The Compensatory Benefit of Assistive Technology
Assistive technology, like all technology, is a tool and like all tools its purpose is to permit the individual to complete tasks more effectively or efficiently. But AT is a tool designed to provide compensatory benefit specifically to persons with disabilities. To compensate means to nullify, offset or counterbalance the effects of an undesirable influence, in this case, the condition that produces an impairment to functioning or performance - to compensate means to close the gap using technology.
Abnormalities in or damage to the middle ear makes it difficult to hear all parts of normal conversation. A hearing aid compensates for the reduced hearing by increasing the volume of sound going into the ear.
Down Syndrome results in poor muscle tone in the fingers making it difficult to grip a pencil to write legibly. A pencil grip compensates for the lower muscle tone in the fingers by increasing the size of the area to be held.
Traumatic brain injury impairs the individual's ability to remember thoughts short term. A post-it note tablet compensates for memory deficits by making the "to-do" thought continuously visible until the "to-do" is done.
Abnormalities or damage to the optic nerves in the eye make if difficult to read the time on a watch. A talking watch compensates for reduced visual discrimination by substituting hearing acuity for visual acuity.
In the first two examples above, compensation is provided by creating a new tool (a hearing aid, a pencil grip), in another by using an existing tool in a new way (a post-it note) and in another by modifying the tool typically used in the task ( the watch).
AT & Teaching. We cannot teach a child with cerebral palsy that affects their whole body to walk independently without assistance or tools. We can teach this child to use an AT tool such as a walker or wheelchair. The AT tool compensates for leg and trunk weaknesses by using the arms for support. However, we do need to teach the child to use the mobility tool before it can provide compensatory benefits.