an Individual with a Disability

Today, assistive technology plays a vital role in the life enrichment of individuals with disabilities. In fact, assistive technology is used universally—not just in the I/DD community—to enhance independence, comfort, and convenience. Think about your phone, for example. You use it to connect with people, whether by calling them or using the internet. You may also use its GPS function to help you navigate, or its talk-to-text capabilities.
For people with disabilities, assistive technology is even more important. Assistive Technology allows people with disabilities to stay connected and interact with others despite their disability. In this article, we’ll uncover the importance of and six examples of assistive technology devices for people with disabilities.

What is Assistive Technology?

We all know what technology is and how it helps us—and sometimes hinders us—in our daily lives. But what is assistive technology? The Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (Tech Act) defines an assistive technology device as “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 individuals with disabilities.”

The Assistive Technology Acts (passed in 1988, reauthorized in 1994 and 1998) provide federal funding to each state and territory from the U.S. Department of Education to improve the provision of assistive technology to individuals with disabilities of all ages through comprehensive statewide programs of technology-related assistance. The results of this important legislature are astounding. Due to the efforts of the State Tech Act Programs, millions of Americans with disabilities are able to go to work, attend school, participate in recreational activities, and be contributing members of society.

5 Types of Assistive Technology Devices

New assistive technology devices are coming out every day. There are so many specialized devices with numerous benefits to individuals with disabilities and everyone who interacts with them, that we’ve organized them into 5 categories.

  1. Visual Aids are products for people who are blind or visually impaired. Applications include daily living, learning, wayfinding, accessing computers, and more. Text-to-Speech software is a major player in this arena and is a huge improvement over its predecessor, Braille, as it’s highly intelligent; once it’s installed on the computer, it can read absolutely anything—no more waiting on a Braille translation. There are many free versions of this software available online, such as Natural Readers. Other AT devices for the visually impaired include screen magnification software, large-print materials, screen reader software that translates screen text to Braille, audio texts, and phones with large tactile buttons.
  2. Audio Aids are products for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Use cases include daily living activities and communication. These devices range from sound amplification tools to alerting devices that use flashing lights, icons, or vibrations; closed-captioning for videos; TTY (TDD) also known as Telecommunication for the Deaf; phones enabled with Voice Carry-Over (VCO) technologies that allow students with hearing difficulties to communicate over the phone with their own voice.
  3. Physical Aids are for people who need assistance with mobility and motor coordination. This can be especially challenging for students, which is why there are several AT devices to assist them including keyboard adapters such as keyguards to prevent mistyping from involuntary movements or loss of control and voice recognition software for students who cannot physically type. Other physical aids include prostheses, elevators, wheelchairs, wheelchair ramps, and more.
  4. Speech Communication Aids are products for people who need assistance with speaking, including face-to-face communication. Technology includes voice amplification systems, stuttering aids, electronic larynx, communication boards, speech output software, and symbol-making software. Many high-tech augmentative and alternative AAC devices are Speech Generating Devices, which means they can produce digitized speech when the user either types a message or presses on images, words, or letters.
  5. Daily Living Aids are products for people with disabilities and older adults with functional limitations due to aging. People may use certain devices such as a reacher, zipper pulls, automatic soap dispenser, adapted kitchen utensils, switch-adapted appliances, and more.

Helping You Choose the Right Device

Assistive technology has numerous benefits such as increasing an individual’s independence and conversely decreasing their need for support. Beyond the individual, economy benefits, too, as Americans with disabilities are able to fully integrate as employees, customers, and taxpayers.

There are thousands of specialized devices available to help you or your loved one live as autonomously as possible, but which ones are right for you?

Assistive Technology Services can help guide you in your decision. The Tech Act of 1988 defines an assistive technology service as “any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.”

Responsibilities of an Assistive Technology Services company includes:

  1. Conducting an evaluation of the individual’s technological needs
  2. Purchasing, leasing, or otherwise funding the AT device
  3. Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing or replacing the AT device
  4. Coordinating and using other therapies, interventions or services alongside AT devices
  5. Providing training or technical assistance to an individual with a disability, their family or other individuals significantly involved with the individual on how to use the device

Connect with Covey

Assistive technologies have made great strides for individuals with disabilities and our community. While the complexity of these specialized devices’ capabilities are diverse, each one is created with the same goal in mind: to increase the user’s autonomy.

With the help of assistive technology devices and compassionate care, individuals with disabilities are empowered to achieve greater independence. Covey is a non-profit organization providing respite care and life enrichment services to individuals with disabilities and their families in Appleton and Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Connect with us at info@covey.org