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"Adaptive technology" redirects here.
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Hearing aid

Assistive technology or adaptive technology (AT) is an umbrella term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities and also includes the process used in selecting, locating, and using them. AT promotes greater independence by enabling people to perform tasks that they were formerly unable to accomplish, or had great difficulty accomplishing, by providing enhancements to or changed methods of interacting with the technology needed to accomplish such tasks.

Likewise, disability advocates point out that technology is often created without regard to people with disabilities, creating unnecessary barriers to hundreds of millions of people. Even the makers of AT technologies will often still argue that universal design is preferable to the need for AT and that universal design projects and concepts should be continuously expanded.

Assistive technology and universal accessibility

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Universally Accessible Street Cross at Evanston, Illinois

Universal (or broadened) accessibility, or universal design means greater usability, particularly for people with disabilities.

Universally accessible technology yields great rewards to the typical user as well; good accessible design is universal design. One example is the "curb cuts" (or dropped curbs) in the sidewalk at street crossings. While these curb cuts enable pedestrians with mobility impairments to cross the street, they also aid parents with carriages and strollers, shoppers with carts, and travelers and workers with pull-type bags.

As an example, the modern telephone is inaccessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Combined with a text telephone (also known as a TDD Telecommunications device for the deaf and in the USA generally called a TeleTYpewriter or TTY), which converts typed characters into tones that may be sent over the telephone line, a deaf person is able to communicate immediately at a distance. Together with "relay" services, in which an operator reads what the deaf person types and types what a hearing person says, the deaf person is then given access to everyone's telephone, not just those of people who possess text telephones. Many telephones now have volume controls, which are primarily intended for the benefit of people who are hard of hearing, but can be useful for all users at times and places where there is significant background noise. Some have larger keys well-spaced to facilitate accurate dialing.

Also, a person with a mobility impairment can have difficulty using calculators. Speech recognition software recognizes short commands and makes use of calculators easier.

People with learning disabilities like dyslexia or dysgraphia are using text-to-speech (TTS) software for reading and spelling programs for assistance in writing texts.

Computers, with their hardware extensibility, editing, spellchecking and speech synthesis software are becoming the cornerstone of assistive technologies, improving quality of life for those with learning disabilities and visual impairments. Spell assist programs and voice-recognition facilities are also bringing the text reading and writing experience to the wider public.

Toys that have been adapted to be used by children with disabilities might have advantages for non-disabled children as well. The Lekotek movement assists parents by lending assistive technology toys and expertise to families.

Many health professionals may be certified by RESNA ( to serve assistive technology needs: occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech language pathologists/audiologists, orthotists and prosthetists, educators, and rehabilitation and health professionals.

Assistive technology products

Personal Emergency Response Systems


This voter with a manual dexterity disability is making choices on a touchscreen with a head dauber.

Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS), or Telecare (UK term), are a particular sort of assistive technology that use electronic sensors connected to an alarm system to help caregivers manage risk and help vulnerable people stay independent at home longer. An example would be the systems being put in place for senior people such as fall detectors, thermometers (for hypothermia risk), flooding and unlit gas sensors (for people with mild dementia). Notably, these alerts can be customized to the particular person's risks. When the alert is triggered, a message is sent to a caregiver or contact center who can respond appropriately.

Technology similar to PERS can also be used to act within a person's home rather than just to respond to a detected crisis. Using one of the examples above, gas sensors for people with dementia can be used to trigger a device that turns off the gas and tells someone what has happened.

Designing for people with dementia is a good example of how the design of the interface of a piece of AT is critical to its usefulness. People with dementia or any other identified user group must be involved in the design process to make sure that the design is accessible and usable. In the example above, a voice message could be used to remind the person with dementia to turn off the gas himself, but whose voice should be used, and what should the message say? Questions like these must be answered through user consultation, involvement and evaluation.

Accessible computer input

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This is a sip-and-puff device which allows a person with substantial disability to make selections and navigate computerized interfaces by controlling inhalations and exhalations.

Sitting at a desk with a QWERTY keyboard and a mouse remains the dominant way of interacting with a personal computer. Some Assistive Technology reduces the strain of this way of work through ergonomic accessories with height-adjustable furniture, footrests, wrist rests, and arm supports to ensure correct posture. Key guards fit over the keyboard to help prevent unintentional key presses.

Alternatively, Assistive Technology may attempt to improve the ergonomics of the devices themselves:

  • Ergonomic keyboards reduce the discomfort and strain of typing.
  • Chorded keyboards have a handful of keys (one per digit per hand) to type by 'chords' which produce different letters and keys.
  • Expanded keyboards with larger, more widely spaced keys.
  • Compact and miniature keyboards.
  • Dvorak and other alternative layouts may offer more ergonomic layouts of the keys.[1][2] There are also variants of Dvorak in which the most common keys are located at either the left or right side of the keyboard.

Input devices may be modified to make them easier to see and understand:

  • Keyboards with lowercase keys
  • Keyboards with big keys.
  • Keyboards with less and big keys, or multifunctional keys, such us the special keyboard PiTech, with only five big rounded keys, which is used with a special software for writing[3]
  • Large print keyboard with high contrast colors (such as white on black, black on white, and black on ivory).
  • Large print adhesive keyboard stickers in high contrast colors (such as white on black, black on white, and black on yellow).
  • Embossed locator dots help find the 'home' keys, F and J, on the keyboard.
  • Scroll wheels on mice remove the need to locate the scrolling interface on the computer screen.
  • Footmouse — Foot-operated mouse.

More ambitiously, and quite crucially when keyboard or mouse prove unusable, AT can also replace the keyboard and mouse with alternative devices such as the LOMAK keyboard, trackballs, joysticks, graphics tablets, touchpads, touch screens, foot mice, a microphone with speech recognition software, sip-and-puff input, switch access, and vision-based input devices, such as eye trackers which allow the user to control the mouse with their eyes.

Software can also make input devices easier to use:

  • Keyboard shortcuts and MouseKeys allow the user to substitute keyboarding for mouse actions. Macro recorders can greatly extend the range and sophistication of keyboard shortcuts.
  • Sticky keys allows characters or commands to be typed without having to hold down a modifier key (Shift, Ctrl, Alt) while pressing a second key. Similarly, ClickLock is a Microsoft Windows feature that remembers a mouse button is down so that items can be highlighted or dragged without holding the mouse button down throughout.
  • Customization of mouse or mouse alternatives' responsiveness to movement, double-clicking, and so forth.
  • ToggleKeys is a feature of Microsoft Windows 95 onwards. A high sound is heard when the CAPS LOCK, SCROLL LOCK, or NUM LOCK key is switched on and a low sound is heard when any of those keys are switched off.
  • Customization of pointer appearance, such as size, color and shape.
  • Predictive text
  • Spell checkers and grammar checkers

Durable Medical Equipment (DME)

  • Seating products that assist people to sit comfortably and safely (seating systems, cushions, therapeutic seats).
  • Standing products to support people with disabilities in the standing position while maintaining/improving their health (standing frame, standing wheelchair, active stander).
  • Walking products to aid people with disabilities who are able to walk or stand with assistance (canes, crutches, walkers, gait trainers).
  • Advanced technology walking products to aid people with disabilities, such as paraplegia or cerebral palsy, who would not at all able to walk or stand (exoskeletons).
  • Wheeled mobility products that enable people with reduced mobility to move freely indoors and outdoors (wheelchairs/scooters)
  • Vehicles modified with Height adjustable suspension, to allow wheelchair entry to the vehicle
  • Robot-aided rehabilitation is a sensory-motor rehabilitation technique based on the use of robots and mechatronic devices [citation needed]

Learning difficulties

  • Age-appropriate software
  • Cause and effect software[4]
  • Switch accessible software
  • Hand-eye co-ordination skills software
  • Diagnostic assessment software
  • Mind mapping software
  • Study skills software
  • Symbol-based software[5]
  • Text-to-speech
  • Touch typing software

Mobility impairment

  • Crutches, including assistive canes
  • Walkers
  • Wheelchairs

Visual impairment

Choice of appropriate hardware and software will depend on the user's level of functional vision.

  • RIAS (Remote Infrared Audible Signage) has the potential to help both low vision and the blind navigate outside and indoors.


  • White canes
  • Large monitors can be used with increased DPI for ease of electronic text reading.
  • E-book readers, such as the Amazon Kindle and tablet computers, such as the iPad, which offer text-to-speech and adjustable font size features.
  • Adjustable task lamp, using a fluorescent bulb, shines directly onto the paper and can be adjusted to suit.
  • Bank note reader
  • Copyholder holds printed material in near vertical position for easier reading and can be adjusted to suit.
  • Closed circuit television (CCTV) or video magnifiers. Printed materials and objects are placed under a camera and the magnified image is displayed onto a screen.
  • Modified cassette recorder. To record a lecture, own thoughts, ideas, notes etc.
  • Desktop compact cassette dictation system. To allow audio cassette playback with the aid of a foot pedal.
  • Fusers produce tactile materials, for example diagrams and maps, by applying heat to special swell paper.
  • Scanner. A device used in conjunction with OCR software. The printed document is scanned and converted into electronic text, which can then be displayed on screen as recognizable text.
  • Standalone reading aids integrate a scanner, optical character recognition (OCR) software, and speech software in a single machine. These function together without a separate PC.[6]
  • Refreshable Braille display. An electronic tactile device which is placed below the computer keyboard. A line of cells which correspond to Braille text move up and down to represent a line of text on the computer screen.
  • Electronic Notetaker. A portable computer with a Braille or QWERTY keyboard and synthetic speech. Some models have an integrated Braille display.
  • Braille embosser. Embosses Braille output from a computer by punching dots onto paper. It connects to a computer in the same way as a text printer.
  • Perkins Brailler. To manually emboss Grade 1 or 2 Braille.
  • Mountbatten Brailler. An electric braille writing machine.


  • Customization of graphical user interfaces to alter the colors and size of desktops, short-cut icons, menu bars and scroll bars.
  • Screen magnifiers
  • Screen readers
  • Self-voicing applications
  • Optical character recognition. Converts the printed word into text, via a scanner.
  • Braille translation. Converts the printed word into Braille, which can then be embossed via a Braille embosser.
  • Text-to-speech and Speech-to-text
  • Spell checkers and Grammar checkers

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Augmentative and alternative communication is a well defined specialty within Assistive Technology. It involves ways of communication that either enhance or replace verbal language. AAC devices vary widely with respect to their technological sophistication:

  • Low-tech systems. Simple paper or object based systems, i.e. do not require a battery (e.g., Talking Mats, Dry Erase Boards, Clipboards, 3-Ring Binders, Manila File Folders, Photo Albums, Laminated PCS/Photographs, Highlight tape).
  • Light-tech systems. Typically consisting of a digitized speech recorder with a touch-sensitive display pad and sometimes switch access. Lite-tech systems require a battery (e.g., Tape Recorder, Language Master, Overhead Projector, Timers, Calculators).
  • High-tech systems. Computerized VOCAs that vary from single purpose appliance-like systems to multipurpose computer-based communication aids. Typically high-tech systems require training and ongoing support to operate the devices (e.g., Video Cameras, Computers and Adaptive Hardware, Complex Voice Output Devices).

When combined with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) teaching methods[citation needed], AAC has improved communication skills in children with Autism.

Deafness and hearing loss

  • Audiometer
  • Fire alarm paging system
  • Loop system (portable and fixed)
  • Radio aids
  • Telecommunications device for the deaf
  • Teletext
  • Video cassette recorders that can read and record subtitles (Closed Captioning).
  • Vibrating fire alarm placed under pillow when asleep.
  • Door bell lighting system.


  • Wakamaru provides companionship, reminds users to take medicine and calls for help if something is wrong.
  • Telephone Reassurance: community based program that calls seniors at home ensuring their well-being.[7]
  • Cosmobot is part of a play therapy system designed to motivate children to participate in therapy.
  • General User Interface for Disorders of Execution (GUIDE) is an interactive verbal prompting system that talks people with cognitive impairment through daily routine tasks.[8]

Claims Since children with autism process visual information easier than auditory information, when utilizing assistive technology claims that any time we use these devices with these children, we're giving them information through their strongest processing area (visual). Therefore various types of technology from "low" tech to "high" tech, should be incorporated into every aspect of daily living in order to improve the functional capabilities of children with autism.

Benefits Regarding comprehension skills, increasing comprehension of tasks/activities/situations is essential in addressing skill areas such as organization, attending, self help, following directions, following rules and modifying behavior. As a result, the child becomes more independent. The following "low" tech visual support strategies can be created and used to benefit and assist the child in increasing his comprehension skills and thus decreasing the occurrence of challenging behaviors.

Consistent daily use of an individualized visual schedule will increase a child's organization skills and independent functioning throughout all aspects of his life and will ease transition through adulthood. There are numerous ways to present visual schedules for example an object schedule, 3-ring binder schedule, clipboard schedule, manila file folder schedules, and dry erase board schedules are all beneficial to increase a child's organization skills and independent functioning.

The use of a weekly/monthly calendar at both home and school can provide the child with important information regarding up-coming events/activities, rather than relying on auditory information. When the child asks when a particular event will occur, he can easily be referred to the visual calendar. Use of a visual calendar can also be helpful in assisting the child to understand when regularly scheduled events may not occur.

Outcomes In a pilot study, Researchers Lacava, Golan, Baron-Cohen, and Myles explored the use of assistive technology to teach emotion recognition to eight children with Autism and the results indicated that after intervention, participants improved on face and voice emotional recognition for basic and complex emotions that were in the software. As well as for complex voice emotional recognition for emotions not included in Mind Reading.

See also

  • Braille technology
  • Cognitive orthotics
  • Computer accessibility
  • Design for All
  • Design for All (in ICT)
  • Matching Person & Technology Model
  • OATS: Open Source Assistive Technology Software
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Web accessibility


  1. Chubon, R.A., Hester, M.R. (1988). An enhanced standard computer keyboard system for single-finger and typing-stick typing. Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development 25 (4): 17–24.
  2. Anson, D., George, S., Galup, R., Shea, B., Vetter, R. (2001). Efficiency of the Chubon versus the QWERTY keyboard. Assistive-Technology 13 (1): 40–5.
  3. PiTech
  4. Bates, Roger, Jones, Melanie (2003). Using Computer Software To Develop Switch Skills. 2003 [Technology and Persons with Disabilities] Conference Proceedings. URL accessed on 2007-02-08.
  5. Hawes, Paul, Blenkhorn, Paul (2002). Bridging the Gap between Aspiration and Capability for Aphasic and Brain Injured People. 2002 [Technology and Persons with Disabilities] Conference Proceedings. URL accessed on 2007-02-08.
  6. What is an electronic reading aid?. Royal National Institute of Blind People. URL accessed on 2010-02-23.
  7. Telephone Reassurance. Accessed 2009-08-06.
  8. Brian O'Neill, Kate Moran, Alex Gillespie (2010). Scaffolding rehabilitation behaviour using a voice mediated assistive technology for cognition. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation 18: 1–19.

Further reading

  • Behrmann, M., Schaff, J. (2001). Assisting educators with assistive technology: Enabling children to achieve independence in living and learning. Children and Families 42 (3): 24–8.
  • Bishop, J. (2003). The Internet for educating individuals with social impairments. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 19 (4): 546–556.
  • Cain, S. (2001). Accessing Technology — Using technology to support the learning and employment opportunities for visually impaired users, Royal National Institute for the Blind.
  • Cook, A., Hussey, S. (2002). Assistive Technologies — Principles and Practice, 2nd, Mosby.
  • (1995) Edwards, A. D. N. Extra-Ordinary Human-Computer Interaction: Interfaces for Users with Disabilities, New York: Cambridge University Press. (Also available as part of the CD-rom, Overcoming Barriers: Theory and Practice in Disability, Cambridge University Press, 1999).
  • Franklin, K.S. (1991). "Supported employment and assistive technology-A powerful partnership" S.L. Griffin, W.G. Revell Rehabilitation counselor desktop guide to supported employment, Richmond, VA: Virginia Commonwealth University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Supported Employment.
  • Van der Heijden, D. (2005). How Does Alternative Access to Computers Work?. Jun 26, 2007.
  • Lahm, E., & Morrissette, S. (1994, April). Zap 'em with assistive technology. Paper presented at the annual meeting of The Council for Exceptional Children, Denver, CO.
  • Lee, C. (1999). Learning disabilities and assistive technologies; an emerging way to touch the future, Amherst, MA: McGowan Publications.
  • McKeown, S. (2000). Unlocking Potential — How ICT can support children with special needs, The Questions Publishing Company Ltd.
  • Nisbet, P., Poon, P. (1998). Special Access Technology (Free Download), The CALL Centre, University of Edinburgh.
  • Nisbet, P., Spooner, R., Arthur, E., Whittaker P. (1999). Supportive Writing Technology (Free Download), The CALL Centre, University of Edinburgh.
  • Rose, D., Meyer, A. (2000). Universal design for individual differences. Educational Leadership 58 (3): 39–43.
  • Orpwood RD (Jan-Feb 1990). Design methodology for aids for the disabled. J Med Eng Technol 14 (1): 2–10.
  • Scherer, M. J. (2005). Living in the State of Stuck: How Assistive Technology Impacts the Lives of People with Disabilities, 4th, Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.
  • Scherer, M. J. (2004). Connecting to Learn: Educational and Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association (APA) Books.
  • (2002) Scherer, M. J. Assistive Technology: Matching Device and Consumer for Successful Rehabilitation, Washington, DC: APA Books.
  • Swann, J. I. (2007). Promoting independence and activity in older people, Quay Books.
  • Adlam, T., et al. (2004). The installation and support of internationally distributed equipment for people with dementia. IEEE Transactions on Information Technology in Biomedicine 8 (3): 253–7.
  • Poulson, David; Martin Ashby; Simon Richardson (eds.) (1996). userfit. A practical handbook on user-centred design for Assistive Technology. TIDE USER consortium.

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