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Assistive Technology

Assistive technology refers to any item, piece of equipment or product system that is used to increase, maintain or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. These items can be those purchased commercially, modified or customized for the individual.

According to the Centers for Disease Control it is estimated that:
• One in five Americans has a disability of some kind, this is approximately 53 million people.
• 33 million Americans have a disability that makes it difficult for them to carry out their activities of daily living; some have challenges with everyday activities, such as attending school or going to work, and may need help with their daily care.
• 2.2 million people in the United States depend on a wheelchair for day-to-day tasks and mobility.
• 6.5 million people use a cane, a walker, or crutches to assist with their mobility.

Some disabilities are quite visible, and many others are “hidden.” Most disabilities can be grouped into four major categories 1:
• Cognitive disability: intellectual and learning disabilities/disorder, distractibility, reading disorders, inability to remember or focus on large amounts of information
• Hearing disability: hearing loss or impaired hearing
• Physical disability: paralysis, difficulties with walking or other movement, inability to use a computer mouse, slow response time, limited fine or gross motor control
• Visual disability: blindness, low vision, color blindness

Mental illness, including anxiety disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, and psychosis, for example, is also a disability.

Hidden disabilities can include some people with visual impairments and those with dexterity difficulties, such as repetitive strain injury. People who are hard of hearing or have mental health difficulties also may be included in this category.1

Some people have disabling medical conditions that may be regarded as hidden disabilities—for example, epilepsy; diabetes; sickle cell conditions; HIV/AIDS; cystic fibrosis; cancer; and heart, liver or kidney problems. The conditions may be short term or long term, stable or progressive, constant or unpredictable and fluctuating, controlled by medication or another treatment, or untreatable. Many people with hidden disabilities can benefit from assistive technologies for certain activities or during certain stages of their diseases or conditions.1

People who have spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, osteogenesis imperfecta, multiple sclerosis, demyelinating diseases, myelopathy, progressive muscular atrophy, amputations, or paralysis often benefit from complex rehabilitative technology. This means that the assistive devices these people use are individually configured to help each person with his or her own unique disability.2

For more information about conditions that can often be helped with assistive technology:
• MedLine Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine, provides information about assistive devices for various conditions.
• The Paralysis Resource Center provided by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation explains some of the different paralytic conditions that can benefit from assistive technology.
• The public television station WETA offers information on the use of assistive technologies for children with learning disabilities.

The following are types of assistive devices that individuals can utilize:
• Mobility aids, such as wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, canes, crutches, prosthetic devices, and orthotic devices, are used to enhance mobility. Lightweight, high-performance wheelchairs have been designed for organized sports, such as basketball, tennis, and racing.
• Hearing aids
• Cognitive assistance, including computer or electrical assistive devices, can help people function following brain injury.
• Computer software and hardware, such as voice recognition programs, screen readers, and screen enlargement applications, help people with mobility and sensory impairments use computer technology.
• In the classroom and elsewhere, assistive devices, such as automatic page-turners, book holders, and adapted pencil grips, allow learners with disabilities to participate in educational activities.
• Closed captioning allows people with hearing impairments to enjoy movies and television programs.
• Barriers in community buildings, businesses, and workplaces can be removed or modified to improve accessibility. Such modifications include ramps, automatic door openers; grab bars, and wider doorways.
• Adaptive switches make it possible for a child with limited motor skills to play with toys and games.
• Many types of devices help people with disabilities perform such tasks as cooking, dressing, and grooming. Kitchen implements are available with large, cushioned grips to help people with weakness or arthritis in their hands. Medication dispensers with alarms can help people remember to take their medicine on time. People who use wheelchairs for mobility can use extendable reaching devices to reach items on shelves.

Resources and more information can be found at :
• Local Center for Independent Living:
o For the Illinois Counties of St. Clair, Monroe and Randolph: LINC, Inc., 15 Emerald Terrace, Swansea, IL 618-235-9988, TTY 618-235-0451, Video Phone 618-310-0054.
o For the Illinois Counties of Bond, Madison, Jersey, Macoupin, Greene and Calhoun: IMPACT CIL, 2735 E. Broadway, Alton, IL. 618-462-1411, TTY 618-474-5333
o For the Illinois Counties of Clay, Clinton, Edwards, Effingham, Fayette, Hamilton, Jasper, Jefferson, Marion, Wabash, Washington, Wayne and White: Opportunities for Access, 4206 Williamson Place Suite 3, Mt. Vernon, Illinois. 618-244-9212, TTY 618-244-9575, V/TTY 800-938-7400.
The following sites provided information for this blog:
National Institute of Child Health and Development http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/rehabtech/conditioninfo/pages/need.aspx

Illinois Assistive Technology Program- http://www.iltech.org/

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1. CANnect. (2012). Assistive technologies and what they do. Retrieved August 12, 2012, from http://projectone.cannect.org/online-education/assistive-technologies.php
2. National Center for Assistive and Rehab Technology. (2009). What is complex rehab technology? Retrieved August 11, 2012, from http://www.ncart.us/advocacy/what-is-complex-rehab-technology

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