What is Assistive Technology

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Original Editors - Habibu Salisu Badamasi

Top Contributors - Habibu Salisu Badamasi and Naomi O'Reilly      

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Assistive technology (AT) is identified by the United Nations Convention on the  Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) as human rights obligation of both States and international donors.  157 Countries that have ratified the  UNCRPD  must ensure  the  availability of  high-quality,  affordable assistive  products  as a  right, because they  are  recognized as  the  first  crucial—and  mediating—step towards equal opportunities.[1]One billion people globally need assistive technology to lead healthy, productive and dignified lives but only one in 10 has access. As the world’s population ages and the prevalence of non-communicable diseases increases, the need for assistive technology will continue to rise. Access to assistive technology is essential for many people to participate in education, work, as well as family and community life. Among the people who commonly need AT are older people, people with disabilities and people living with chronic conditions.[2] Assistive technologies include any item, piece of equipment or product used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of people with disabilities. Assistive technologies include low-vision devices, hearing aids, and augmentative and alternative communication systems, walking frames, wheelchairs and prostheses such as artificial legs. [3]

Definitions[edit | edit source]

Assistive technology refers to as "assistive products and related systems and services developed for people to maintain or improve functioning and thereby promote well-being". It enables people with difficulties in functioning to live healthy, productive, independent, and dignified lives, taking part in education, the labour market and social life. It can reduce the need for formal health and support services, long-term care, and the burden on carers. Without assistive technology, people with disabilities and older people and others in need are often excluded, isolated, and locked into poverty, and the burden of morbidity and disability increases .[4]

Common Types of Assistive Technology[edit | edit source]

Assistive devices range from simple, low-technology devices (e.g. walking sticks or adapted cups), to complex, high-technology devices (e.g. specialized computer software/hardware or motorized wheelchairs) It is helpful to consider this wide variety of assistive devices under different categories. [5]

  1. Mobility Products: Mobility devices assist people to walk or move and may include:Walking aids, portable ramps, and grab bars
  2. Seeing/Vision Products: Low vision or blindness has a great impact on a person's ability to carry out important life activities. A range of devices (simple to complex) can be used to maximize participation and independence, including reading glasses, magnifiers, audio players, talking and/or touching watches, white canes, braille systems for reading and writing audio devices, e.g. radios, talking books, mobile phones screen readers for computers, e.g. JAWS (Job Access with Speech) is a screen reader programme.
  3. Hearing Products: Hearing loss affects a person's ability to communicate and interact with others; it can impact on many areas of development, e.g. speech and language and restricts educational and employment opportunities, resulting in social discrimination and isolation.[5] Devices include:hearing aids and alarm signalers that use light, sound, and vibration
  4. Communication Products: Augmentative and alternative communication devices can assist individuals who have difficulty understanding and producing speech. They are provided to support speech (augmentative), or to compensate for speech (alternative)[5]. Devices include:communication boards, books, and card
  5. Cognition Products: Cognition (& remembering) is the ability to understand and process information. It refers to the mental functions of the brain such as memory, planning and problem-solving. Brain injuries, intellectual impairment, dementia and mental illness are some of the many conditions that may affect an individual's cognitive ability. The following cognitive devices can assist individuals to remember important tasks/events, manage their time and prepare for activities:[5]pill organizers and whiteboards to remember things.
  6. Self-care and Environment Products: People with physical impairments often have difficulty maintaining good lying, standing or sitting positions for functional activities and are at risk of developing deformities due to improper positioning. The following devices can help overcome some of these difficulties and enable people with disabilities to complete the activities of daily living (e.g. eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, home maintenance). [5]There are many examples of these devices, including: toilet and shower chairs, absorbent cloths.

Priority Assistive Product List[edit | edit source]

The Priority Assistive Products List (APL) was developed through an extensive global consultation with experts, including users and their caregivers, which involved first selecting key assistive devices and then prioritizing them down to 50. An overwhelming consensus was reached on the following list – although it should not be considered to be restrictive:[6]

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 organizers 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

Resources[edit | edit source]

Priority Assistive Products List

References [edit | edit source]

  1. Khasnabis C, Mirza Z, MacLachlan M. Opening the GATE to inclusion for people with disabilities. The Lancet. 2015 Dec 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).  
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 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
  6. Rohwerder B. Assistive technologies in developing countries