Are Assistive Technology and Information Technology the Same?

Assistive Technology (AT) is a generic term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices and the process used in selecting, locating, and using them. AT promotes greater independence for people with disabilities.

AT is also a legal term from the Assistive Technology Act of 1998, and cited in numerous other laws meaning. “any product, device, or equipment, whether acquired commercially, modified or customized, that is used to maintain, increase, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.” AT could be 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. It may also include services that support AT implementation.

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. The definition of IT is not derived from a law, as AT is.

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 used by a person with a memory impairment to remind her of scheduled events. In this case, the information technology (the PDA) functions as a memory prosthetic (AT) to improve the functional capabilities of the person with a cognitive disability.
  • 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.