Assistive Technology

Ironman (the comic book character) had a disabled heart; he created an arc reactor device to enable him to live.  Using this high tech pacemaker, Ironman was able to not only survive but achieve great accomplishments and help all of humanity.  Assistive devices come in many forms and shapes and help people of all abilities.

What is Assistive Technology?

Assistive technology (AT) is a generic term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities and includes the process used in selecting, locating, and using them. AT promotes greater independence by enabling people to perform tasks that they were formerly unable to accomplish or had great difficulty accomplishing. AT can also provide enhancements or changes to the methods of interacting with the technology needed to accomplish such tasks. (Source: Wikipedia)

Types of Assistive Technology

Computer related:

• €Alternative keyboards

• €Sip-and-puff systems

• €Head mouse, Wands and sticks

• €Joysticks

• €Trackballs

• €Touch screens

• €Screen readers

• €Speech recognition or voice recognition programs

• €Braille embossers

• €Talking and large-print word processors

• TTY/TDD conversion modems are connected between computers and telephones to allow an individual to type a message on a computer and send it to a TTY/TDD telephone or other similar devices.


• €Adjustable tables

• €Page Turner

• €Mounting devices

These are just a few examples of the many different types of assistive technologies.

Cost of Assistive Technology

The cost for assistive technology varies; however, there is some funding available in specific situations such as that provided by Disability Related Employment Supports (DRES). [BE1] In some cases, simple modifications can be made at a low cost. For example, rather than purchasing an adjustable table so a person in a wheelchair can fit under it, sturdy wooden/cement blocks can be purchased to raise the table to the required height.

In other cases, the short term investment in the assistive technology will have a greater long term return not only from the person with the disability but also for other employees. For example, purchasing voice dictation software such as “Dragon Naturally Speaking” (DNS) so a person with no hand function can type will give the person the ability to be proficient in their work and could also allow this individual to teach other employees in the company how to use DNS and increase the overall productivity of the company.

AT Success Stories

AT has been supporting people with disabilities for many years, helping them in their every day lives, as well as contributing to their employment successes.

Guy Coulombe of Evansburg, AB, became a quadriplegic at the age of 17. Unable to move his body voluntarily from his chest down, with support of various AT devices, he complete a socialwork program at Grant MacEwan Community College and began to work for the Canadian Paraplegic Association in 1985. Using a simple AT, a customized mouth guard with an attached stick, Guy was able to successfully read client files, type and do other job duties. It is amazing to watch the speed in which he is able to type with the mouth stick. He currently works as a manager of the Client Services team in Edmonton and Community Access team in Alberta, and recently celebrated his 25 years working for the Canadian Paraplegic Association, Alberta.

Peter Quaiattini, originally from Sudbury, ON, is legally blind and has been working for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) for more than 24 years as part of the Information Technology (IT) team. He holds a degree in Systems Design Engineering from the University of Waterloo and has held a variety of positions within CPR’s IT department over the years, including systems architect, programmer and database administrator.

While Peter’s visual impairment has affected the way he performs his work, it has not impacted its quality; his career is a story of adaptation rather than accommodation. He was provided with the JAWS ‘screen reader’ adaptive program, which converts text into speech. Over the years, the software that he uses in his day-to-day work has improved to the extent that if you simply worked over the phone with him, you would never know that Peter cannot see. The only exception to this is pictures, which the program is unable to convert to speech.

These are only two of the many employment success stories for persons with disability. With the help of assistive technology, employers add an efficient and effective employee to their workforce, and set an example for other employers interested in recruiting team members from this highly skilled demographic.

“Through the use of this employer-supplied adaptive technology, I have earned a place as a successful, contributing member of the workforce which has further enabled me to become an active and participating member of society at large.” – from Peter Quaiattini


Assistive technologies are supportive tools that allow persons with disability to achieve their full potential, whether that is obtaining employment or becoming an armored superhero.