Rehabilitative technology can help restore or improve function in people who have developed a disability due to disease, injury, or aging. Appropriate assistive technology often helps people with disabilities compensate, at least in part, for a limitation.
For example, assistive technology enables students with disabilities to compensate for certain impairments. This specialized technology promotes independence and decreases the need for other support.1
Rehabilitative and assistive technology can enable individuals to:
- Care for themselves and their families
- Learn in typical school environments and other educational institutions
- Access information through computers and reading
- Enjoy music, sports, travel, and the arts
- Participate fully in community life
Assistive technology also benefits employers, teachers, family members, and everyone who interacts with people who use the technology.
As assistive technologies become more commonplace, people without disabilities are benefiting from them. For example, people for whom English is a second language are taking advantage of screen readers. Older individuals are using screen enlargers and magnifiers.2
The person with a disability, along with his or her caregivers and a team of professionals and consultants, usually decide which type of rehabilitative or assistive technology would be most helpful. The team is trained to match particular technologies to specific needs to help the person function better or more independently. The team may include family doctors, regular and special education teachers, speech-language pathologists, rehabilitation engineers, occupational therapists, and other specialists, including representatives from companies that manufacture assistive technology.3
What conditions may benefit from assistive devices?
Some disabilities are quite visible, while others are “hidden.” Most disabilities can be grouped into the following categories4:
- Cognitive disability: intellectual and learning disabilities/disorders, distractibility, reading disorders, inability to remember or focus on large amounts of information
- Hearing disability: hearing loss or impaired hearing
- Physical disability: paralysis, difficulties with walking or other movement, inability to use a computer mouse, slow response time, difficulty controlling movement
- Visual disability: blindness, low vision, color blindness
- Mental conditions: post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, psychosis
Hidden disabilities are those that might not be immediately apparent when you look at someone. They can include visual impairments, movement problems, hearing impairments, and mental health conditions.4
Some medical conditions may also contribute to disabilities or may be categorized as hidden disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, epilepsy; diabetes; sickle cell conditions; HIV/AIDS; cystic fibrosis; cancer; and heart, liver, or kidney problems may lead to problems with mobility or daily function, and may be viewed as disabilities under the law. The conditions may be short term or long term; stable or progressive; constant or unpredictable; and changing, treatable, or untreatable. Many people with hidden disabilities can benefit from assistive technologies for certain activities or during certain stages of their diseases or conditions.5 Visit https://www.ada.gov/ada_intro.htm for more information about the ADA.
People who have spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, osteogenesis imperfecta, multiple sclerosis, demyelinating diseases, myelopathy, progressive muscular atrophy, amputations, or paralysis often benefit from complex rehabilitative technology. The assistive devices are individually configured to help each person with his or her own unique disability.6
For more information about conditions that may benefit from assistive technology, visit the following resources:
- MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine, provides information about assistive devices for various conditions.
- The Paralysis Resource Center provided by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation explains some of the different paralytic conditions that can benefit from assistive technology.
- The LD Online website contains information on the use of assistive technologies for children with learning disabilities.
- The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website includes blog posts, articles, brochures, and other resources about hearing assistive technology.
- The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides information on assistive technology for people with various conditions, including muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy.
- Center for Parent Information and Resources. (2018). Considering assistive technology. Retrieved September 24, 2018, from http://www.parentcenterhub.org/considering-at/
- Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America. (2015). Assistive technology for all. Retrieved July 1, 2017, from http://www.resna.org/blog/assistive-technology-all
- Assistive Technology Industry Association. (n.d.). What is AT? Retrieved July 1, 2017, from http://www.atia.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3859#What_is_AT_
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Disability overview. Retrieved August 30, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/disability.html
- Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute. (2011). Assistive technology, accommodations and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Retrieved September 12, 2018, from https://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1296&context=edicollect (PDF 271 KB)
- National Coalition for Assistive & Rehab Technology. (2009). Complex rehab technology definition. Retrieved July 1, 2017, from http://www.ncart.us/uploads/userfiles/files/CRT%20Definition%206-1-14.pdf (PDF 103 KB)