Assistive technology: What is it and how can it benefit individuals with a disability?

Disabilities affect roughly 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. A disability can encompass a variety of limitations, including physical, sensory, cognitive, mental or emotional impairments. The specific nature of a disability and its impact on a person’s life can be highly diverse. To help people with disabilities overcome these limitations, there is a need for assistive technology.

Assistive technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment, software program or product system that can be used to help increase, maintain or improve the career, academic, recreational or self-care needs of people with disabilities. AT can be low tech or high tech, simple or complex, and can address a wide variety of needs of the 2.5 billion people globally who need one or more assistive products. 

Types of assistive technology

Different disabilities need different types of assistive technology. Common types of assistive technology include:

  • Mobility — Mobility assistive technology includes devices that can help with movement and getting around. Wheelchairs can help provide mobility for people who have lower body weakness or paralysis. Walkers and canes can offer support, balance and stability for those who have some walking difficulties or mild mobility limitations. Grab bars can help provide support and prevent falls for people with balance issues. Prosthetic limbs can help replace and restore functionality for missing limbs.
  • Vision — AT for vision can help people with visual impairments see or access information. Screen readers can be software programs that convert digital text into speech. This can help people who are blind or visually impaired access information on computers and electronic devices. Magnifiers can help enlarge text and images for people with low vision. Braille displays can be electronic devices that translate digital text into Braille characters to help people who are blind to read and interact with information. 
  • Hearing — Hearing assistive technology can help people with hearing loss or deafness to communicate and be aware of their surroundings. Hearing aids are electronic devices that amplify sound for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Cochlear implants are surgically implanted devices that provide a sense of hearing for people with severe hearing loss or deafness. 
  • Communication — AT for communication can enable people who have difficulty speaking or writing to effectively express themselves. Communication boards are boards with pictures or symbols that people with speech disabilities can point to or use to communicate. Text-to-speech software can be programmed to read written text aloud. This can help people with reading difficulties or speech impairments access information. Specialized keyboards can have larger keys or modified layouts for people with dexterity challenges. 
  • Learning — These technologies can help people with learning disabilities or cognitive difficulties improve their learning process. Specialized educational software can have interactive programs designed to teach specific skills or break down complex concepts for people with learning disabilities like dyslexia or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 
  • Daily living — AT for daily living can help people with disabilities to complete their everyday tasks and boost their independence. Adaptive eating utensils can be specially designed with weighted handles, built-up grips or bendable features to enable people with limited hand mobility to eat independently. Dressing aids can help make dressing easier for people with limited dexterity or range of motion. Grab bars, shower chairs and raised toilet seats can help increase the safety and independence of people with mobility limitations in the bathroom. Voice-activated controls can help people control their electronics or appliances with voice commands, which can simplify interactions for people with limited mobility or dexterity. 

It’s important to remember that assistive technology is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The specific needs of each individual are unique to their experience with their disability, and their needs will determine the most appropriate technology for their situation. With proper evaluation and selection, AT can have a significant impact on a person’s life. This impact can promote their independence, confidence and participation in society. 

Benefits of assistive technology for people with disabilities

Assistive technology can help unlock a world of possibilities for people with disabilities. For example:

  • Increased independence
  • Improved communication
  • Enhanced learning
  • Participation and inclusion
  • Greater confidence and self-esteem 

Assistive technology isn’t a magic solution, but it can be a powerful tool to help transform lives. AT can help empower people with disabilities to thrive and reach their full potential. 

Barriers to assistive technology

Unfortunately, there can be barriers associated with getting assistive technology for people with disabilities, including, but not limited to:

  • Lack of awareness
  • Lack of government legislation and policies
  • Lack of programs and services
  • Lack of state or federal funding
  • Lack of products or trained providers

Paying for assistive technology

While assistive technology can be a crucial need for people with disabilities, it isn’t always included in healthcare plans. This can lead to high out-of-pocket costs that can be prohibitive to people who need assistive technology to thrive. There are sources and programs available to help people with disabilities get the support they need, such as:

  • School districts and school systems
  • Government programs
  • Private health insurance
  • Rehabilitation and job training programs
  • Employers
  • Private foundations
  • Charities
  • Civic organizations
  • Nonprofits

It’s also important to note that AT is ensured by the Assistive Technology Act of 2004 (Tech Act). This law means that all American states and territories get federal funding to help provide necessary devices, services and accessibility programs for those who need them. 

Ability KC has assistive technologies that can help you unlock your full potential 

Here at Ability KC, we have a 75-plus-year history of empowering individuals with disabilities and their families. We can help you navigate the journey of identifying, acquiring and using assistive technology tools for your everyday needs in your home, work, school and community. Since 1989, our Adaptive Computer and Communication Technology (ACCT) program has been at the forefront of advancements in assistive technology. We can help you foster independence, improve communication and open new doors in a world of possibilities.

Ability KC is a designated Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facility (CORF) with a Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) accreditation. Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.