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Barbara Phillips

What Exactly Does BATA Mean By Assistive Technology?

As someone new to AT, I’m still struggling to get my head round what is and is not assistive technology. The discussion we had at the September Council Meeting about a definition made me realise I wasn’t the only one unclear about what exactly AT means as far as BATA and its members are concerned. While we couldn’t agree then on a definition, we all agreed that we needed one – and that our members should have their say too. So, I offered to do some more research and thinking on this.


Council agreed that the definition needs to be short and memorable. It should quickly communicate to the uninitiated what AT covers (and does not cover). It should be inclusive of all current and potential BATA members. It should have sufficient focus to differentiate AT from other aspects of IT/equipment relating to education/healthcare - and from the wide range of stuff that makes life in general easier for us. It should indicate how BATA is different from, say, Communication Matters, BHTA or NASEN. We also agreed that behind any snappy strap line or sound bite there needed to be a longer agreed definition indicating what AT was and was not, as far as BATA was concerned.

But what should that definition be, given the lack of immediate agreement around the Council table about what AT did and did not include? Not everyone agreed that ‘technology’ should mean only hardware/software/devices; some thought ‘low tech’ (such as fuzzy felt boards) or non-technology items should also be included. Not everyone agreed that ‘assistive’ should make some reference to disability; others thought it should include reference to the sort of disabilities AT can help; others only to the activities AT can help with. There was also the assumption that AT included health as well as education related things and, because no one then said otherwise, that AT includes services as well as goods.

1. Taking these and other points into consideration, and having looked at a range of existing definitions (see below), I have come up with the following draft basic definition. Your comments and/or amendments please.

AT is any item, equipment, hardware, software, product or service which maintains, increases or improves the functional capabilities of individuals of any age, especially those with disabilities, and enables them more easily to communicate, learn, enjoy and live better, more independent lives.

2. For a snappy strap line, how about one of the following? Your views please.

AT is the software and access devices that help people with special needs to communicate, learn and live as full and independent lives as possible.

AT is the goods and services that lessen or remove barriers faced by people with disabilities.

AT helps people to do what they need or want to do more easily, independently, and better.

AT is technology that assists anyone to do something they could not otherwise do or could not do as well without it.

AT helps people of any age and ability to communicate, learn, and live independently.

AT helps people learn, communicate, enjoy and live more independently.

AT enables and empowers people to live life better.

AT enables, enhances, empowers - releasing, realising and raising capabilities and the potential to learn and develop.

AT covers any thing that assists anyone in living their life to the fullest.

AT helps create an inclusive environment for all people, whatever age or ability.

3. As well as the basic definition and the snappy sound bite, we need to have a clear, agreed understanding of what is and is not included as far as BATA is concerned. While we do not need to publish a definitive list (though we may decide we want to), BATA Council, its officers and members should be in agreement about what does and does not fall under our remit, without seeking to have something with boundaries that are too rigid to accommodate change.

Look at the list below. Would you exclude any of these from BATA’s AT focus? Please tell me the sections you would include, by reference to each letter, naming anything within those sections that you would exclude or add.

Are there any categories of goods/services you would add? Please name them.

Types/Uses of Assistive Technology

A. Accessible computer input – physical disabilitiese.g. adapted or alternative keyboards and mouse, switches and switch access, word prediction, speech recognition, symbol based software, text to speech, word prediction and word banks, phonetic spell checkers, speech recognition, digital voice recorders, electronic memory aids.

B. Accessible computer input – visual impairment e.g. screen magnifiers and readers, speech recognition, Braille translation software with embossers

C. For learning disabilities - symbol based software, text to speech, word prediction and word banks, phonetic spell checkers, speech recognition, digital voice recorders, electronic memory aids. Also includes software etc to assist mainstream learning.

D. Visual impairment – low tech e.g. white canes, talking clocks and watches, liquid level indicators, UV shields protect and increase contrast, writing aids incl signature guides

E. Visual impairment – high tech e.g. CCTV magnifiers, reading machines, audio books and audio book players, Braille embossers, screen magnifiers and readers, speech recognition

F. Deafness and hearing loss – hearing aids, teletext, close captioning, text messaging (SMS)

G. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) – low tech (paper or object based e.g. communication books, cards, charts, PECS, eye gaze frames); light tech (simple technology with recording features e.g. single message recorders, sequencers, overlay VOCAs; hi-tech (computerised voice output communication devices VOCA) e.g. dynamic display, dedicated communication devices, computer based communication devices.

H. Mobility impairment e.g. crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, scooters, car adaptations, seating, lifts and elevators, hoists.

I. Environmental control systems (ECS) e.g. door openers, curtain and blind openers, remote lights switches, control of TV, DVD etc, some built in AAC devices

J. Durable medical equipment as used in the home to aid quality of life e.g. medical ventilators, oxygen tents, nebulizers, blood glucose and blood pressure monitors. Also includes telemedicine.

K. Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) e.g. electronic sensors connected to alarm system, fall detectors, thermometers (for hypothermia), unlit gas cooker sensors, incontinence detectors.

4. Some Definitions Already In Use and Some More Questions

Just in case by this point you are wondering what others say about AT, here are some definitions already in use. If you’ve already decided on your definition, see if you want to stick with that when you’ve read on. You will see there are also some further questions for you to think about

From Department Of Health Website

Assistive technology - the equipment that may increase the range of activities, independence or well-being of disabled people.

King's Fund Definition (March 2001)

Assistive Technology (AT) is any product or service designed to enable independence for disabled and older people. [As used by FAST (Foundation for Assistive Technology) and on first BATA website]

RNIB TechShare Website

AT can be defined as any item, equipment, product or service which increases, maintains or improves functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

This is then expanded as AT being everything from ‘web accessibility to talking books; patient moving hoists to accessible ATMs; screen readers to sign language interpreter relay services; AAC to reading and writing tools’ and covers healthcare, learning and entertainment.


Assistive technology or adaptive technology (AT) is an umbrella term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities and also 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, by providing enhancements to or changed methods of interacting with the technology needed to accomplish such tasks.

(It then lists the many areas AT covers in terms of both products and disabilities.)

American Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA)

Assistive technology is ‘any item, piece of equipment, software or product system whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities’.

ATIA also defines what it offers in terms of activities: ‘products and services to help people who have difficulty speaking, typing, writing, remembering, pointing, seeing, hearing, learning, walking, etc.’

ATIA also lists the range of disabilities AT can help as including:

  • autism spectrum disorders
  • blindness and low vision
  • deafness and hard of hearing
  • computer access
  • communication disorders
  • mobility impairment
  • mounting systems
  • learning disabilities
  • cognitive disabilities
  • web accessibility
  • augmentative and alternative communication devices (AAC)

ATIA lists the wide range of products it covers:

  • AT can be low tech like communication boards made of cardboard or fuzzy felt.
  • AT can be high tech such as special purpose computers.
  • AT can be hardware such as prosthetics, attachment devices (mounting systems), and positioning devices.
  • AT can be computer hardware, like special switches, keyboards, and pointing devices.
  • AT can be computer software such as screen-readers or communication software.
  • AT can be inclusive or specialized learning materials and curriculum aids.
  • AT can be specialized curricular software.
  • AT can be much more, including electronic devices, wheel chairs, walkers, braces, educational software, power lifts, pencil holders, eye-gaze, and head trackers.

ATIA also specifically states its members are not primarily focused on ‘architectural products (such as specialized elevators, lifts, ramps or grab bars), transport products (such as wheel chairs and motor vehicle adaptations), prosthetic devices (such as artificial limbs and eyes), and hearing aids – though all of these are instances of assistive technology.

4. a Should We Define AT In Terms Of Activities? Disabilities?

Gale Encyclopedia Of Education [US]

Assistive technology is a relatively new term used to describe devices and services that lessen or remove barriers faced by persons with disabilities.

US Individuals With Disabilities Act (IDEA) 1990

Assistive-technology services are any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.

Under IDEA, assistive-technology services include:

  • the evaluation of the needs of a child identified with a disability, including a functional evaluation of the child in the child's customary environment;
  • purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive-technology devices;
  • selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing of assistive-technology devices;
  • coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with assistive-technology devices, such as those associated with existing education and rehabilitation plans and programs;
  • training or technical assistance for a child or, where appropriate, the family of the child; and
  • training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing education and rehabilitation services), employers, or other individuals who provide services to, employ, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of a child with an identified disability.

4. b Should We Include These Services As Part Of AT?

IDEA defines an assistive-technology device as "any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities." [Also used by ATIA – see above.]

Since 2001 assistive technologies have been categorized in US into seven functional areas: (1) existence; (2) communication; (3) body support, protection, and positioning; (4) travel and mobility; (5) environmental interaction; (6) education and transition; and (7) sports, fitness, and recreation.

4. cShould BATA Use Similar Categorisation?

British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA)

BHTA describes itself as the healthcare and assistive technology trades association.

BHTA lists the following as its sort of products: scooters, wheelchairs, bathlifts and stairlifts plus a vast range of products to help from the most sophisticated orthotic device and pressure care systems to the largest installations such as through floor lifts. It includes the following sections:

  • Beds & Support Surfaces
  • Children's Equipment
  • Custom Seating
  • Dispensing Appliance Contractors
  • Decontamination & Infection Prevention
  • Electronic Communication & Assistive Technology (eCAT)
  • First Aid Medical Equipment
  • Mobility Group
  • Orthotics
  • Pressure Care Seating & Positioning
  • Prosthetics
  • Rehabilitation Products
  • Stairlifts & Access
  • Stoma & Continence Product Manufacturers

4. dDoes BATA Overlap With ecAT?

In Conclusion

Thanks for reading! Please now email your responses to points 1, 2, 3, 4a, b, c, d – plus any other comments or suggestions you may have – to   What YOU think matters so do let us know.

Barbara Phillips, Executive Director of BATA
25th October 2011