Getting to Know Assistive Technology

Resources for no-, low-, mid-, and high-tech options
Friday, February 16, 2018 - 08:11

Expert Contributor: Kit Piltingsrud, Program Manager and Assistive Technology Professional, Living Well Disability Services

Assistive technology devices can either be created at home, purchased and used off the shelf, modified, and/or customized to meet individual goals and needs. From low-tech options such as toy or game modification to high-tech devices that include voice recognition or elopement monitors, assistive technology is empowering those with disabilities to live, work, and play in the most independent way possible.

What’s the difference between no-, low-, mid-, and high-tech?

No-Tech:  No-Tech solutions make use of procedures, services, and existing conditions in the environment and don’t involve the use of special devices or equipment. Examples include pencil grips, colored paper, extra time for testing, and the use of a scribe, reader, or interpreter.

Low-Tech: Low-Tech devices are simple devices that have few mechanical parts and don’t require a power source. They include adapted spoon handles, adapted pens, canes, non-tipping drink cups, magnifying glasses, eyeglasses, and Velcro fasteners.  At most, only limited training would be necessary to use these devices. 

Mid-Tech: Mid-Tech devices are relatively complicated mechanical devices that may require a power source but don’t contain sophisticated electronic systems. These devices include manual wheelchairs, talking calculators, adapted computer keyboards and mice. The operation of mid-tech devices requires some training and technical knowledge. 

High-Tech: High-Tech devices are often computer-based systems that incorporate sophisticated electronics. These devices are complicated to use and require extensive training, technical knowledge, and access to technical support.  Due to their sophisticated electronics, high-tech devices are often much more expensive than other technologies.  Examples include speech recognition software, eye gaze-controlled computers, closed caption televisions (CCTV), power wheelchairs, and environmental control units.

What types of Assistive Technology are out there?

There are several common categories in which assistive technology devices may be grouped, including (but not limited to):

Aids for Daily Living – Aids for use with daily tasks such as dressing, eating, cooking, bathing, etc

Environmental Controls – Electronic and non-electronic aids that help control items like lights, appliances, TV, air/heat

Mobility – Aids to assist individuals with limited to no mobility such as wheelchairs, automatic page turners, chair lifts, or hand controls

Seating and Positioning – Aids to assist with comfort and positioning including seat cushions, wheelchairs, adaptable work stations, vertical standers

Communication Aids – Verbal and non-verbal communication aids such as pointers, picture boards, type-to-talk or text-to-speech devices

Computer Access – Computer operation aids such as word prediction, keyguard, programmable keyboards, modified mice, screen readers, or voice recognition software

Blindness and Visual Impairment – Aids assisting those with vision loss or low-vision such as screen readers, video magnifiers, and braille watches

Deafness and Hearing Impairment – Assistive devices for all levels of hearing loss such as amplifiers, listening devices, or alert systems

Cognition and Learning Disabilities – Materials, devices, or programs that make an education curriculum accessible to students with disabilities such as raised line paper, talking calculators, scan and read programs, text-to-audio systems, and symbol based adaptive keyboards

Recreation and Leisure – Assistive technology providing opportunities for individuals to benefit from play, sports, and the arts, such as adaptive sporting equipment and games, or arm supports for drawing/painting

Vehicle Modification – Aids to help in vehicle operation such as modified hand controls, wheelchair lifts, power seats, and adjusted pedals

Finding the Right Device

When assessing possible AT solutions, providers will perform an initial evaluation and begin exploring options beginning with no-tech, low-tech, and mid-tech before recommending high-tech solutions. This will help achieve an ideal person/technology match and helps ensure the most cost-effective solution is being utilized.

Below are a few Minnesota resources that showcase and/or loan out assistive technology tools and devices to help individuals achieve a more independent lifestyle.

Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute on Pinterest

Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute has put together Pinterest Boards showcasing many assistive technology options.  From medication reminders to home assistants, and even DIY assistive technology devices including homemade styluses, playing card holders, or grips to make holding a pen or pencil easier, the Boards showcase numerous items and devices to help increase self-sufficiency for those living with disabilities.

View Courage Kenny Assistive Technology on Pinterest 

PACER Simon Technology Center Lending Library

The Simon Technology Center Lending Library houses more than 1700 assistive technology items and devices that are available for individuals and families to borrow and try out before making a purchase. This allows individuals to find the right fit for them without having to purchase each piece of equipment they may be interested in.

Learn more about the Lending Library and membership options

Minnesota STAR Program

The Minnesota STAR program is federally funded by the Department of Health and Human Services. The STAR program offers device demonstrations, exchanges, loans, re-utilization, and more.

Learn more about the Minnesota STAR program


More Informational Guides

After having the initial conversation about technology supports and then making a plan to implement that technology, individuals, families, providers, and case managers often find themselves at odds with forms and paperwork. This at best slows down the whole process and at worst can halt it completely. Never fear, we’ll take you through the process and help you get your projects back on track.

A proven way to increase both independence and privacy of the person served, this newer monitoring practice is called Alternate Overnight Supervision and can be utilized following a formal assessment of the individual and once informed consent has been given by the person served. Along with obtaining an AOST (Alternate Overnight Supervision Technology) License, defined policies and procedures must be in place.

With newly implemented technology support strategies, it is important to measure the success, not only for persons-served and staff, but the financial success as well. To get a full look at the impact technology supports have had on an organization, providers should consider several key factors when assessing the financial output and associated benefits of the plan in place to determine cost effectiveness.

Gaining organizational buy-in for change can be difficult, but it doesn’t need to be.

You believe in the power of technology and the benefits it creates for everyday living—for everyone.

Assistive technologies like voice-generated searches, hover recognition, and refreshable braille displays have made notable strides in recent years, and significantly contributed to promoting independence for those living with physical or cognitive disabilities—all the more reason, then, to make sure your home network is adequately protected. Keeping assistive technology secure is a positive step towards reinforcing independence and privacy.

Being a part of an organization that utilizes all available resources to assist not only those you help support, but the staff and overall operations of the compan

Technology advances in the last decade have had an unprecedented, positive impact on the daily lives of most Americans; however, the world of support for Americans with disabilities has remained largely untouched by the use of emerging technologies. That is poised to change.

One of the greatest features on Facebook that allows like-minded people to connect outside of their inner circle is groups. A Facebook group is a page that can be created for an organization or business to promote activities or for a specific topic that enthusiasts can learn more about and contribute to the conversation.