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Assistive Technology and Equipment

written by: Lisa Pulsifer • edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • updated: 8/2/2012

This article provides an overview of the categories of assistive technology, information on augmentative communication devices and how to choose the correct equipment. Examples are given throughout.

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    Assistive technology is any type of equipment that helps a person in working outside of her body. These tools help increase independence and overcome limits that a physical or mental disability might place on an individual when completing a task. There are also forms of technology that assist individuals to communicate and improve quality of life.

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    Low Tech vs. High Tech

    Assistive technology can be divided into two main categories: low and high tech. Low technology can usually be made without the purchase of expensive materials and will not require an intense level of training. Because of the simplicity of the materials, adjustments can be made easily when necessary. An example of low tech equipment is the use of a pencil grip to make it easier for a person to grasp it during writing activities.

    High tech equipment is usually more expensive and has to be purchased. Often times training is needed for the person using it, as well as for others who may be working with him. However, with the increased use of technology in everyday life, these devices will often allow the user to easily blend in with everybody else. One example of assistive technology that is high tech would be the use of a laptop to take a test instead of a pen and paper.

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    Augmentative Communication Devices

    Another important part of assistive technology that can be low or high tech is augmentative communication devices. These are types of equipment that assist a person in expressing his wants and needs. Augmentative communication devices give users a voice and therefore allow them to be part of the social world around them. These devices also allow the user to advocate for themselves by letting them express what they want to do and how they feel.

    An example of a low tech augmentative communication device would be a photo album with pictures that represent words that the user can point to in order to communicate. Something more high tech would be the TaptoTalk. This application that can turn regular technology such as the Nintendo DS or Ipad into a high tech augmentative communication device. The user can tap a picture to play a message for others to hear.

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    Choosing the Correct Assistive Technology

    When making the choice on what assistive technology to use, there are many things to consider. First, the purpose of what the assistive technology will be used for should be clearly defined along with what settings it will be necessary in. The preferences and cognitive level of the person utilizing it should also be determined. By understanding what the technology needs to accomplish, it will be easier to make a decision on what to get.

    It is also important, especially with more expensive equipment, to find something that will be adaptable in the future. Doing this avoids spending additional money and time to learn a new piece of equipment.

    Finally, it is imperative to make sure that the assistive technology is age appropriate in order to avoid stigmatizing the user. The ultimate goal of the technology is to make the user more independent and have an increase in his quality of life.