What is Assistive Technology

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, ageing individuals, and others who experience limitations in participation in society to live independent, healthy and productive lives by participating in education, work and social activities.[3] [4][5] AT reduces the burden on caregivers 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, dignified lives. By 2050 there will be two billion people in need of assistive technology.[6] Although AT can be used throughout the lifespan, the need is greatest for the elderly, people living with chronic conditions and people with disabilities.[7] [4] Of those persons living with a disability, 1 in 10 are children.[8] As the world’s population ages and the prevalence of non-communicable diseases increases, the need for AT will continue to rise.[7] Those who require AT must be able to access it 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.[7][2] In addition, COVID-19 pandemic has shown, that lack of provider availability and diminished one-to-one services has had a huge impact on the access to and delivery of AT services. [9]

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.[10] 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).[11] 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, grouping them into different categories is useful.[11] Some products will fit into more than one category.[10]

  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[11]
    • Devices include: hearing aids and alarm signalers that use light, sound, and vibration
  4. Communication Products:
    • Assist with: augmentative and alternative communication[11]
    • Devices include: communication boards, books, and cards
  5. Cognition Products:
    • Assist with: cognition[11]
    • 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[12]

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 on the user's life. The APL includes 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 to develop their national priority assistive products list according to national needs and available resources.[13] [14]

The following list by the World Health Organization[11] details the 50 priority products. Please note that it should not be considered restrictive:[15]

Priority Assistive Product List
1. Alarm Signallers with Light / Sound / Vibration 26. A personal digital assistant (PDA)
2. Audio players with DAISY Capability 27. Personal emergency alarm systems
3. Braille Displays (Note Takers) 28. Pill Organisers
4. Braille Writing Equipment / Braillers 29. Pressure Relief Cushions
5. Canes / Sticks 30. Pressure Relief Mattresses
6. Chairs for Shower / Bath / Toilet 31. Prostheses, Lower Limb
7. Closed Captioning Displays 32. Ramps, Portable
8. Club Foot Braces 33. Recorders
9. Communication Boards / Books / Cards 34. Rollators
10. Communication Software 35. Screen Readers
11.. Crutches, Axillary / Elbow 36. Simplified Mobile Phones
12. Deafblind Communicators 37. Spectacles; Low Vision, Short Distance, Long Distance, Filters and Protection
13. Fall Detectors 38. Standing Frames, Adjustable
14. Gesture to Voice Technology 39.Therapeutic Footwear; Diabetic, Neuropathic, Orthopaedic
15. Global Positioning System (GPS) Locators 40. Time Management Products
16. Hand Rails / Grab Bars 41. Travel Aids, Portable
17. Hearing Aids (Digital) and Batteries 42. Tricycles
18. Hearing Loops / FM Systems 43. Video Communication Devices
19. Incontinence Products, Absorbent 44. Walking Frames / Walkers
20. Keyboard and Mouse Emulation Software 45. Watches, Talking / Touching
21. Magnifiers, Digital Hand-held 46. Wheelchairs, Manual for Active Use
22. Magnifiers, Optical 47. Wheelchairs, Manual Assistant-Controlled
23. Orthoses, Lower Limb 48. Wheelchairs, Manual with Postural Support
24. Orthoses, Spinal 49. Wheelchairs, Electrically Powered
25. Orthoses, Upper Limb 50. White Canes

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 with the patient and caregiver to understand their needs and how they will use 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 vital to determine if the assistive device is still meeting the user's needs and if any maintenance or repairs are required.[16] The following video by the World Health Organization explains these four steps in more detail:

Special Topic: The Global Need for Assistive Technology[edit | edit source]

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified many barriers to accessing assistive technology worldwide, to include:

  • Lack of aware ness often drives low uptake, compounded by an absence of information on the types and availability of assistive products.
  • High costs due to over-priced assistive products and associated service delivery cost.
  • Limited physical and geographical access puts assistive technology out of reach for many potential users.
  • Inadequate product range, quantity, quality and suitability can make assistive products unavailable, unsafe, ineffective and even abandoned.
  • Procurement and delivery challenges delay and reduce access.
  • Capacity gaps exist in the assistive technology workforce with shortage of workforce with adequate knowledge on assistive technology and lack of trained personnel.
  • Low policy profile and lack of legislation lead to the low prioritization of assistive technology, and legislation that fails to cover people with all types of functional difficulty.
  • Lack of funding and investment for the strengthening of national assistive technology systems exists in many countries, alongside disparities in funding levels by programmes.
  • Fragmentation of the assistive technology sector, including between professions, user groups, funding and provision mechanisms.
  • Sociodemographic barriers hinder equitable universal access to assistive technology.[17]

Resources[edit | edit source]

Access to Assistive Technology

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. Smith EM, Ebuenyi ID, Kafumba JA, Jamali-Phiri M, Munthali A, MacLachlan M. Relevance of assistive technology and the sustainable development goals to stakeholder organizations in Malawi. Glob Health Action. 2022 Dec 31;15(1):2133381.
  6. Oldfrey B, Barbareschi G, Morjaria P, Giltsoff T, Massie J, Miodownik M, Holloway C. Could Assistive Technology Provision Models Help Pave the Way for More Environmentally Sustainable Models of Product Design, Manufacture and Service in a Post-COVID World? Sustainability. 2021; 13(19):10867.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Assistive technology factsheet. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018 (https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/assistive-technology, accessed 24 may 2021).  
  8. Shi G, Ke S, Banozic A. The Role of Assistive Technology in Advancing Sustainable Development Goals. Front. Polit. Sci. 2022; 4:859272.
  9. Smith EM, Toro Hernandez ML, Ebuenyi ID, Syurina EV, Barbareschi G, Best KL, Danemayer J, Oldfrey B, Ibrahim N, Holloway C, MacLachlan M. Assistive Technology Use and Provision During COVID-19: Results From a Rapid Global Survey. Int J Health Policy Manag. 2022 Jun 1;11(6):747-756.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Mather, D. Intro to Assistive Technology Course. Plus Course. 2022
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 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
  12. De-Rosende-Celeiro I, Torres G, Seoane-Bouzas M, Ávila A. Exploring the use of assistive products to promote functional independence in self-care activities in the bathroom. PLoS One. 2019 Apr 8;14(4):e0215002.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Rohwerder B. Assistive technologies in developing countries
  16. World Health Organization. Training in Assistive Products Modules. 2020. Available from: https://www.gate-tap.org/all-modules/
  17. World Health Organization. Global report on assistive technology. 2022.