For years, people thought of Assistive Technology (AT) as being complex, and usually expensive, gadgetry like power wheelchairs that only a very small minority of people would ever use. Sadly, this perception of AT that fails to capture the full scope of what it means to utilize AT for people with disabilities. Realistically speaking, AT is a tool used to simplify a person’s life. You do not limit the concept of a tool to an arc welder, and it may be as simple as a hammer. The same analysis needs to be applied when considering AT.
Generally speaking, for individuals with a disability, AT is defined as "any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a person with a disability.” So, for the individual who might otherwise tend to forget to take medication, that simple pill box is AT for that individual. So, when we note that November is Assistive Technology Month we are trying to get people to understand that AT broadly acts to improve people’s lives, and it not a mere push for complicated and expensive devices.
The importance of everybody understanding this broad definition of AT is far reaching. For example, virtually everybody has a cell phone these days, and many employers restrict use of such devices at work settings. However, if a person has a disability where “journaling” can assist in limiting the impact of the disability, an app on a cellphone that permits journaling may be a form of AT which could give rise to a “reasonable accommodation” in that work setting to be able to use the cellphone notwithstanding the usual restriction. The point is that by both the individual and the employer knowing the broad reach of AT, they both may benefit.
As a practical matter, it is important to both recognize and celebrate this broad concept of AT. By recognizing that AT is not simply something huge and expensive, we are more likely to integrate the use of AT into the everyday activities of people with disabilities. In effect, understanding and celebrating AT makes everybody’s life more enjoyable, not just people with disabilities. So, say it loudly: November is Assistive Technology month!