Definition: Defining the Meaning of Assistive Technology
Assistive technology (AT) is a general term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities, including the process used in selecting, locating, and using them. Assistive technology promotes greater independence by enabling people to perform tasks that they were formerly unable to accomplish, or had great difficulty accomplishing, by providing enhancements to, or changing methods of interacting with, the technology needed to accomplish such tasks. Assistive technology products are designed to provide additional accessibility to individuals who have physical or cognitive difficulties, impairments, and disabilities. There are so many instances where, through minor modifications, you can make a mainstream product accessible. Nevertheless, there are also situations where your only option is assistive technology.
Adaptive Technology - The term adaptive technology is often used as the synonym for assistive technology; however, they are different terms. Assistive technology refers to "any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities", while adaptive technology covers items that are specifically designed for persons with disabilities and would seldom be used by non-disabled persons.
If you have a disability or injury you may use a number of assistive devices or rehabilitation equipment to aid you in and around the home. Assistive devices are tools, products or types of equipment that help you perform tasks and activities if you have a disability, injury or are a senior. Assistive devices may help you move around, see, communicate, eat, or get dressed/undressed.
Assistive devices for mobility/ambulation can also be referred to as ambulatory aids. Ambulatory aids (eg, canes, crutches, walkers) are used to provide an extension of the upper extremities to help transmit body weight and provide support for the user.
Assistive devices can help you improve your quality of life and maintain your sense of independence.
Well designed high quality assistive devices, or daily living aids, that support independent living for the handicapped and disabled, seniors, or those with a medical condition or injury should make life easier and safer for the aged and disabled.
AT promotes greater independence by enabling people to perform tasks that they were formerly unable to accomplish, or had great difficulty accomplishing, by providing enhancements to or changed methods of interacting with the technology needed to accomplish such tasks.
An assistive device could be a wheelchair, reacher, or a disability product that allows you to use a computer. If you experience difficulties performing certain tasks it's possible that an assistive device can help you overcome your problems.
Other Disability Aids Include:
- Advanced technology walking products to aid people with disabilities, such as paraplegia or cerebral palsy, who would not at all able to walk or stand (exoskeletons).
- Standing products to support people with disabilities in the standing position while maintaining/improving their health (standing frame, standing wheelchair, active stander).
- Seating products that assist people to sit comfortably and safely (seating systems, cushions, therapeutic seats).
- Walking products to aid people with disabilities who are able to walk or stand with assistance (canes, crutches, walkers, gait trainers).
- Wheeled mobility products that enable people with reduced mobility to move freely indoors and outdoors (Examples: wheelchairs and scooters).
Certain devices, such as eyeglasses and hearing aids obviously require an expert's assessment, but many assistive devices for the enhancement of daily life such as wheelchairs, walkers, bath seats and grab bars are easily obtainable in general and specialty stores including online disability product websites.
You will also find pharmacy personnel are usually quite happy to provide information on a variety of other assistive products like magnifying glasses, bath seats, joint support bandages, pill organizers, canes, etc.
Specialty computer stores often carry items like screen reading software that include screen enlargement features for persons with vision impairments. Voice recognition systems, modified keyboards and computer mice are also available for people with mobility and dexterity limitations.
When selecting assistive technology products for computers, it is crucial to find the right products that are compatible with the computer operating system and programs on the particular computer you will be using.
What the Future Holds for Assistive Technology
This is a very exciting time for new developments in assistive technology. Not only are existing AT programs regularly updated, but new and previously unseen technology is on-route to improve accessibility for persons with disabilities. With the advent of e-book readers like the Kindle, Sony E-reader, and recently the Nook released by Barnes and Noble, there could be another wave of new methods for people with learning disabilities and other conditions to access e-books and books. While not all of the devices have text-to-speech capability, some of them do, and if it proves useful, other producers of e-book readers will probably follow suit and adopt that utility in the near future.
By current estimates, more than 4,000 assistive technologies have been designed for the disabled and seniors. These devices include everything from wheelchairs to a wide assortment of high-tech tools and many companies today are turning their research and development to assistive technologies.
If you think you could benefit from using an assistive device, start by consulting a health care professional, such as your doctor, pharmacist, or an occupational therapist. Find out what is available to suit your needs. You can also obtain information about assistive devices from catalogs and seniors' magazines.
Don't let your disability or sensory loss infringe on your lifestyle, especially when tools and devices exist to help you overcome these obstacles.
Quick Facts: Home Automation
The form of home automation called assistive domotics focuses on making it possible for elderly and disabled people to live independently. Home automation is becoming a viable option for the elderly and disabled who would prefer to stay in their own homes rather than move to a healthcare facility. This field uses much of the same technology and equipment as home automation for security, entertainment, and energy conservation but tailors it towards elderly and disabled users.
Statistics: U.S. Mobility Device Users
- Just over 6.8 million community-resident Americans use assistive devices to help them with mobility. This group comprises 1.7 million wheelchair or scooter riders and 6.1 million users of other mobility devices, such as canes, crutches, and walkers.
- More than four-tenths of mobility device users are unable to perform their major activity.
- Four-fifths of wheelchair users report that their local public transportation system is difficult to use or to get to.
- Stroke and osteoarthritis are the two most prevalent primary conditions among wheelchair and scooter users.
- Two-thirds of mobility device users have limitations in one or more of the Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL).
- Nearly all wheelchair users report trouble walking, and more than three-quarters are unable to walk a quarter of a mile.
- Less than one-fifth of working-age wheelchair and walker users are employed; the employment rate for crutch users is more than twice as high.
- About half of wheelchair users must use steps to enter or exit their homes. A similar fraction report having difficulty entering or leaving the home.
- Osteoarthritis is by far the most prevalent condition associated with mobility device use, affecting 1.2 million mobility device users as the primary cause of disability.
- High levels of mobility device use are observed among African Americans and Native Americans. Asians and Pacific Islanders are the racial group with the lowest device use.
- Almost one-third of mobility device users need assistance from another person in one or more of the Activities of Daily Living (ADL), compared to less than 1 percent of non-users.
- Among children who use wheelchairs, almost six-tenths are covered under Medicaid. Among working-age wheelchair users, four-tenths are covered under Medicare and three-tenths under Medicaid.
1) Mobility Device Statistics - United States - The University of California - Disability Statistics Center - (2013-04-22)
2) Mobility Device Use in the United States (PDF Report)