Assistive technology (AT) is equipment that helps people with disabilities or special needs to perform tasks. It can be used at home, at school or work, or while traveling. Assistive technology includes devices such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, and cochlear implants, computers and software, communication devices like text telephones (TTYs), and software that allows people with disabilities to use mainstream products such as laptops.
Assistive technology differs from adaptive equipment because it is designed to reduce or eliminate a disability rather than compensate for it. Adaptive equipment is often used by people who have temporary injuries or illnesses. For example, someone who has broken their leg may use crutches until they heal. The person would not continue to use crutches after getting better because they aren't needed anymore; instead of assisting people with disabilities, adaptive equipment simply compensates for them.
There are many different kinds of AT available today. Examples include:
- screen readers for those who are blind or visually impaired;
- text-to-speech software for those who are deaf or hard of hearing;
- braille displays and refreshable braille devices for those who are blind;
- alternative keyboards for those with physical limitations in their fingers or hands;
- manual wheelchairs for people who use wheelchairs as assistive devices; and
- computerized translation software for people who have difficulty reading text on a computer screen.