What is Assistive Technology?
Nearly every American uses technology to make life easier. For people with disabilities, however, assistive technology is more than a luxury…it is an essential tool for independence! Assistive Technology (AT) is any item or piece of equipment that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities in all aspects of life, including at school, at work, at home and in the community. Assistive Technology ranges from low tech to high tech devices or equipment.
Low tech AT are devices or equipment that don’t require much training, may be less expensive and do not have complex or mechanical features. For example:
- handheld magnifiers
- canes or walkers
- specialized pen or pencil grips and much more
- manual wheelchairs
- Closed Caption Televisions (CCTV’s)
- books on CD
- environmental control units (ECU)
- alternate mouse or keyboard for the computer and much more
High Tech AT refers to the most complex devices or equipment, that have digital or electronic components, may be computerized, will likely require training and effort to learn how to use and cost the most. Examples include:
- Power wheelchairs or scooters
- Digital hearing aids
- Computers with specialized software such as voice recognition or magnification software
- Communication devices with voices
- Digi-drive technology (operating a vehicle with a joystick)AT devices or equipment that range in the middle of the continuum may have some complex features, may be electronic or battery operated, may require some training to learn how to use and are more expensive than the low-tech devices. Some examples include
Who Needs Assistive Technology?
- An estimated 1,270,584 Georgians, nearly 27% of our population, have one or more disabilities. Of these, nearly 14% or 656,097 have severe disabilities requiring one or more kinds of assistive technology (LaPlante et al, Technology and Disabilities, vol. 6, pp.17 -28, 1997 and the 1990 Census Report).
How Can I Find AT That is Right for Me?
The Tech Act & Tools for Life
In 1988 Congress passed a law called the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act (known as the Tech Act). This law provides all states with funds to address assistive technology needs. In Georgia, the Tech Act Project is called Tools for Life and is administered by the Georgia Division of Rehabilitation Services, Department of Human Resources.
Tools for Life provides five core services:
- Information and referral, to help customers secure appropriate assistive technology devices and services
- Trial use and short-term loans of assistive technology at regional Technology Resource Centers so customers can “try before they buy” and make better purchasing decisions
- Training, to learn to use assistive technology, how to secure it, what laws say about it, its benefits and wide array of applications
- Technical Assistance, to create customer-friendly changes in policies, practices, procedures, and resources within and among agencies that pay for assistive technology devices and services; and to create private sources to secure assistive technology devices and services
- Advocacy, to assist customers overcome barriers in securing assistive technology
The first step in accessing Tools for Life Services is to contact one of the five
Tools for Life Assistive Technology Resource Centers (ATRCs). ATRCs are “hands-on” learning centers for Georgians with disabilities, families, friends, health care professionals and other professionals to see, learn about and experiment with new and existing assistive technology devices and equipment.
Where Can I Find Assistance Paying for Assistive Technology?
Contacting one of the Tools for Life ATRCs is the best place to start for all of your AT questions. Some items may be available through assistive technology lending libraries or through re-use and recycling programs. ATRCs also work together to provide training and education regarding funding.
One option you might explore is a low-interest loan through Credit-Able which provides low-interest loans through participating credit unions to enable Georgians with disabilities access to affordable financing for Assistive Technology and Home & Vehicle Modifications.
Computers and the Internet can be of great help in reducing and eliminating some of the barriers encountered by Georgians with disabilities. Computers can provide opportunities to share and learn from peers, to gather information, to shop and to get around some transportation barriers.
ReBoot™ is a regional, nonprofit, collaborative organization committed to computer access for people with disabilities. Through donations, ReBoot™ acquires computer equipment and other Assistive Technology equipment. ReBoot™ evaluates the equipment, makes needed repairs, loads licensed software, and distributes the equipment, thus providing availability to people with disabilities as well as healthy seniors and disadvantaged communities.
Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults
Helen Keller National Center wants you to know that people who are deaf-blind may be eligible for assistive technology through their National Deaf Blind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP). To learn more about the program, visit www.icanconnect.org. Or if you have questions, you can contact Sondra Rhoades Johnson at the Georgia Council for the Hearing Impaired (GACHI).