About Assistive Technology

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What is Assistive Technology?

The definition of assistive technology is divided into two categories: devices and services.

Assistive technology devices: any item, piece of equipment, or product system that may be used by a person with a disability to perform specific tasks, improve functional capabilities, and become more independent. It can help redefine what is possible for people with a wide range of cognitive, physical, or sensory disabilities.

Assistive technology services: any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of assistive technology devices that result in greater independence, safety of comfort of an individual.

Assistive technology enables individuals with disabilities and age-related health conditions to enjoy their optimal level of independence and to live in the least restrictive environment. The technology is designed to reduce the impact of one's disability. Where the ability to move is an issue, wheelchairs, scooters, wheeled walkers, etc. can make greater mobility possible. Individuals can participate in everyday activities; play and enjoy recreational activities; communicate, hear and see better; learn more easily, and take care of the usual daily activities, including bathing, dressing, and eating. At the same time parents, family or other caregivers enjoy relief from the responsibilities of caring for another.

This technology may range from very low-cost, low-tech devices, such as a reacher or an adapted bottle opener, to high-tech, very expensive devices, such as a powered wheelchair, stair lifts, and environmental controls that respond to voice command. Assistive technology may be used at home, in the workplace, in the classroom and in the community to provide creative solutions for assisting individuals as they go about their activities of living, learning, working, and playing. The types of assistive technology available can address just about any tasks an individual might want to undertake.

One of the major focuses of the AT Act is to ensure that school systems and state agencies use a pro-active approach by planning for expected needs, procuring equipment and services and having them available before the need becomes acute. Schools, for example, are now required to include consideration of assistive technology devices and services when the Individual Education Plan (IEP) is being developed. Parents and students can make sure this happens by asking about it during a planning session. Once in the plan, acquisition is a sure thing. The same would be true for someone who is receiving disability services. A plan to achieve an individual's goals is established and assistive technology, as needed, should be a part of that plan.

Acquiring Assistive Technology

The most effective device or equipment for an individual is determined through an evaluation, and often uses a team approach. The age, disability and goals of each individual will determine the makeup of the assessment team. Physical and occupational therapies, vocational rehabilitation, psychology, social services, recreational therapy, vision therapy, audiology, and medicine are other disciplines which may be involved in the assessment.

The purpose of the team assessment is to determine the needs of an individual based on their physical and cognitive abilities, while also taking into account the environmental factors that will affect how the assistive technology is used. It is therefore very useful to perform an assessment in the environment or environments where the individual will be using the equipment.

The individual and their family members should always participate in each component of an intervention. An intervention will include a needs assessment to define goals and identify characteristics or features that will best meet the individual's particular needs. Once the need is well defined, then the most suitable or appropriate system can be chosen. In addition, the assessment may provide information on funding sources, and make recommendations for training and follow-up services.

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The type of devices or equipment selected for an individual will depend on the sensory, physical and cognitive levels of the individual. Other considerations include how easy it is to move from one environment to another, how well it stands up to typical daily wear and tear, how available the vendors or manufacturers are for repair and technical assistance, how easy the equipment is to use, how easily changes can be made, and if the device has the capacity to grow as the users needs change.

This File Was Last Modified: Thursday March 21 2013