What is Assistive Technology anyway?

What is Assistive Technology

For people without disabilities, technology makes things easier. For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible.

laptop with gear an wrench on screen

What is Assistive Technology (AT)


Assistive technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.”

The term does not include a medical device that is surgically implanted, or the replacement of such device.

AT Laws - A look into the history

  • “Technology Related Assistance Act” of 1988 – Also known as the ‘Tech Act.” The first piece of legislation to define AT devices and services
  • 1994 – Revisions and amendments were made to the Tech Act. Refocused on systems change and required individual advocacy activities; added Alternative Financing Programs
  • 1998 – Extension of existing law
  • 2002-2004 – override of the sunset provision – level funding
  • 2004 – major overhaul to legislation, resulting in the Assistive Technology Act that is still in place today. Focus is on putting AT in consumer’s hands
  • TODAY: AT Act Programs in all states, DC, and territories; still not fully funded

Where can we use AT?

School                      work                    Home                    Community                   

         School                                        Work                                            Home                                   Community

Services and Devices

Assistive Technology is broken down into two fundamental parts: Devices and Services.

AT Device

An AT device is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of a person with a disability. This will be covered more in-depth further along in this web-based learning opportunity.

AT Services

Any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. (34 CRF 300.6)

  • Evaluation of AT needs
  • Purchasing, leasing, or providing for the acquisition of AT
  • Adaptation/Modification: Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, or adapting AT devices
  • Coordination of Therapies
  • Training: Consumer – Family – Professionals
  • Maintenance, Repair & Replacement

Why AT

When and Why consider AT?

If you think that you or a loved one could improve their ability with a little extra assistance from technology, it is time to consider assistive technology.

Important Questions

  • The first question to ask is “What CAN the person/student do?”
  • Then ask:
  • What does the person/student want/need to do?
  • What is working?
  • What is not working? (maybe AT can help!)
  • Considered: “given careful and deliberate thought”

Meet Nick: How Nick uses AT in his Everyday Life

What is TechOWL

Who We Are

TechOWL - Technology for Our Whole Lives(formerly PIAT) helps people with disabilities explore the tools and technology they need to be independent. TechOWL is Pennsylvania's Assistive Technology Act program. TechOWL has 9 regional centers across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

We have many different programs and projects including:

  • A statewide technology Lending Library - "try before you buy"
  • Answering questions and providing information to Pennsylvanians about Assistive Technology
  • Demonstrations to help people find the best technology to fit their needs
  • Training and events
  • ReUse accepting donations and finding homes for lightly used equipment
  • Free Special Phones for people who can’t use a typical phone
  • iCanConnect for people with both vision and hearing loss
TechOWL is part of the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University. To find out more about us, please visit our website or contact us at TechOWL@temple.edu

Office Hours

Monday - Friday from 8:30 am - 4:30 pm

  • Phone - 800.204.7428
  • Email - ATinfo@temple.edu
  • Chat with the icon on the bottom right corner of the screen when on our website.