What is Assistive Technology?

To live without disabilities is a privilege. The ability to perform basic daily or specific tasks without thought or external help is considered a blessing.

From something as simple as reading a book, or taking a walk to more complex activities like handling a piece of technology, these are the things we take for granted.

However, many people are not able to perform these seemingly simple tasks, at least without some aid. This has made it necessary to create assistive technology.

Assistive technology is any equipment, software, or device that helps people work around their challenges and constraints. It is adaptive and rehabilitative technology, mostly for people with disabilities and the elderly.

It helps these people function and communicate better while improving the effects of the limitations that prevent them from performing their daily activities.

For example, wheelchairs enable movement for those that cannot walk, and there are narrator software that read text aloud for people with visual disabilities.

These tools promote greater independence by enabling people to work around their disabilities and perform tasks that they were previously unable to accomplish.

People with disabilities have the opportunity typically have an improved sense of self and general well being by using assistive technology. They are also able to partake more in social activities without feeling alienated.

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Although a lot of people need these assistive devices, unfortunately, not many people have access to them. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than a billion people worldwide are in need of assistive technology.

Furthermore, with the increasing rise in noncommunicable diseases like cancer and diabetes, and also the rising aging population, the number of people that have been predicted to need assistive technology will increase by another one billion by the year 2030.

Types of Assistive Technology

Assistive technology is categorized under different groups. These are:

Mobility Aids

  • Wheelchairs (Buy on Amazon): These are mobile devices that can be propelled manually or electrically. Wheelchairs typically include a seating mechanism designed in place of normal mobility that most people have. Wheelchairs come in different varieties, such as those that can be operated by hands or by using electrical controls like joysticks, head switches, and other input devices. Sometimes, there are handles behind the seat for someone else to push. Wheelchairs are made for people with walking difficulties due to injury, illness, or disabilities.
  • Walkers (Buy on Amazon): Walkers are tools that enable additional support for disabled people and also helps maintain balance and stability while walking. It is made up of a frame that is about waist high and slightly wider than the user. These walkers come in different sizes to fit children or heavy people. They are also height-adjustable, and some may or may not have wheels attached, depending on the person using it.
  • Prosthesis: This is also known as a prosthetic or prosthetic limb. A prosthetic is a device used to replace a missing body part lost by injury or from birth defects and disease. They are also used to replace organs inside the body. Examples of these include dentures, artificial eyes, artificial heart valves and lungs, gastric bands, and hearing. Prosthesis is part of the field of biomechatronics – the science of using mechanical devices with the human nervous system, muscle, and skeleton.

Other examples of mobility aids include canes, scooters, and orthotic devices.

Assistive technology for Hearing disability

  • Hearing aids (Buy on Amazon): This is a device that uses electro-acoustic technology to amplify sounds for the hearing. The goal of hearing aids is to make speech more intelligible and to correct impaired hearing. Hearing aids help people with hearing loss participate fully in their environment by allowing them to hear clearly. Examples of hearing aids include aids behind the ear, in the ear canal, and on the body.
  • Assistive listening devices: These include loop, infrared, and FM assistive listening devices. They work by enabling the person with hearing difficulties to focus on the speaker or subject by getting rid of surrounding noises and distractions in areas like classrooms, meetings, and auditoriums.
  • Amplified telephone equipment: This works by amplifying the volume and clarity of phone calls, enabling the user to partake in communication via phones without difficulties. The frequency of the phone call can also be adjusted to suit the user’s needs.

Cognitive Aids

These are used to improve memory, attention, emotion recognition, and other challenges with thinking skills. They include:

  • Memory aids: These help the user learn and retain certain information. Memory aids are generally used for cognitive impairments like difficulties with organization, reading, and writing. A given example is the use of mnemonics – a technique that involves verbal and visual guides to learn and recall information.
  • Educational software: These are software that help people with reading, writing, organizational difficulties, and comprehension. They include notetakers, text enlargers, word prediction technology, and text readers.

Visual aids

  • Screen readers: These are software programs used to assist people who are visually impaired. They work by conveying information through voice (text-to-speech) and magnification tools. Examples of screen readers include Google TalkBack, Apple VoiceOver, and Microsoft narrator. For screen readers to work, the documents must be in electronic form or uploaded in digital format.
  • Braille: Braille is a system that uses raised dots as a means of communication. These raised dots form units called braille cells. A complete braille cell consists of six dots, with two parallel rows of three dots. Words, punctuation marks, and numbers are represented by the combination and quantity of the dots.
  • Screen magnification software: This is a software that couples with the computer display to present an enlarged version of the content on the screen. It enables users to enlarge texts and pictures for easier viewing. This type of technology helps people with low vision.
  • Wearable Technology: These are smart electronic devices that can be worn on the body as an accessory or an implant. Examples of wearable visual aids include eSight, Brainport, and OrCam device.

Accessibility

Accessibility in human-computer interaction means the accessibility of a computer system to everyone regardless of their disability or the severity of their impairment. An example of this is the web accessibility guidelines.

Other examples of assistive technology include:

  • Devices that help perform tasks like dressing, cooking and grooming cooking, dressing, and grooming.
  • Specialized devices with handles and grips.
  • Physical modifications built into the environment, such as ramps, grab bars, and wider doorways to enable access to buildings, businesses, and workplaces.
  • Tools like book holders, adapted pencil grips, and automatic page-turners to help persons with disabilities participate in educational activities
  • Mobility devices that allow persons with disabilities to play sports and be physically active.
  • Adaptive switches and utensils to enable those with limited motor skills to play games, eat, and perform other activities.
  • Closed captioning to allow people with hearing difficulties to watch movies, television programs, and other digital media.

Benefits of Assistive technology

  • Improved language skills from the proper use of hearing aids by younger children, without which has limited opportunities for education and employment.
  • Increased access to education and employment
  • Assistive technology enables the aged to continue to live at home and delay or prevent the need for long-term care.
  • Therapeutic footwear for diabetic patients reduces the incidence of foot ulcers and sores, preventing the amputation of the lower limb and the associated burden on health systems.
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Victor Anunobi
Victor Anunobi is an environmentalist, writer and movie enthusiast living in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. He enjoys long walks, food and alternative music.

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