What is Assistive Technology?

Assistive Technology (A.T.) is any device or piece of equipment that helps individuals with disabilities or older persons to lead independent and productive lives. Assistive technology products range from low-tech to high-tech and can be used at home, work, school, and in the community to reduce barriers and increase independence.*

Assistive Technology Categories

State Assistive Technology Act programs use 10 categories for classiflying assistive technology devices.

  • Vision (e.g. magnifiers, CCTV systems, talking devices, screen reader software)
  • Hearing (e.g. personal amplification systems such as hearing aids, visual or tactile alerting systems, captioning, amplified telephones)
  • Speech Communication (e.g. speech generating devices, communication boards/books, software with speech output, voice amplifiers)
  • Learning, cognition, and developmental (e.g. memory aids, instructional materials, personal organization tools, sensory stimulation products)
  • Mobility, seating and positioning (e.g ambulatory aids, wheelchairs, scooters, contoured seating systems, head supports)
  • Daily living (e.g. modified tools and utensils, writing guides, switch adapted appliances, zipper pulls, reacher)
  • Environmental adaptations (e.g. alarm and security systems, lifts, ramps, door and gate openers, switches to control various appliances, lights, telephones, etc.)
  • Vehicle modification and transportation (e.g. adaptive shoulder and seat safety belts, hand controls, tie downs and lock downs that secure a wheelchair to the vehicle floor)
  • Computers and related peripherals (e.g. alternative keyboards and pointing devices, switches and scanning software for computer access, touchscreens, voice recognition software)
  • Recreation, sports, and leisure (e.g. switch adapted games and toys, playing card shuffler, adapted sporting equipment, adapted musical equipment)

For more information on the range of devices in these categories and their usefulmess in education, employment, and community living, visit Explore A.T..

Examples of Assistive Technologies

Explore examples of assistive technologies for vision, hearing, learning, prosthetics, and spinal cord injuries in this presentation from the Assistive Technology Blog.

* Federal Definition of Assistive Technology Devices and Services

These definitions also appear in the Tech Act Legislation (P.L. 100-407) which has been adopted in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

IDEA 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. [20 U.S.C. Chapter 33, Section 1401 (25)].

This definition is broad and includes a range of devices from low technology to high technology items as well as software.

Under IDEA the legal definition of assistive technology services is:

...any service that directly asists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. [20 U.S.C. Chapter 33, Section 1401 (26)]

Specifically, assistive technology services include:

  • the evaluation of the needs of an individual with a disability, including a functional evaluation of the individual in the individual's customary environment;
  • purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices by individuals with disabilities;
  • selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing of assistive technology services;
  • coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices, such as those associated with existing education and rehabilitation plans and programs;
  • training or technical assistance for an individual with disabilities, or, where appropriate, the family of an individual with disabilities; and
  • training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing education and rehabilitation services), employers, or other individuals who provide services to, employ, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of individuals with disabilities.