Exactly what is assistive technology? It is anything that can help a person with a disability do something they cannot do without it. Anything? Yes, anything. A magnifying glass that makes print easier to see is assistive technology. Assistive technology is an extension on a light switch that allows a child in a wheelchair to turn on the light. It is the wheelchair. It is a sound system that makes it easier to hear what the teacher is saying. It is a pencil grip that helps a child better grasp a pencil. It is also software or an app that does something special such as speak the words on the device screen for someone who cannot read the print. It is thousands and thousands of items that help individuals with all sorts of disabilities and challenges. The sheer number of things that are considered assistive technology makes the selection and use of assistive technology a confusing task.
Sometimes it is easier to think about what assistive technology is not. It is not a person. A paraprofessional or a nurse is never assistive technology. It is not a strategy like a shorter assignment or a different location in the classroom, although accommodations like these can all be important and helpful for a child with a disability.
The definition of assistive technology in IDEA is: Assistive technology device means 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 the functional capabilities of a child with a disability. The term does not include a medical device that is surgically implanted, or the replacement of that device. (34 C.F.R. §300.5)
Why is it important for you to know about assistive technology? It is important because assistive technology can be a powerful tool for your child. It can compensate for all types of motor limitations, difficulties with vision, or hearing loss. It can compensate for less obvious problems with reading or writing or memory. The only thing assistive technology cannot do is help your child to do something that he or she is not cognitively ready to do. For instance someone could program wonderful, appropriate messages in an augmentative communication device, but if your child does not understand those messages, does not have a desire to use them and never activates the device, it will not help him communicate. Assistive technology is most appropriate when a child wants to do a task, is trying to complete it, but is not able to because of a specific limitation or difficulty. This is where AT can make a significant difference.
Augmentive and Alternative Communication
Blind and Low Vision
Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Memory Prompting and Organization
Reading & Writing
Relaxation and Concentration