What is assistive technology, anyway?

When people ask me about orbiTouch, I immediately tell them it’s an assistive technology keyboard for people with special needs.  And, almost immediately, they give me a blank stare.

For people inside the assistive technology industry, we live and breathe everything assistive technology.  There is no reason anyone with a disability should feel they are excluded from living a fulfilling life, because there are literally thousands of people who use AT to overcome physical and cognitive challenges everyday.

But when you mention the term assistive technology, many people outside the industry have no idea what you’re talking about.  In a 2010 article in Ability Magazine, Suzanne Robitaille, a noted AT writer and consultant, comments, “ Many people in my field don’t like the term ‘assistive technology.’ It’s medical sounding, doesn’t trip off the tongue, and, quite frankly, seems boring.”

Even more ponderous, the legal definition of “assistive technology” as defined by the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1998 is as follows:

“Assistive technology is any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially or off the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a person with a disability.”

Wow.  No wonder people give me a blank stare when I use the term "assistive technology."  Chances are, unless you have someone directly affected by a disability, it's never even come up.

In real talk?  Assistive technology is any device that helps one bridge the gap between inclusion and exclusion.  It's equipment that helps people adapt to their environment so they can experience and enjoy life the way they want to.

Examples of assistive technology are:

  • Alternative keyboards and mice, like orbiTouch
  • Hearing aids
  • Wheelchairs
  • Speech generators
  • Touch pads

Seem a little more tangible?  My list is shortened for reading purposes.  There are multiple places online where you can find and buy assistive tech, but one of the best sites is Enablemart because of the breadth and depth of their inventory.  OrbiTouch is available through this website and Amazon.

Now that we have defined assistive technology and its uses, what does it all mean? In the aforementioned Suzanne Robitaille article, she discusses the positive ramifications of assistive technology:

“Assistive technology is a life-changer. It can help people with disabilities increase their independence, build their self confidence and self-improve their quality of life, and break down barriers to education and employment.”

Assistive technology not only helps advance individuals with disabilities, but society as a whole.  When people have the ability to think and do for themselves, they can contribute to an ongoing dialogue that challenges the status quo, which is essential for us to progress as society.

People with special needs offer a perspective that is indispensable to understanding our past, present, and future.  How can we use assistive technology to empower them?