B. Definition

Assistive technology (AT) interventions involve a range of strategies to promote a child’s access to learning opportunities, from making simple changes to the environment and materials to helping a child use special equipment. Combining AT with effective teaching promotes the child’s participation in learning and relating to others.

Watch Video 5.3: Dr. Philippa Campbell: Defining AT for more information on how AT is defined and used in the context of working with young children with disabilities.

Three essential components of assistive technology— equipment, adaptations, and teaching strategies are described in the following sections.

Video 5.3: Dr. Philippa Campbell – Defining Assistive Technology

Dr. Philippa Campbell, a professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Thomas Jefferson University, and Program Director of the Child and Family Studies Research Programs, describes how assistive technology is defined and used in the context of working with young children with disabilities (running time: 2 min. 05 sec.).

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Dr. Campbell:

Well, I think it’s important for people to realize that there is a whole range of options that can be used with people to help them be able to participate more effectively in activities and routines that they want to participate in. Or, in the case of babies, that maybe their families want them to participate in. So we’ve used sort of a tier system where we sort of talk about things on the bottom of AT – like right at the bottom – that have to do with things anybody would use to make it easier for children. And then way, way, way up at the top of that triangle, or that tier system, would be things that are customized which are the really high-tech, often very expensive, often very complicated things that are that way because they’re not for the general market. I mean that’s really largely what it is. If everybody in the world needed a communication system the way everybody in the world needs an iPhone or an iPad or whatever it is, then they would be reasonably priced and they wouldn’t be that complicated and there would be a lot of applications. But because only a very few people in the general population – and for the most part not babies, not infants and toddlers, and often not even really young children like 3 – 5-year olds – need that stuff, it doesn’t really necessarily apply. It’s when children are older, or when they have more complicated disabilities, or something along that line that specialized kinds of materials are needed. Nonetheless, I think when you ask people to define Assistive Technology, or to think about it, what really does immediately come to their mind is the very, very high-tech stuff.