What is Assistive Technology?

What is assistive technology?  Could you possibly benefit from it?  What are assistive technology services?

The technical definition, from the Technology Related Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (the Tech Act) described an assistive technology device as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.”  The Tech Act described an assistive technology service as “any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in selection, acquisition or use of an assistive technology device.”

In layman’s terms, an assistive technology device is any item that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.

What are some examples of assistive technology?  Assistive technology can be something as low-tech as a communication board made of poster board, or as high-tech as a special-purpose computer or communication device.  It can be computer hardware or software, it can be specialized learning materials and curriculum aids, and it can be wheelchairs (manual or motorized), walkers, braces, and power lifts.

How do you know which devices would benefit you?  Fortunately, you often have the opportunity to figure this out by working with a team of professionals and consultants trained to match particular assistive technologies to your specific needs. Members of the team can be doctors, regular and special education teachers, speech-language pathologists, physical and occupational therapists, and other specialists; this team can even include consulting representatives from companies that manufacture assistive technology.

Who pays for assistive technology?  This depends on your particular situation.  For children receiving special education services, this is often the responsibility of the school district (and parents, you need to ensure assistive technology devices and services are specified in your child’s IEP).  If you are a veteran, or receive social security disability benefits, government programs such as the VA and Medicaid may pay for devices and services.  Private health insurance may cover some items and services, particularly when identified as a medical necessity.  Rehabilitation and job training programs may pay for devices and services (as with IEPs, make sure these are specified in any plan you develop through these programs).  Sometimes an employer might even cover the cost of a device, if it can be considered a reasonable accommodation in your employment.  If the above programs cannot meet (all of) your needs, here is an expanded AT resource funding guide:  https://www.atia.org/at-resources/what-is-at/resources-funding-guide/

For more information about assistive technology, click here:  https://www.disability.gov/resource/disability-govs-guide-assistive-technology/