Assistive technology is defined as “any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities” (ATIA, http://www.atia.org/at-resources/what-is-at). In this section, I will discuss different types of AT-low, medium, and high-tech-and process for selecting the right device.
Forms of AT
According to the Assistive Technology Industry Association, AT can be in many forms, including:
- low-tech: communication boards made of cardboard or fuzzy felt.
- high-tech: special-purpose computers.
- hardware: prosthetics, mounting systems, and positioning devices.
- computer hardware: special switches, keyboards, and pointing devices.
- computer software: screen readers and communication programs.
- inclusive or specialized learning materials and curriculum aids.
- specialized curricular software.
- electronic devices, wheelchairs, walkers, braces, educational software, power lifts, pencil holders, eye-gaze and head trackers, and much more. (ATIA, http://www.atia.org/at-resources/what-is-at)
I will group all of these forms into three main categories of low-tech, medium-tech, and high-tech.
Low-tech options of assistive technology require no complex computer systems or chips. Items in this category can involve simple electronic circuit boards, or no electronic components at all. Examples of low-tech options include manual wheelchairs, canes and walkers, pencil grips, some picture exchange communication systems, mounting brackets, and the list goes on.
Medium-tech refers to items that consist of more complicated electronic circuit boards and computer processing chips. However, the interfaces are fairly simple and the devices do not contain complex computer operating systems (e.g., Windows, Mac OS). Some picture exchange communication systems, sound amplification and relay devices, and word processing units fall under this category.
High-tech refers to devices with complex circuits and computer processing power. These devices use computer operating systems and may serve more than one function. Personal computers and tablets, motorized wheelchairs, and voice-command home operating systems are some examples of high-tech options.
AT services refers to “any service that directly assists a child with with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device” (Georgia Project for Assistive Technology). Devices are essentially worthless without the instruction on how to use them. Therefore, it is imperative that professionals consider ease of use and learning ability/opportunity for each device with every individual.
Many adults and their families do not know how to find support after grade school. School personnel and support/service coordinators need to partner with assistive technology professionals to help select and acquire needed devices and services that extend beyond k-12 education.
High-tech options might be the instinctive go-to AT option for many professionals. After all, the advanced computer processing gives an individual with disabilities the greatest chance for success; right? Not necessarily. Sometimes, the low-tech option is the best option. Low-tech options are often readily available, thereby costing little to no money for a parent or school. The key to remember when selecting AT devices or services is that the individual’s needs are met, and not what the latest and greatest cool gadget(s) exists for a particular function.