Assistive technology has aided so many adults and children in our world today. Furthermore, assistive technology has different types. It is only normal that we have an idea of what it is, and how it works. It is for that reason that we decided to write this guide on assistive technology and how it works. Read through keenly to grasp the main ideas.
What is Assistive Technology?
Assistive technology is a technology used by individuals with disabilities in order to perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. Assistive technology can include mobility devices such as walkers and wheelchairs, as well as hardware, software, and peripherals that assist people with disabilities in accessing computers or other information technologies.
For example, people with limited hand function may use a keyboard with large keys or a special mouse to operate a computer, people who are blind may use software that reads text on the screen in a computer-generated voice, and people with low vision may use software that enlarges screen content, people who are deaf may use a TTY (text telephone), or people with speech impairments may use a device that speaks out loud as they enter text via a keyboard.
As stated earlier, a tremendous variety of assistive technology is available today, providing the opportunity for nearly all people to access information technology (IT). However, an individual’s having proper assistive technology is no guarantee of having access. IT accessibility is dependent on accessible design. IT products must be designed and created in ways that allow all users to access them, including those who use assistive technologies.
What are some types of assistive devices and how are they used?
Some examples of assistive technologies are:
- Mobility aids, such as wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, canes, crutches, prosthetic devices, and orthotic devices.
- Hearing aids help people hear or hear more clearly.
- Cognitive aids, including computer or electrical assistive devices, help people with memory, attention, or other challenges in their thinking skills.
- Computer software and hardware, such as voice recognition programs, screen readers, and screen enlargement applications, help people with mobility and sensory impairments use computers and mobile devices.,
- Tools such as automatic page-turners, book holders, and adapted pencil grips to help learners with disabilities participate in educational activities,
- Closed captioning allows people with hearing problems to watch movies, television programs, and other digital media.
- Physical modifications in the built environment, including ramps, grab bars, and wider doorways enable access to buildings, businesses, and workplaces.
- Lightweight, high-performance mobile devices that enable persons with disabilities to play sports and be physically active.
- Adaptive switches and utensils allow those with limited motor skills to eat, play games, and accomplish other activities.
- Devices and features of devices to help perform tasks such as cooking, dressing, and grooming; specialized handles and grips, devices that extend reach, and lights on telephones and doorbells are a few examples.
How Do You Choose the Right Technology?
Typically, the best way to choose the right assistive technology is by consulting with a team of professionals and consultants. This may involve consulting with doctors, regular and special education teachers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and other specialists.
Before you invest in a specific product, it’s important to ask the right questions to ensure it is the right fit for you. This includes:
- Does this tool address your or the individual’s specific needs and challenges?
- Does it utilize strengths?
- Is there a simpler tool that would work as effectively?
- Will it be easy to incorporate into everyday life?
- Is it portable?
- Will you have support or training in how it works?
- If it is for a child, can they use it both at home and in school?
- How reliable is it?
- What technical support is available?
Who can benefit from assistive technology?
People who most need assistive technology include:
- People with learning disabilities
- People with physical disabilities
- Older people
- People with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and stroke
- People with mental health conditions including dementia and autism
- People with gradual functional decline
Benefits of Assistive Technology
Independence is the main benefit that people living with a disability can experience when they have access to the relevant assistive devices. With the right equipment, people with all sorts of disabilities can begin to interact more successfully with their community, pursue education, and even begin employment.
A person can benefit mentally, physically, and financially from receiving assistive technology, as they will be more able to live independently and fulfill their goals. Their confidence can grow, and they may draw more happiness from life, as they are able to participate in activities they enjoy.
Many people with disabilities are often at risk of having an accident, and with the introduction of assistive technology, they can become much safer. For example, someone who has just had a stroke may be at risk of falling and hurting themselves further, so railings in the bathroom can help them avoid this occurrence. Or for someone with the early stages of dementia, can get an electronic pillbox that reminds them to take their pills – therefore avoiding becoming more ill because they have forgotten to take essential medicine.
The use of assistive technology tools can help not only the person with the disability but also the people around them. When someone can access technology and equipment that helps them complete daily tasks and interact with society, then it takes the pressure off carers and family members because they can do more things on their own.
Some assistive devices can help people with a disability to communicate with others more easily, and this can create happier and more in-depth relationships with the people they meet. For anyone with a disability who is still at school, then assistive technology can help the teacher to teach them more effectively, and it will make education more accessible.
Health, well-being, and socioeconomic benefits
Assistive technology can have a positive impact on the health and well-being of a person and their family, as well as broader socioeconomic benefits. For example:
- Proper use of hearing aids by young children leads to improved language skills, without which a person with hearing loss has severely limited opportunities for education and employment.
- Manual wheelchairs increase access to education and employment while reducing healthcare costs due to a reduction in the risk of pressure sores and contractures.
- Assistive technology can enable older people to continue to live at home and delay or prevent the need for long-term care.
- Therapeutic footwear for diabetes reduces the incidence of foot ulcers, preventing lower limb amputations and the associated burden on health systems.
Challenges of Getting Assistive Technology
Very few countries have a national assistive technology policy or program.
In many countries, access to assistive technology in the public sector is poor or non-existent. Even in high-income countries, assistive products are often rationed or not included in health and welfare schemes, leading to high out-of-pocket payments by users and their families.
For example, it is a common policy in a number of European countries for the state to provide older people with only 1 hearing aid, despite the fact that most people with age-related hearing loss require 2 hearing aids to function.
The assistive products industry is currently limited and specialized, primarily serving high-income markets. There is a lack of state funding, nationwide service delivery systems, user-centered research and development, procurement systems, quality and safety standards, and context-appropriate product design.
In high-income countries services are often stand-alone and not integrated. People are forced to attend multiple appointments at different locations, which are costly and add to the burden on users as well as caregivers, and on health and welfare budgets.
In many low- and middle-income countries, national service delivery for assistive products does not exist. Those who can afford them buy assistive products direct from a pharmacy, private clinic, or workshop.
People from the poorer sectors of society must rely on erratic donations or charity services, which often focus on delivering large quantities of low-quality or used products. These are often not appropriate for the user or the context, and lack mechanisms for repair and follow-up. A similar scenario is also common in emergency response programs.
Trained health personnel are essential for the proper prescription, fitting, user training, and follow-up of assistive products. Without these key steps, assistive products are often of no benefit or abandoned, and they may even cause physical harm (as is the case of providing wheelchairs without pressure relief cushions for people with spinal injury).
In conclusion, assistive technology is important in many people’s lives, it can even be the reason someone living with a disability is able to achieve their goals and live an independent life. Whatever your disability is, you will most likely be able to find a helpful piece of equipment or technology that can assist you in the areas of life that you find difficult.