What is Assistive Technology

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Original Editors - Habibu Salisu Badamasi

Top Contributors - Robin Tacchetti, Habibu Salisu Badamasi, Naomi O'Reilly, Jess Bell and Kim Jackson      

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Assistive technology (AT) refers to "assistive products and related systems and services developed for people to maintain or improve functioning and thereby promote well-being".[1][2] It allows people with disabilities to live independent, healthy and productive lives participating in education, work and social activities.[3] [4] AT reduces the burden on care-givers and the need for formal health and support services. Without AT, people with disabilities are often caught in a cycle of exclusion, isolation and poverty, which further increases disability and morbidity.[1]

Needs[edit | edit source]

One billion people worldwide need assistive technology to lead healthy, productive and dignified lives. Although AT can be used throughout the lifespan, the need is greatest for the elderly, people living with chronic conditions and people with disabilities.[5] [4] Of those persons living with a disability, 1 in 10 are children.[6] As the world’s population ages and the prevalence of non-communicable diseases increases, the need for AT will continue to rise.[5] Those who require AT must be able to access it in order to participate in education, work, and family and community life. Accessing AT in low-resource countries can be difficult because of issues with affordability, availability and acceptability.[5][2]

Types of AT[edit | edit source]

Assistive technologies include any product, piece of equipment or item used to maintain, improve or increase the functional ability of people with disabilities.[2] Assistive products can be made, modified or bought.[7] Assistive devices range from simple, low-technology devices (e.g. canes), to complex, high-technology devices (e.g. motorised wheelchairs, speech-generated devices on computers).[8] The video above by the World Health Organization demonstrates the benefits of assistive technology.

Categories[edit | edit source]

Because there is a wide variety of assistive devices, it is useful to group them in different categories.[8] Some products will fit into more than one category.[7]

  1. Mobility Products:
    • Assist with: mobility
    • Devices: crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, ramps, and grab bars
  2. Seeing / Vision Products:
    • Assist with: low vision or blindness range
    • Devices: reading glasses, magnifiers, audio players, talking and / or touching watches / books, braille systems
  3. Hearing Products:
    • Assist with: hearing loss and communication[8]
    • Devices include: hearing aids and alarm signalers that use light, sound, and vibration
  4. Communication Products:
    • Assist with: augmentative and alternative communication[8]
    • Devices include: communication boards, books, and cards
  5. Cognition Products:
    • Assist with: cognition[8]
    • Devices: pill organisers and whiteboards to remember things
  6. Self-care and Environment Products:
    • Assist: people with physical impairments who have difficulty with functional activities
    • Devices: toilet and shower chairs, absorbent cloths

Priority Assistive Product List[edit | edit source]

The World Health Organization created the Priority Assistive Products List (APL) to improve access to assistive products. This list includes 50 priority assistive products based on widespread need and impact of the user's life. The APL includes both high-tech and low-tech products to assist with mobility, communication, cognition, personal care, vision, hearing and environment. The list is not restrictive; the aim is to provide member states with a model from which to develop their own national priority assistive products list according to national need and available resources.[9] [10]

The following list by the World Health Organization[8] details the 50 priority products. Please note that it should not be considered restrictive:[11]

Priority Assistive Product List
1 Alarm signallers with light / sound / vibration 18 Hearing loops / FM systems 35 Screen readers
2 Audioplayers with DAISY capability 19 Incontinence products, absorbent 36 Simplified mobile phones
3 Braille displays (note takers) 20 Keyboard and mouse emulation software 37 Spectacles; low vision, short distance, long distance, filters and protection
4 Braille writing equipment / braillers 21 Magnifiers, digital hand-held 38 Standing frames, adjustable
5 Canes / sticks 22 Magnifiers, optical 39 Therapeutic footwear; diabetic, neuropathic, orthopaedic
6 Chairs for shower / bath / toilet 23 Orthoses, lower limb 40 Time management products
7 Closed captioning displays 24 Orthoses, spina 41 Travel aids, portable
8 Club foot braces 25 Orthoses, upper limb 42 Tricycles
9 Communication boards / books / cards 26 Personal digital assistant (PDA) 43 Video communication devices
10 Communication software 27 Personal emergency alarm systems 44 Walking frames / walkers
11 Crutches, axillary / elbow 28 Pill organisers 45 Watches, talking / touching
12 Deafblind communicators 29 Pressure relief cushions 46 Wheelchairs, manual for active use
13 Fall detectors 30 Pressure relief mattresses 47 Wheelchairs, manual assistant-controlled
14 Gesture to voice technology 31 Prostheses, lower limb 48 Wheelchairs, manual with postural support
15 Global positioning system (GPS) locators 32 Ramps, portable 49 Wheelchairs, electrically powered
16 Hand rails / grab bars 33 Recorders 50 White canes
17 Hearing aids (digital) and batteries 34 Rollators

Provision of Assistive Technology[edit | edit source]

There are four steps required for the provision of assistive technology:

  1. Select
  2. Fit
  3. Teach
  4. Follow-up

All four processes help to ensure that AT is used effectively. The first step involves choosing the product that will benefit the user's needs. This process is done in collaboration with the patient and caregiver to understand their needs and how they will be using the product within their environment. The fitting process provides an opportunity to adjust and modify the product to the individual. Teaching involves explaining, demonstrating and practising with the AT. Lastly, follow-up is important to determine if the assistive device is still meeting the user's needs and if any maintenance or repairs are required.[12] The following video by the World Health Organization explains these four steps in more detail:

Resources[edit | edit source]

References [edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Matter R, Harniss M, Oderud T, Borg J, Eide AH. Assistive technology in resource-limited environments: a scoping review. Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology. 2017 Feb 17;12(2):105-14.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Tangcharoensathien V, Witthayapipopsakul W, Viriyathorn S, Patcharanarumol W. Improving access to assistive technologies: challenges and solutions in low-and middle-income countries. WHO South-East Asia journal of public health. 2018 Jul 1;7(2):84.
  3. Smith, R.O., Scherer, M.J., Cooper, R., Bell, D., Hobbs, D.A., Pettersson, C., Seymour, N., Borg, J., Johnson, M.J., Lane, J.P. and Sujatha, S., 2018. Assistive technology products: a position paper from the first global research, innovation, and education on assistive technology (GREAT) summit. Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 13(5), pp.473-485.
  4. 4.0 4.1 de Witte, L., Steel, E., Gupta, S., Ramos, V.D. and Roentgen, U., 2018. Assistive technology provision: towards an international framework for assuring availability and accessibility of affordable high-quality assistive technology. Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 13(5), pp.467-472.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Assistive technology factsheet. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018 (https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/assistive-technology, accessed 24 may 2021).  
  6. Banozic A, Shi G, Ke S. The role of Assistive Technology in advancing Sustainable Development Goals. Frontiers in Political Science.:24.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Mather, D. Intro to Assistive Technology Course. Plus Course. 2022
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Khasnabis C, Heinicke Motsch K, Achu K, et al., editors. Community-Based Rehabilitation: CBR Guidelines. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2010. Assistive devices. Available from:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310951
  9. Boot FH, Owuor J, Dinsmore J, MacLachlan M. Access to assistive technology for people with intellectual disabilities: A systematic review to identify barriers and facilitators. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research. 2018 Oct;62(10):900-21.
  10. World Health Organization: Priority Assistive Products List. 2016. Available from: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/207694/WHO_EMP_PHI_2016.01_eng.pdf.
  11. Rohwerder B. Assistive technologies in developing countries
  12. World Health Organization. Training in Assistive Products Modules. 2020. Available from: https://www.gate-tap.org/all-modules/