HomeUncategorizedBrief History of Assistive Technology by Niraj Parikh

Brief History of Assistive Technology by Niraj Parikh

Image of Scroll and the Word History

Per Marcia J. Scherer, “The term Assistive Technology (AT) was coined in the Technology Related Assistance for Individuals With Disabilities Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-407), but the concept, under a variety of names or under no particular name at all, long predates that legislation” Scherer, M. (2002) and as per Scherer this AT field has been around for 20 years and from when she wrote this book, it would equate to about the 1980’s.

There are many timelines which are credible to follow for the history of Assistive Technology and/or disability, and the prominent timelines are listed below. However, a reputable source or group of individuals that are responsible for ATOMS (Assistive Technology Outcomes Measurement System) or are leading things at RESNA (Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America) have produced “Technical Report – History of Assistive Technology Outcomes”. In this report Roger O. Smith, PhD, OT, Kathy Longenecker Rust, MS, OTR, April Lauer, BS, OTS & Erin Boodey, BS, OTS report six observations about the AT field:

1. Federal laws and regulations seem to serve as precursors to AT outcomes measurement development.
2. This chronology speaks to AT outcomes measurement not AT outcomes research that might follow a parallel, but distinct path.
3. All four service areas (medicine, education, vocational rehabilitation, and independent living) are represented with highly interdisciplinary efforts.
4. The field of AT outcomes measurement is very young, with focused works mostly published since the mid 1990’s.
5. Many Federal agencies and organizations have prominently shown interest and encouraged progress in AT outcomes measurement research. Perhaps this has occurred on the wave of socio-political interest related to accountability.
6. Little outcomes measurement to date has dealt with cost, although mention of the need is increasing.
Based on their timeline, the first Assistive Technology Assessment to be documented in brief history of this industry is in 1989, Matching Person and Technology (MPT). The authors state the significance of this tools as, “Scherer and Craddock report, “There is a need for improved person-AT matching and outcomes assessment process because studies show in general that there is a high level of dissatisfaction and non-use of technology by consumers. (Smith, R., Rust, K., Lauer, A., & Boodey, E. n.d.)”

As per Scherer, AT has been around much further back than before the term was coined. There is no one specific date but “assistive technology” defined by the Assistive Technology Act of 2004 (originally 1988) “means any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities” (Assistive Technology Act of 1998. 2004, October 24).

With this definition, according to National Consortium on Leadership and Disability for Youth, Disability History Timeline, the first evidence of “AT” is seen around 1784. It was, “Valentin Huay, known as the “father and apostle of the blind,” establishes the Institution for Blind Children to help make life for the blind more “tolerable.” Huay also discovered that sightless persons could read texts printed with raised letters (DISABILITY HISTORY TIMELINE. 2007). In the same timeline, the word Assistive Technology appears in 1988 for “Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988” and the phrase Assistive Technology Assessment or just the word Assessment, does not appear.

As per another disability history timeline, by NHS North West Equality, Inclusion and Human Rights, “3500 BCE The Rig-Veda, an ancient sacred poem of India, is said to be the first written record of prosthesis. A warrior, Queen Vishpla, who loses her leg in battle, is fitted with an iron prosthesis and returns to the fight” (Grant, L. (Ed.). (2013, March 1). In this timeline, the word Assistive Technology as a phrase does not appear, nor does the word Assistive. However, the word Assessment does appear twice in the context of the definition shared of the word assessment, “All pensions depend on medical assessments of rather crude measurements of impairments” and the second time the word Assessment appears it’s under the “Medical Model Thinking” (Grant, L. (Ed.). (2013, March 1. Pg. 27 & 47). The reason this information is provided is because, the first sign of “AT”, someone individual must have been assessed, though the formal process as it exist now is not documented. I strongly believe that no product or service or treatment can be provided without some form of assessment.

In “Assistive Technology From Ancient to Modern Times!” it states that the first evidence of AT is in “950 B.C. The Cairo Toe. Made of wood and leather, this artificial toe was found on a mummy in an Egyptian tomb at Luxor. Researchers believe this to be the oldest known prosthesis. It is displayed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo” (Assistive Technology from Ancient to Modern Times. (n.d.)). This timeline, though recommended by is the most poorly designed even for an abled body person. The timeline, once viewed, has great references of AT and provides great historic references for it. There are no specific references to Assessment; however, once again, I am making an educated guess that when Benjamin Franklin invents the bifocals, some assessment methodology was used and applied, giving that he is a scientific man. Similarly, if a wooden toe or any other prosthesis is designed and made, some form of assessment took place.

The timelines were considered, to study if the assistive technology assessment as a phrase is documented or just the word assessment. Though it is inferred that since AT appears as early as 3500 BC, some form of assessment took place, but there is no documented evidence found.

In OneSearch there were no articles found purely studying the history of assistive technology assessment. I even replaced the word history with synonyms such as past and account; however, the results were the same. Though, there were many studies which were available for assistive technology assessment AND aging, or apps, and other specified disability areas. The timelines presented and the article by the ATOMS group was the closest to historical references for this field.


Assistive Technology Act of 1998. (2004, October 24). Retrieved November 12, 2015, from

Assistive Technology from Ancient to Modern Times. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2015, from

DISABILITY HISTORY TIMELINE:. (2007). Retrieved November 13, 2015, from

Grant, L. (Ed.). (2013, March 1). A Disability History Timeline -The struggle for equal rights through the ages. Retrieved November 13, 2015, from and Diversity/DISABILITY Timeline – NHS.pdf

Scherer, M. (2002). Assistive technology: Matching device and consumer for successful rehabilitation. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Smith, R., Rust, K., Lauer, A., & Boodey, E. (n.d.). Technical Report – History of Assistive Technology Outcomes (Version 1.0). Retrieved November 17, 2015, from

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