Can information technology function as assistive technology?
"Information technology" (IT) is "any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of equipment, that is used in the automatic acquisition, storage, manipulation, management, movement, control, display, switching, interchange, transmission, or reception of data or information. Information technology includes computers, ancillary equipment, software, firmware and similar procedures, services (including support services), and related resources."
"Assistive technology" (AT) is "any item, piece of equipment, or system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is commonly used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities." AT includes a computer, software, a wheelchair, a van lift, an alternative keyboard, or a hand splint if it is used to enhance the functional capabilities of a person with a disability.
The same electronic tool can, in some situations, be both IT and AT. For example, a laptop computer is information technology. However, if the laptop computer is purchased to help a student with a disability write because he cannot hold or manipulate a pen, it is assistive technology as well. Similarly, a text-to speech software program purchased for a person who is blind is both AT because of its specific use and IT because it meets the definition of information technology. To determine if IT is also AT, rather than focus on the tool itself (for example, a computer or software), consider its function in a specific situation. If its purpose is to compensate for a limited function or provide access to information that a person with a disability may otherwise be unable to access using standard equipment or procedures, it is AT.
Other examples of IT functioning as AT include the following:
- A PDA or smart phone used by a person with a memory impairment to remind her of scheduled events. In this case, the information technology (the PDA or smart phone) functions as a memory prosthetic (AT) to improve the functional capabilities of the person with a cognitive disabiity.
- A web version of a book used by a person with limited use of his hands and arms as an alternative to the printed version because he is unable to turn the pages of a printed book.
For definitions and more information on assistive technology and information technology, consult the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards and the following AccessIT Knowledge Base articles: