An assistive technology program is any consumer-focused program designed to provide education, access, and advocacy regarding the use of assistive technologies by individuals with disabilities. By definition, assistive technology is a category that includes any type of equipment, item, or system intended to aid in the functioning of individuals who have disabilities. Programs of this kind are intended to support people with disabilities so that they are able to participate without significant limitation in any aspect of society, from education to careers and independent life choices. Frequently, an assistive technology program is offered on a regional basis.
The services of this type of program could include a range of offerings, such as demonstrations of specific assistive devices, individual case assessments, or educating the public about the importance of assistive technologies. In some areas, an assistive technology program might allow an individual to borrow an assistive device to personally evaluate its potential effectiveness in serving his or her needs. Some programs have an exchange system that allows people to buy and sell used assistive devices. Often, a program of this kind provides consultant services to schools or other organizations to aid in problem-solving regarding the need for assistive devices.
Services provided by an assistive technology program can vary by region. Many of these programs offer free services to qualifying individuals, as well as a menu of fee-based options. When necessary, assistive technology programs also refer individuals with disabilities to external agencies that can provide other types of support. Populations served by an assistive technology program might include adults, children, or elderly individuals with disabilities; the families of individuals who have disabilities; and professionals in fields where disabilities are a key focus, such as education, health care, and social services.
As of 2012, it was estimated that more than 20 percent of Americans have a disability that impairs their functioning to some degree. Many individuals with disabilities rely on the use of assistive technologies for effective daily functioning. Types of assistive technology can range from custom computer-based devices to wheelchairs, grab bars, custom seating devices, vehicle adaptations, and other mechanical aids. Devices might be intended to augment speech, enhance vision, increase safety, aid in ease of movement, assist with cognition and learning, or control elements in the person's environment. The specific nature of any assistive technology device depends on the needs of the individual person.