Definitions and Categories of AT

Assistive Technology – A Definition

Assistive Technology (AT)
The term assistive technology refers to a broad range of devices and services and has a number of definitions, the ones used within this guide are taken from the Assistive Technology Act. United States Congress (2004) and acknowledged by the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Bank in 2011 in the publication World Report on Disability.

An Assistive Technology Device is defined as:
“any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.”

An Assistive Technology Service is defined as:
“any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition or use of an assistive technology device.”

While the definition uses the term “device”, it is important to recognise that assistive technology also includes software.


Electronic Assistive Technology (EAT)
The term electronic assistive technology has no clear definition; it tends to be used in two different ways:

  • The term electronic assistive technology can be used to describe an item, product, or system that is electronically powered (mains electricity and/or battery), often described as high-tech assistive technology, that fall within the definition of an assistive technology device.
  • Electronic assistive technology is often used as a “catch-all” generic term to describe a service provision (e.g. EAT Service) that incorporates one or more of the following service examples:
    • Environmental Control Service
    • Wheelchair Service (incorporating powered wheelchair control systems)
    • Communication Aids Service
    • Computer Access and Control Interface  Service
    • Telecare/Telehealth Service

The list of services above are just examples, an EAT service may include any number of assistive technology categories that incorporate high-tech AT.


Categories of Assistive Technology

Due to the broad spectrum of assistive technology there are different categories (groupings) for AT devices/products. The main AT categories are listed below, the names may differ in some listings but the general groupings tend to be similar:

  • Aids for Daily Living (ADL)
  • Environmental Controls (EC)
  • Mobility
  • Seating and Positioning
  • Communication Aids (Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC))
  • Computer Access
  • Blindness and Visual Impairment (VI)
  • Deafness and Hearing Impairment (HI)
  • Telecare/Telehealth
  • Cognition and Learning Disabilities
  • Recreation and Leisure
  • Prosthetics and Orthotics
  • Vehicle Modifications
  • Architecture and Universal/Inclusive Design

Some services include more than one category in their service offering e.g. A Wheelchair Service may incorporate Mobility, Seating and Posture, and some aspects of Environmental Control such as, integrated wheelchair controls that can enable an electric wheelchair user to open doors, turn on/off lights, access computers, TV and/or entertainment systems via an adapted wheelchair controller.

Aids for Daily Living (ADL or AfDL)

Aids for daily living are devices and aids that promote independence in activities such as cooking, eating, dressing, toileting, bathing and other daily activities in and around the home for people who may have disabilities and/or problems with dexterity, strength, stamina, or other limiting condition.

Examples: Medication organizer/dispenser, extended shoe horn, raised toilet seat, grab bar, adapted cooking and eating utensils, bottle cap and jar lid opener, zipper pull, adapted table.

Environmental Control (EC)

Environmental Control refers to the technology and equipment that enables people with disabilities to control home adaptations (also school and work adaptations) and electrical appliances from a single controller or computer based systems, configured with appropriate access method (input device) for the user.

Examples of home adaptations are things such as: turning on lights, electronic door opener/entry system, window opener, alarm/call system. Examples of electric appliances are TVs, entertainment systems, hands free telecom/telephone system, and most things that can be controlled by an infra-red remote control unit.

Environmental Control home adaptations  and control technology would be tailored and set-up for the specific needs and access capability of the user. The use of EC systems can enhance independence and dignity, and reduce dependency on family members and care services.


Any piece of equipment that helps to increase personal mobility and independence.

Examples: Wheelchairs (manual and powered), walkers, standing frame, stair lift, mobility scooters.

Seating and Positioning

People with physical disabilities often require adaptive seating and/or positioning systems, these are often accommodations to a wheelchair or other seating system, at home or in the workplace, to provide greater body stability, trunk/head support, improved posture, and reduced pressure on the skin surface.

Examples:  Adapted or alternate chair, bespoke seating system (design and provision), custom fitted wheelchair, seat inserts, contour seats, lumber supports, cushions, adapted desk/table, non-slip surface on chair,

Communication Aids (Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC))

Electronic and non-electronic devices that provide a means for expressive communication for people with limited or no speech. There are many high technology and low technology aids available.

Examples: Voice Output Communication Aid (VOCA), computer based communication system and software (dynamic screen display), communication boards/books/wallets/flash cards, eye gaze board, simple single and multi message device (e.g. single or multi switch operation), text to speech device. 

Computer Access

A variety of technology solutions and accessibility aids (hardware and software) and computer peripherals (input and output devices) are available to aid computer and technology access for people with physical disabilities, cognitive difficulties or sensory impairments.

Examples: Alternative keyboards, key guards, alternative mice, keyboard filters/typing aids, joysticks, trackballs, touch screen, sip-and-puff system, on-screen keyboard, touch pads, reading tools and learning disabilities programs, refreshable Braille displays, screen enlargers/screen magnifiers, screen readers, text-to-speech (TTS)/speech synthesisers.

Blindness and Visual Impairment (VI)

Electronic and non-electronic devices that assist people with visual impairment or blindness, including aids or systems to access, enhance, interpret, record and retrieve visual and print information.

Examples: Screen magnifiers, screen readers for computers (software), Braille writers, page scanner with speech synthesizer, high contrast materials, tactile alerting system, refreshable Braille displays (tactile output from computer), electronic audio player/recorder, voice recognition and dictation software.

Deafness and Hearing Impairment (HI)

Hearing and listening aids are devices that make it easier for people who are partially or fully deaf to better appreciate the world around them to aid hearing and/or perception of sound. 

Examples: Telephone amplifier, hearing aid, visual alerting system, text telephone, TV with subtitles generator, audio loop systems.


Telecare involves the use of personal and environmental sensors in the home to enable an individual to remain safe and independent. The equipment provides continuous, automatic, and/or remote monitoring of care needs and either triggers human response or shuts down equipment to prevent hazards.

Telehealth involves the remote monitoring of an individuals health, such as physiological information transferred via mobile or telecommunications equipment to a health professional to assist in the diagnosis or monitoring of a health condition.

Examples: Personal SOS alarm, smoke detector, fall detector, motion sensors/home monitoring system, flood/water overflow sensor.

Cognition and Learning Disabilities

Generally includes computer software for both school age and older people that helps to focus on categorisation, matching, association, reasoning, decision making, problem solving, memory skills, perceptual skills, word processing, word prediction, cognitive retraining or rehabilitation tools, etc.

New software and apps for tablet computers are constantly evolving and becoming available for general population use as well as education, special needs, and self development.

Recreation and Leisure

People with physical, sensory,and intellectual disabilities require assistive technology in order to participate more fully in appropriate recreation and leisure activities. A range of low technology and high technology solutions are available, both off-the-shelf products and adapted devices.

Examples: Switch adapted toys, adapted games consoles for video games, adapted access for computer based software and social media, powered recreational wheelchair, book readers, environmental controls for access to TV, videos, MP3 players etc.    

Prosthetics and Orthotics

Prosthetic equipment is a device or system that replaces or compensates for a missing or disabled body part (amputee or limb deficiency).

Orthotics can be a support, brace, or splint used to support, align, prevent, or correct the function of moving parts of the body.

Examples: Artificial limb (passive or active arm or leg), orthopaedic shoe or insert, splints, braces, supports, foot orthosis, helmets.

Vehicle Modifications

Includes modified cars and vans for personal transportation with adapted driving aids such as adapted hand/foot controls, access modifications, and wheelchair ramps and lift - for both sole access and as a passenger.

Example: A van with adapted controls for upper limb access (e.g. hand operated breaks and accelerator), and a lift to accommodate a person who uses a wheelchair.

Architecture and Universal/Inclusive Design

Universal or Inclusive Design is to do with designing and producing products and environments that are easily accessible by all people, inclusive of older people and people with disabilities.

While not necessarily assistive technology, much of the design(s) may include aspects of AT such as light switches with large flat panels rather than small toggle switches, use of surface texture, lighting, audio and visual cues and aids, ramps, wide access points, and many other product and architectural ideas to make environments fully inclusive.

Acronym’s and Terminology

AAC - Augmentative and Alternative Communication

ADL or AfDL - Aids for Daily Living

Apps - Applications or programs for smartphones and tablets

ASD - Autism Spectrum Disorder

AT - Assistive Technology

EAT - Electronic Assistive Technology

EC - Environmental Control

ECU - Environmental Control Unit

HI - Hearing Impairment, Hearing Impaired

ICT - Information and Communications Technology

VI - Visual Impairment

SEN - Special Educational Needs

VOCA - Voice Output Communication Aid

Web - World Wide Web (The Internet)

Low-Tech - A non-technological, or simple mechanically operated, piece of equipment or device

High-Tech - A complex device that is electronic or computer based, or has an electromechanical operation