What is Assistive Technology? Explain It Like I’m Five

by Chris Von Wilpert, BBusMan • Last updated January 19, 2024

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What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology (AT) is anything that supports people with disabilities to do everyday tasks independently. AT can take many forms, such as services, strategies, tools, devices, and software. AT apps that use AI can also be useful for people without disabilities.

Assistive technology fast facts

  • Assistive technology (AT) is used to assist people with all sorts of disabilities, disorders and diseases.

  • AT can be a very simple tool or a highly advanced device that uses artificial intelligence (AI).

  • There are many AT apps that can also support people without disabilities.

  • AT is useful in different environments, such as homes, offices and schools.

  • Some AT can be used for different types of disabilities.

Voice assistants are an example of high tech AT that allows people with disabilities to better control their environment. Photography: Andrey Popov via DepositPhotos

What is an example of assistive technology?

Here is a list with an example for each type of assistive technology (AT):

  • AT services can be delivered by organizations or people. Sign language interpreters, for example, allow people with hearing and speaking impairments to take part in public events.
  • AT software can help people with, for example, visual impairments. Apps that convert text-to-speech allow them to access written content. 
  • AT devices, like wheelchairs, hearing aids, crutches and so on, are designed for mobile impaired people. These devices can be high or low-tech, depending on whether they use advanced electronics and software.
  • AT strategies are often used in learning environments. A school, for example, can have a specific strategy in place to assist students with learning disabilities.

What disabilities use assistive technology?

Assistive technology (AT) is used to assist people with a wide range of disabilities. The AT can assist with everyday tasks that involve learning, hearing, reading, speaking, moving, understanding, focusing, and so on. 

There may be several AT categories for the same type of disabilities. For example, someone who can’t see objects at a distance may need glasses. Other people with other types of visual impairments may need AT software that converts online texts to audio. 

Some AT can be useful for different disabilities. For example, people with eyesight problems can access written information with text-to-speech software. This same AT can also be helpful for students who have dyslexia and struggle with written information.

Text-to-speech technology can help people with ADHD or learning disabilities. Photograph: Speechify

What is not assistive technology?

Assistive technology (AT) only refers to something that is specifically designed or adapted to help people with disabilities. Commonly used technology, like computers, is not AT. There is, however, an overlap of tech for people with and without disabilities.

Text-to-speech software, for example, helps people with visual impairments and is therefore considered AT. But people without eyesight problems can also enjoy this technology.

Assistive writing tools are another example. Writing tools for people with, for example, dyslexia, is AT. But similar tools that are not AT can also improve the writing skills of people who are not disabled.

What is an example of high tech assistive technology?

High tech assistive technology (AT) uses complex electronics or software to give people with disabilities more independence. A wheelchair that is also a scooter, for example, is a high tech AT. A wheelchair that needs to be operated manually is an example of a low-tech AT.

Virtual reality (VR) programs for students with disabilities are also an example of high tech AT. That is different from VR programs that are developed for entertainment.

Screen readers are another example of high tech AT. These software programs can convert text on a computer screen into audio. People with visual impairments use it to access any written content on their screen.

Why would a student need assistive technology?

Students who have a disability can use assistive technology to overcome challenges with accessing, understanding, and learning information.

  • Screen readers, braille displays, magnifiers and so on can help students with visual impairments to access text-based information.
  • Students with dyslexia can use text-to-speech technology, reading pens, adapted keyboards or assistive writing technology. 
  • Students with language processing disorders can, for example, use speech-generating devices or communication boards.
  • Students with ADHD can help focus by using, for example, time management tools or software that helps them stay organized.
  • Students with learning disabilities can, for example, use note-taking software, or apps that are specifically designed for specific learning problems. 
  • Hearing aids and closed captioning (CC) can be helpful for students with hearing impairments.
  • Writing tools, text-to-speech software, AI chatbots can assist students who have difficulties with math, writing, drawing, and so on.

In classroom environments, closed captions can assist students with hearing impairments. Photography: Otter

What is the most used assistive technology?

It’s impossible to tell which assistive technology (AT) is the most used. But here is a list of five AT devices that are widely used for different disability categories: 

  1. Text to speech (TTS) software converts written text into audio, assisting people with visual impairments or who have reading disabilities, like dyslexia.
  2. Voice recognition software allows people with limited physical mobility to control computers, smartphones, and other devices with voice commands.
  3. Closed captions (CC) display dialogues of a TV show, movie, or video and are useful for people with hearing impairments.
  4. Writing software can help people who have mobility impairments or language disorders.
  5. Hearing aids allow people with hearing loss to have normal conversations.

What is ICT assistive technology?

ICT (Information and Communication Technology) assistive technology (AT) refers to anything that uses a computer or software to assist people with disabilities.

There are many examples of ICT AT, such as speech-generating devices, text-to-speech software, screen readers, writing assistants, reading pens, smart home devices, and so forth. 

The increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) creates new and more advanced AT tools and apps. These have an increasingly positive impact on the daily lives of people with disabilities.

Writing tools are useful for both people with language disorders and anyone who wants to improve their writing skills or save time. Photograph: WriteSonic

What are the benefits of ICT assistive technology?

ICT assistive technology (AT) can offer long and short-term benefits for people with disabilities. Technology that assists with everyday tasks gives people a more independent life.

Short-term benefits of ICT AT are, for example, that it allows people to communicate, get access to information, or study. These are all important aspects of social life.

ICT AT also has benefits in the long run. People with disabilities who can take part in social activities, study, have a job, or live more independently, experience a better quality of life.

What are the assistive technologies in the home?

Assistive technology (AT) is used in the home to help people with disabilities live more independently. Here are some examples of home AT:

  • Grab bars, bathtub lifts, wheelchair ramps, raised toilet seats, and so on help people with mobility impairments. 
  • Talking clocks, doorbell chimes, talking light switches, and so on allow people with visual impairments to control their home environment.
  • Closed captioning, vibrating alarms, hearing aids, and so on can assist people with hearing impairments in their homes. 
  • Text-based messaging, writing tools, speech-generators, text-to-speech software are some examples of home AT that allows people with disabilities to communicate with the outside world.
  • Voice assistants, remote control systems, adaptive kitchen tools, and so on assist people with everyday tasks.

What are the assistive technologies for elderly people?

Assistive technology (AT) can help older people maintain their independence and quality of life. Here are some widely types of AT used for mature people:

  • Wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, special chairs, stair lifts, and so on. These AT devices support elderly people with mobility and balance problems. 
  • Screen readers, braille displays, magnifiers, and so on can be useful AT for elderly people with visual impairments.
  • Hearing aids and closed caption are two examples of AT that are commonly used by elderly people.
  • Voice assistants that are connected to electronic devices, lights, curtains, and so on allow elderly people to control their environment with voice commands.

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