Assistive technology explained – and how to get funding for it
Assistive technology (AT) is transforming our society. Thanks to incredible advances, more people are able to participate more fully in society and lead more independent lives.
- more people are able to live in the comfort of their own homes.
- more students are able to be included in educational programmes.
- the safety and convenience features of assistive technologies make life a little easier.
Assistive technology is a big topic, covering many offerings for many people. In this article we are going to break down the types of assistive tech. We’ll also explain how these technologies are being paid for.
Assistive technology definition and related terms
Assistive technology is an umbrella term covering the systems and services related to the delivery of assistive products and services (WHO). In traditional definitions, these services have been thought of as a device to enhance the daily living for persons with disabilities. Devices of this nature include wheelchairs, hearing aids, communication aids, and prosthetic limbs.
But the application of assistive tech has become even broader over the years and now includes items like smart home technology, which have implications for the entire population.
Closely related terms that may fall under the umbrella of assistive technology include:
- Adaptive equipment
- Smart home technology
- Home modifications
- ‘Aging-in-place’ supports.
Why assistive technology is important
Assistive technology is important because it can enable people with disabilities to participate in all aspects of society and lead more independent lives.
These technologies can help people with disabilities to perform daily activities, such as, communicating with others, moving around their environment and accessing information. Assistive technology can have broader societal benefits, such as:
- reducing healthcare costs
- increasing productivity
- promoting inclusivity
- reducing the stigma associated with disability.
The need for assistive tech devices is already massive, and it is set to double.
Globally, more than 2.5 billion people need one or more assistive products.
3.5 billion people will need at least one assistive product by 2050.
Types of assistive technology (with examples!)
Now that you know what assistive technology is and why it is so important, let’s look at types of assistive tech and some specific examples.
(Please note, that there has been a massive proliferation in assistive technology available, so we are speaking in very broad terms here.)
Low-tech assistive technology
Low-tech assistive technology refers to simple and inexpensive devices, tools or strategies that can assist people with disabilities in performing daily activities.
These technologies often do not require electricity or advanced technology and can be easily found or created with commonly available materials. Examples of low-tech assistive technology include:
- Bump dots
- Weighted pens
- Tap extenders.
Low-tech assistive technology can be particularly beneficial for people who may not have access to more complex or expensive technologies or for those who only require minimal assistance. These devices can also be helpful for individuals who prefer to use less complex solutions to meet their needs or who may have difficulty learning to use more advanced technologies.
High-tech assistive technology
High-tech assistive technology refers to the use of advanced and sophisticated devices, software, and equipment that help
individuals with disabilities or impairments to perform everyday tasks and activities. These technologies can include anything from:
High-tech assistive technology often involves the use of computer-based systems, which can be customised to meet the specific needs of each individual whether they are physical, sensory or cognitive impairments.
Assistive technology for physical disabilities
Assistive technology for ‘aging-in-place’, like the other topic areas, can be broadly classified into low-tech and high-tech options. And because aging-in-place is a broad category these are just a few examples to get your brain going.
- Mobility related devices: Tools like raised toilet seats, shower chairs, walkers, and bed rails are all devices that are low-tech and help with aging-in-place.
- Home modification: Things like offset hinges, grab bars, lever handles and pull-down shelves need to be installed but are low tech and can make living at home more functional
- Smart home technology: Using a hub like Google Home or Amazon Alexa Show and integrating smart plugs, light bulbs, thermostats, video doorbells and door locks can make it so that even someone with the most limited mobility can operate a majority of things right from their mobile phone.
- Medication management: We know it is really key to be taking medications correctly to avoid hospitalisation and there are a lot of ways to manage medications including pill boxes. But you can add some tech and get even more functionality by using this automatic pill dispenser or even spenser – spencer® Medication Dispenser – Spencer Health Solutions which talks, can log vital signs and the telehealth feature of spencer connects patients to their clinical care team.
- Personal emergency response systems (PERS): PERS are wearable or stationary devices that can automatically call for help in the event of a fall or other emergency. This could be something like Lifeline Vi Alarm & Pendant or something like an Apple Watch which has the technology built in!
Funding for assistive technology
Many times, assistive technology ends up being paid for out of pocket. But there are also several avenues for funding:
Aids and appliances – HSE.ie – Contact an occupational therapist and ask for an assessment and application to be made.
Housing Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability usually covers structural changes to a home but can include AT as well.
VAT refunds on aids and appliances used by people with disabilities (citizensinformation.ie) – If a person funds AT themselves they may be entitled to VAT back on the purchase. ·
Assistive technology helps students with a disability who have difficulty communicating through speech and writing to fully participate in education.
Assistive technology for students includes laptops or tablets with modified software, joysticks, keyboards, touch pads, tapes, braille equipment and audiology equipment.
Schools can get an Assistive Technology Grant from the Department of Education to buy computers and specialist equipment for students with a disability.
Grants for students can improve the quality of life and independence of people with disabilities by offering a range of assistive technologies that can help them overcome barriers to education, employment, and daily living.