What is Assistive Technology?
"...any item, piece of equipment, or product...
whether acquired commercially, something modified, or custom made...
that is used to increase, maintain, and/or improve...
the functional capability of individuals... with disabilities." - IDEA '97 and ADA
Assistive Technologies (AT) have traditionally been considered for, and used by, individuals with ‘complex’ or 'significant' disabilities, such as those who are deaf/hard of hearing or blind/low vision, and those with physical and/or ‘developmental’ disabilities.
However, we now know have that when “assistive” tools and adaptations are made widely available to all in general environments, many individuals (not just those with disabilities) can benefit. This concept is related to ‘Universal Design’ which strives to make environments accessible to all users. For example, think about the following:
- Curb cuts are required by law in order to make public sidewalks and road intersections accessible to individuals with physical disabilities. However, many others benefit, including bicyclists and parents with strollers. Indeed, most of us choose to use the curb cuts for easier passage and more secure footing.
- Closed Captioning is now required in the manufacture of all televisions in order to ensure accessibility for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. However, it is now frequently also used for general benefit in public spaces including airports, sports bars, gyms and more.
Primarily as a result of technology advancement, Assistive Technologies are now available and affordable to meet the diverse needs of a wide range of individuals in our society, not just those with significant disabilities, including:
- Individuals with more frequently occurring disabilities, including learning disabilities, attention deficits, behavioral challenges, etc.
- Those who are ‘new to English’ (English language learners)
- People with chronic health conditions
- Young children and ‘elders’ in our society
- Other individuals in the general population
The Ershig Assistive Technology Resource Center, located in Miller Hall 001 at Western Washington University, has hundreds of Assistive Technology items available for perusal and check-out. The E-ATRC is one of the resource centers of Woodring College of Education: 'Promoting Equity in Life and Learning'