If you’ve ever wondered about assistive technology (AT)’s meaning is, then you should know it refers to any tool, device, or system that helps people with disabilities do things they would otherwise be unable to. AT can range from simple, low-tech devices like canes and wheelchairs to complex, high-tech devices like robotic arms and brain-computer interfaces.

AT can be a vital part of enabling people with disabilities to live full and independent lives. It can help them participate in all aspects of society and reach their full potential. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 2.5 billion people worldwide need one or more assistive products. They predict this figure to rise to 3.5 billion by 2050.

Read More about Assistive Technology

Explore assistive technology’s meaning more profoundly by reading about its history, types, and examples here.

When Was the First Assistive Technology Invented?

Pinpointing the first AT ever invented can be challenging since it may have already existed since the time of early civilization. For example, our prehistoric ancestors around 424 BC may have already used walking sticks and crutches as mobility aids. They may also have used magnifying glasses made of polished crystal to help them read. All these are considered assistive materials that fall under AT.

That said, many experts consider Braille as the first AT. Braille is a universal writing and reading system for visually impaired people. Invented by Louis Braille in 1824, the system remains in use today.

What Are the Different Types of Assistive Technology?

AT can be categorized based on the functionality it provides. Below are some of the most common types and examples of AT.

types pf assistive technology
  • Assistive technology for cognition (ATC): ATC assists people with cognitive issues to remember, focus, and navigate easily. Talking word processors, text readers, notetakers, and other educational software that help them learn are examples of ATC. 
  • Assistive technology for the deaf and hard of hearing: Hearing aids are the most common AT that helps people with hearing impairments. However, modern technology has paved the way for assistive listening devices that minimize background noises so people with hearing problems can focus on a specific speaker.
  • Assistive eating devices: This type of AT includes large utensils specifically designed to make them easier to hold. These days, feeding devices are already available to help people with disabilities feed themselves independently.
  • Computer accessibility: Since people with disabilities may have difficulty using computers, specialized software and hardware were developed to help them. Some examples include screen enlargement applications and voice recognition programs.
  • Mobility aids: This technology ranges from wheelchairs and walkers to prostheses and exoskeletons. A prosthesis is any device that replaces a body part. An exoskeleton, meanwhile, is a machine that can be worn all over one’s body, supporting the shoulder, waist, and thigh and allowing a user to lift heavy objects without stressing his/her back.
  • Visual aids: We talked about Braille as one of the earliest forms of AT for the visually impaired. Aside from it, visual aids can include screen magnifiers, large-print keyboards, and wearable devices.

How Does Assistive Technology Differ from Adaptive Technology?

AT and adaptive technology are both used to describe devices and services that help people with disabilities live more independently. However, there is a subtle difference between the two.

AT is a more general term that refers to any device or service that can help people with disabilities. It includes devices specifically designed for people with disabilities and devices that people with and without disabilities can use. For example, a wheelchair is an AT developed for people with mobility impairments. A computer with speech-to-text software is also an AT, even though people with and without disabilities can use it.

On the other hand, adaptive technology is a subset of assistive technology, meaning it refers to devices and services specifically designed for people with disabilities. An example is a vehicle modified to enable a person with a disability to drive. A Braille watch is another example since it modified existing technology to fit the needs of the visually impaired.

Key Takeaways

  • AT is any tool, device, or system that helps people with disabilities do things they would otherwise not be able to.
  • AT can range from simple, low-tech devices like canes and wheelchairs to complex, high-tech devices like robotic arms and brain-computer interfaces.
  • AT can enable people with disabilities to live full and independent lives.
  • According to WHO, more than 2.5 billion people worldwide need one or more assistive products.
  • The first AT is believed to be Braille, although ancient people may have already used early forms of AT, like walking sticks and magnifying glasses made of polished crystals.
  • Adaptive technology is a subset of AT that refers to modifying existing technologies to fit the needs of people with disabilities.