Adaptive/Assistive Options

Children in electric wheelchairs playing power hockey
Percita (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Assistive Technology, or AT, is “any item, piece of equipment, or product system…that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability” (from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004, Statute IA 602(1) (PDF Document 275 KB)). This description applies whether the tool is bought commercially, or, is an already-owned device that has been changed or customized. AT can and should improve the quality of life and add to the independence of people with disabilities. Subtopics included under this topic are:

Types of Assistive Technology

There are many types of assistive technology available for different needs. Over 40,000 AT devices are on the market.

  • Aids for Daily Living - Items to enable more independence with Activities of Daily Living (ADL), such as bathing, carrying, grooming and dressing, feeding and drinking, reaching, toileting, and transferring.
  • Blind and Low Vision - Products that help vision, give non-visual alerts or message, and help with tasks despite low vision.
  • Communication - Devices to help with speech, writing, and other methods of communication (see Augmentative Communication (AAC)).
  • Computers - Accessories to enable use of desktop and laptop computers and other kinds of IT.
  • Controls - Mechanisms to start, stop or adjust electronic devices. (see Switches)
  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing - Items that augment hearing and give non-auditory alerts or messages (see Hearing Aids and Hearing Screening)
  • Deaf Blind - Products that enable or enhance alerting, communication, and task performance for individuals who are both deaf and blind.
  • Education - Aids to access educational materials and instruction in school and other learning environments.
  • Environmental Adaptations - Mechanisms that make one’s built environment more accessible, such as indoor and outdoor furniture, lifts, lighting, signs, and houses. (see Home Retro-fits)
  • Housekeeping - Items that aid in cooking, cleaning, and other household chores, as well as adapted appliances.
  • Orthotics - Braces and other items to support joints or limbs.
  • Prosthetics - Prostheses and other items for amputees.
  • Recreation - Items to aid with free time and activities (see Adaptive Skiing and Adaptive Cycling).
  • Safety and Security - Products to protect health and home, such as child-proof alarms and locks (monitors are included in the Therapeutic Aids category).
  • Seating - Products that help people to sit comfortably and safely at home and on the go; includes car seats.
  • Therapeutic Aids - Tools that aid in treatment for health problems and physical therapy.
  • Transportation - Vehicles, equipment, and accessories to enable people with disabilities to drive or ride in cars, vans, trucks and buses.
  • Walking - Products to aid walking or standing.
  • Wheeled Mobility - Wheelchairs, scooters and carts, and extras that enable moving freely indoors and outdoors (see Wheelchairs and Adapted Strollers).
  • Workplace - Tools to aid working.

The Medical Home Portal also has a section on medical technologies that replace or support a physiologic function, such as a ventilator for breathing, or feeding tubes for eating. See the Portal's Medical Technology section.

Choosing and Obtaining Assistive Technology

There are thousands of AT devices on the market today. Picking the right device with the best fit for the person, setting, and technology is a multi-step process that takes time. The information below can help you in the process of choosing and buying a device.

  1. State your main goal. What do you want to do with the AT device? What will the technology enable the user to do that they are now limited in doing?
  2. Assess the situation. Get input from the user, family members, school, medical professionals, co-workers, and caregivers—anyone who will frequently work with the user or the technology or has experience/expertise to offer. Think about the abilities and limitations of the user as well as the available technology choices. For how long will the device be needed or useful?
  3. Choose a device/system. Does the device represent the simplest, most efficient way to accomplish the task? Can it adapt to changing needs? Do the benefits provided by the device justify the cost? AT fairs may be a good chance to check out options.
  4. Select a vendor/dealer. An important thought in buying equipment should be the dealer’s responsiveness, professionalism, service, training, and technical support.
  5. Pursue funding. The costs of AT devices can be high. Finding help with funding may take great time and effort. Potential sources are your health insurance plan, public programs, charitable groups, and loans. Manufacturers or retailers may offer discounts on used or refurbished items. It is important to provide proper documentation and fill out forms correctly when seeking funding. Initial requests may be turned down, but appeals can be successful. Buying used devices can cut costs. See the "Seek Funding" section in Selecting and Obtaining Assistive Technology - UATP (PDF Document 308 KB) for more detailed information.
  6. Identify training needs. The user and anyone else who works with the device should get proper training. This may be provided by the dealer, a representative of the manufacturer, or a staff person from an educational or medical institution.
  7. Conduct follow-up. Short-term follow-up should be performed within a couple of months. Long-term re-evaluation should also be performed on a regular basis, perhaps once a year.

(This information is adapted and greatly condensed from the Utah Assistive Technology Program (UATP).)

Some important things to note:

  • Avoid running out to buy the “AT device of the month.” Test one out first.
  • Be objective and do not be pressured into buying a device.
  • Find the right team of “experts” to help decide what device to buy. Therapists, doctors, and educators can be helpful, as can other parents. There are also AT experts in many states (see Services below).
  • Before purchasing a device, consider the skills needed to use it to make sure the item is a good fit.
  • There are both high-tech and low-tech AT devices that make a real difference in the lives of individuals with disabilities. Sometimes low-tech devices do a better job at a lower cost.
  • One person’s idea of “low-tech” might be the same as another person’s idea of “high-tech.” Most of the time low-tech devices are simple to use and keep up, are easy to fix, and cost less. High-tech devices often have specialized engineering or technology and may be more costly to fix or replace. Tablets, like the iPad, are examples of a high-tech product that is very easy to use but high-priced to repair or replace.


Information & Support

For Parents and Patients

Assistive Devices (NICHD)
A description of different types of assistive devices with links to additional information and resources from the US Department of Health & Human Services' (HHS) National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

A commercial assistive technology device company that also gives age-appropriate ideas for using assistive technology.

Autism Speaks - Technology and Autism
Offers a national database for assistive tech resources all over the country.

ATIA – Assistive Technology Industry Association Funding Resources Guide
The ATIA Funding Resources Guide identifies various sources and resources that you can investigate and explore as prospective funding options. This list is not all-inclusive but can be a good place to begin or expand your funding research.

Services for Patients & Families in Ohio (OH)

For services not listed above, browse our Services categories or search our database.

* number of provider listings may vary by how states categorize services, whether providers are listed by organization or individual, how services are organized in the state, and other factors; Nationwide (NW) providers are generally limited to web-based services, provider locator services, and organizations that serve children from across the nation.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: December 2011; last update/revision: August 2023
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Jennifer Goldman, MD, MRP, FAAP
Contributing Author: Mindy Tueller, MS, MCHES
Reviewers: Abby Dumas
Tina Persels