Assistive Technology (abbreviated as AT) is any piece of equipment, software, or other product that helps people with disabilities perform a specific action. This equipment can either improve someone’s capabilities, or it can aid in performing tasks that would otherwise not be possible. For centuries, Assistive Technology has helped improve people’s quality of life. To understand the vast uses of Assistive Tech, it is important to understand where it came from.

First Evidence of Assistive Technology

Although you might assume Assistive Technology is a recent development, it has actually been around in some capacity for centuries. There is no defined moment in history when Assistive Technology was first created. However, some pieces of Assistive Tech have been around since the 1300s or earlier, such as eyeglasses. Yet, most people consider the 1800s the official starting point of Assistive Tech, as that is when the industry began to expand.

Educational Assistance

Disabilities can, for some people, make learning more difficult. In the early 1800s, the American Asylum for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb (now known as the American School for the Deaf) was opened and saw much success. Gallaudet University was subsequently opened and focused on providing a college education to the deaf population.

In 1824, Louis Braille, a student studying at the National Institute for Blind Children in Paris, invented the writing system of Braille, which allows blind individuals to read. In 1884, The Home of the Merciful Savior opened in Philadelphia with the goal of educating children with physical disabilities.

Establishment Period Additions

During the Establishment Period (roughly 1900-1972), many new developments helped improve the quality of life for people living with disabilities. Organizations were founded that helped advocate for and provide support for those who are disabled. These included United Cerebral Palsy and the Speech Language Hearing Association. During this time, programs were also developed to help disabled veterans learn vocational skills that would help them integrate back into society.

Modern Technologies

In the 1970s, a Braille typewriter was developed, which was a major breakthrough at the time. Since the advent of the Internet, there have been even more changes. Today, there are programs that will read webpages for blind individuals, a significant portion of online video content has closed captions, and digital assistants (such as Google Home and Amazon Echo) can operate many appliances around your house with voice commands.

Assistive Technology has a long history, and today, it is continuing to become more accessible and inexpensive than ever before. When looking to the future of Assistive Technology, it helps to remember the history of this tech, programs, and policies.