assistive technologies

Wheelchair basketball

Adaptive technologies – technology used by individuals with disabilities to perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. Assistive technology can include mobility devices such as walkers and wheelchairs, as well as hardware, software, and peripherals that assist people with disabilities in accessing computers or other information technologies.

  • keyboard with large keys or a special mouse to operate a computer
  • software that reads text on the screen in a computer-generated voice.
  • software that enlarges screen content
  • TTY (text telephone)
  • device that speaks out loud text entered via a keyboard

Assistive devices

  • tool for buttoning shirts, specialized eating utensils, remote controls or telephones with huge numbers/buttons, wheelchair, crutches
  • containers approved by the Arthritis Foundation, for example the Folger’s AromaSeal Canister – look for items with their symbol


  • mobility
  • vision
  • speech
  • hearing

Handicapped Symbol Gets a Facelift – Rather than depict a static person in a wheelchair, the new icon displays an active, in-motion version of life with a physical disability.

What do you think?

A Spoon for People With Parkinson’s (video 1:50) – hand tremors that accompany Parkinson’s Disease, make eating difficult. The Lift Ware spoon counteracts the movements of a wavering grip, reducing the shaking by 70 percent. more…

One important area of engineering and design thinking is to extend limited abilities to be more inclusive. “Constraints are always generative for designers,” |Hendren said, “and this set of constraints—digging deeply into all kinds of atypicalities, less visible conditions, psycho-social challenges, and the many varied experiences of aging—is a still largely untapped area of design research and development.

  • What is the problem that designers are trying to overcome? How would this help someone with Parkinson’s Disease?
  • Where are other applications of shake reduction software and hardware? How can these be adapted to an eating utensil?
  • What are some of the features that are nice to have in an eating utensil?
  • What other versions are being considered?

Engineering ideas

  • design, tremor, damping, recharging

Do it
Now it is your turn. Here are some challenges for you to work on…

  • research several assistive or adaptive devices. Why did someone invent this? Look at the device and figure out what the inventor’s purposes was in developing the device. What might the inventor(s) been considering when s/he developed and tested the device? Suggest possible specifications and needs that went into the engineering design process.
  • loss of opposable thumb. Put on gloves such that the thumb is not inserted into the glove. Tape down the thumb to disable its movement. Pick up a penny, close a zipper, button a jacket , tie a shoe and open an empty child-proof bottle.
  • moderately or severely diminished eyesight – Tape layers of scotch tape over the glasses lenses to make them hard to see through. With impairment glasses, read from different medicine bottles, school books, posters in the room or a medical eye chart. Try to put together a picture of a famous person or building that you have previously cut into 9 equal parts.
  • wheelchair – How do you reach something if you have to be seated all the time? Tasks include reaching for a cup on a shelf, picking up something small/low to the ground, carrying a plastic cup of water (without holding it between legs), moving while something bulky that does not fit in one’s lap (such as a guitar case, a huge beach ball or an empty cardboard box).
  • crutches – carry one (large) book while traveling from one end of the room to the other. Then again with three (large) books. Try again while carrying a plastic cup filled with water. Compare this disability to the wheelchair attempting to carry a guitar case, a large suitcase, a pile of books, or a plastic cup of water.
  • Portable Wheelchair Ramp challenge – design, build and test small-scale portable wheelchair ramp prototypes for fictional clients. They identify suitable materials and demonstrate two methods of representing design solutions (scale drawings and simple models or classroom prototypes). Students test the ramp prototypes using a weighted bucket; successful prototypes meet all the student-generated design requirements, including support of a predetermined weight.

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