According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than one billion people across the globe need one or more assistive devices. The WHO estimates that by 2030, more than two billion people will need at least one assistive device, with many older people needing two or more devices. With so many people with disabilities across the world in need of accessibility tools, one question remains: what is assistive technology?
People who learn or think differently can use technology to adapt and work around challenges. These tools and devices are called assistive technology.
What is assistive technology?
When you hear the phrase “assistive devices,” the first things that come to your mind are probably wheelchairs and hearing aids. However, assistive devices also include things you likely use in your everyday life—such as voice-to-text technology, closed captioning, and smart tools.
Assistive technology is used by individuals with disabilities to help with functions that otherwise may be difficult or impossible to perform. It can enable people to live healthy, productive, independent lives. And it also allows those with disabilities to participate in education, the work force, and their communities.
Types of assistive technology devices
Assistive technology includes devices, software, or equipment that helps people with disabilities to learn, communicate, or function better. These devices can be as high-tech as a computer or as low-tech as a walking stick.
Some types of assistive technology include:
- Voice recognition or speech input software. This software allows a user’s voice to be recognized by the device. Users can then command their device, such as their phone or a voice assistant, to perform certain functions.
- Text-to-speech or screen readers. This function allows text on a computer, laptop, or phone to be read out loud. People who are blind or visually impaired can use this feature to read content.
- Word prediction software. People who have cognition disabilities can benefit from this software, which predicts sentences and corrects spelling errors.
- Keyboard alternatives. Accessible keyboards allow users with restricted mobility to type. The keys may be enlarged, or the keyboard may feature a touchscreen.
- Listening devices. Hearing amplifiers offer customized settings for those who are hearing impaired. Alternatively, noise-canceling headphones are a great device for those who are overstimulated or effected by outside noise.
- Screen Magnifiers. These tools magnify or enhance a screen so text and images are more easily seen.
- Alternative input devices. Users who are unable to use a mouse or a keyboard can use other devices to work on a computer. These include head pointers, eye tracking, and single switch entry devices.
Many of these features can be found in the settings feature of your phone, computer, or other smart device. And while many people use these tools to enhance their everyday life, they can be life-changing for those with disabilities.
Assistive technology in the workplace
How can employers make the workplace more accessible? Assistive technology in the office can look like remote working tools, such as instant messaging and videoconferencing, as an alternative to in-person work. The remote or hybrid working model can help break employment barriers for those with disabilities.
Ergonomic keyboards and computers with dictation software can make typing easier for those who may have issues with mobility. And of course, workplaces should always have wheelchair ramps, elevators, and automatic doors to be an inclusive and accessible space for everyone.
The need for accessible assistive technology
The WHO also claims that today, only one in ten people in need of an assistive device will have access to one. For example, only 5-15% of those who need a wheelchair actually have access to one. This is due to lack of awareness, availability, trained personnel, policy, and financing.
Without the proper assistive technology, people who need these devices in their everyday lives are forced into isolation and poverty. Not only is assistive technology necessary, but it also needs to be available and accessible to those who need it.
The future of assistive technology
Smart devices are the future of assistive technology. Personal smart assistants, such as Alexa and Google Home, offer assistance and support around your home. They can operate your lighting, music, smart television, and heating or air conditioning. Other smart devices, such as a smart fridge, smart oven, or smart coffee machine, can make mealtimes more accessible. Even something as small as a smart watch can record your heart rate and have vision and hearing settings.
How has assistive technology effected your everyday life? Leave us a comment below with your experience.