Assistive Technology

Assistive technology refers to hardware and software designed to help people with disabilities. Some types of assistive technology provide physical assistance, while others provide helpful aids for individuals with learning disabilities.

Examples of common assistive devices include hearing aids, wheelchairs, and prosthetics. Hearing aids amplify sound, helping individuals who have difficulty hearing. Modern hearing aids even filter out background noise and clarify speech, making conversation easier. Wheelchairs provide mobility for individuals who are unable to walk. Motorized wheelchairs provide a means of transportation for people with limited upper body function. Prosthetics can replace missing body limbs, such as arms or legs. Some modern prosthetics even allow people to control appendages, such as the fingers on a prosthetic hand.

Software designed to help individuals with physical limitations is often called "Accessibility" software. Popular operating systems, such as Windows, OS X, and iOS include several accessibility features. Some examples include:

  • Text to Speech - A computer can speak text for people with visual impairments. It also provides a way for mute individuals to communicate with others.
  • Speech to Text - Also called dictation, this feature translates spoken words into text for people who have difficulty using a keyboard. Some operating systems allow users to speak common commands such as opening or quitting programs.
  • Voiceover - Some operating systems can speak descriptions of items when the user selects them or moves the cursor over them.
  • Screen Zoom - Keyboard shortcuts can be used to zoom into different areas of the screen, increasing the size of text and images.
  • Display Enhancements - Inverting colors and increasing contrast can make it easier for individuals with limited vision to see the screen.

Assistive software may also be designed for educational purposes. For example, a specialized reading program may help students with dyslexia. Math tutor programs can provide a way for students to learn mathematical concepts at a comfortable pace. Memory applications can help individuals with brain injuries restore their memorization capabilities.

NOTE: While not designed as assistive technology, touchscreen devices such as tablets are commonly used as assistive devices since they provide a natural user interface.

Updated October 21, 2014

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