Assistive versus Adaptive Technology

There seems to be some confusion regarding what the two phrases - 'assistive technology' and 'adaptive technology' - actually mean, and whether they are really that different from one another or not. While some people use these terms interchangeably, there are subtle differences between them. 

Adaptive Technology

Adaptive technology refers to adaptations of existing technologies or tools, for use by people with disabilities such as those who suffer from limitations in vision, hearing, speech or mobility.

Adaptive technology also encompasses the concept of adapting the use of an existing technology without modifying its design. One would observe that as of late, adaptive technology have crept into common use; this adds value to the technologies, as they are then perceived as being more dynamic and panoptic.

Example: Screen Magnifier

Screen magnifiers that are primarily designed for people with low vision, have been adapted from screen- zooming tecniques. They are, however, also used by graphic designers who wish to work on minute details.

Example: Adapted Keyboards

Other examples of adaptive technologies include adapted keyboards that have larger, well-spaced keys to facilitate acurate typing. They not only help those with motor or visual impairments, but also the elderly.

Assistive Technology

Meanwhile, the term assistive technology includes in its scope all assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative advices for people with disabilities.

Assistive technologies promote greater independence in people with impairments (and disabilities) by allowing them to perform tasks which they previously were unable to perform.

Example: Teletypewriter

An example of this is the teletypewriter, which converts typed characters into tones that may be sent over the telephone line, enabling deaf-mute people to communicate.

The acceptance of assitive technologies has been so subtle yet intrinsic that many argue whether they they were assistive to begin with or not.

For example, many mobile phones now come with predictive text, a technology that (some may argue) was primarily designed to assist people with learning disabilities. Whatever the reason behind its development may be, it is useful for all kinds of users.

Last Words

The plain distinction between these terms is: Adaptive technology adapts existing technology whereas assistive technology could developed from scratch.

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