Assistive Devices

Original Editor - Redisha Jakibanjar

Top Contributors - Lauren Lopez and Redisha Jakibanjar  


Assistive devices and technologies are those whose primary purpose is to maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence to facilitate participation and to enhance overall well-being. Examples of assistive devices and technologies include wheelchairs, prostheses, hearings aids, visual aids, and specialized computer software and hardware that increase mobility, hearing, vision, or communication capacities.[1]

The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) defines assistive products and technology as any product, instrument, equipment or technology adapted or specially designed for improving the functioning of a person with a disability. [2]

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines assistive products more broadly as any product, especially produced or generally available, that is used by or for persons with disability: for participation; to protect, support, train, measure or substitute for body functions/structures and activities; or to prevent impairments, activity limitations or participation restrictions.[2]

Assistive devices can incur significant purchase and maintenance costs, especially for children and those undergoing rehabilitation with expected improvement whose growth or changing abilities mean they will outgrow their assistive devices . Depending on your country's health system, there may be some assistive devices that are funded by your government's healthcare or by private insurers.

Barriers to Assistive Devices

UNICEF describes barriers to individuals using assistive devices as follows[2]:

  • Lack of awareness
  • Lack of governance including legislation, policies and national programmes
  • Lack of services
  • Lack of products
  • Inaccessible environments
  • Lack of human resources
  • Financial barriers

Strategies for Providing Assistive Devices

As per UNICEF[2], strategies for providing assistive technology/ devices need to consider the principles of 5A&Q[3]:

  • Availability
  • Accessibility
  • Affordability
  • Adaptability
  • Acceptability
  • Quality


Services and products are available in sufficient quantity as close as possible to children’s communities.


Services and products are accessible to everyone who needs them. Their delivery should be equitable to avoid discrepancies between genders, impairment groups, socioeconomic groups and geographic regions.


Services and products are affordable to everyone who needs them.


Services and products are adapted and modified to ensure they are appropriate to the needs and requirements of individual . They need to accommodate differences in terms of individual factors (for example, health condition, body structure, body function, capacity, gender, age, ethnicity and preference) as well as environmental factors (for example, physical environment, psychosocial environment, climate and culture).


Services and products are acceptable to everyone. Factors such as efficiency, reliability, simplicity, safety, comfort and aesthetics should be taken into account to ensure that devices and related services are acceptable.


Services and products are of an appropriate quality. Product quality can be measured through applicable technical standards or guidelines in terms of strength, durability, capacity, safety and comfort.

Examples of Assistive Devices

  • Mobility
  • Vision
    • Eyeglasses, magnifier, magnifying software for computer
    • Communication cards
  • Hearing
    • Hearing aids
    • Hearing loops
  • Positioning
  • Communication
    • Communication cards
    • Communication boards that use eye movements
    • Picture based instructions
  • Everyday life
    • GPS-based navigation device
    • Timers: manual or automatic reminder
    • Smartphones with adapted task lists
  • Learning
    • Adapted toys and games
    • Braille systems for reading and writing
    • Talking book players


  1. WHO. Disability [cited 2018 09-28-2018]. Available from:
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 UNICEF, WHO. Assistive Technology for Children with Disabilities: Creating Opportunities for Education, Inclusion and Participation 2015 [cited 2018 SEPTEMBER 28]. Available from:
  3. WHO. Joint position paper on the provision of mobility devices in less -resourced settings: a step towards implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) related to personal mobility. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2011. Available from Accessed 25 February 2019.