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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Assistive Technology for the Future: An Update from the NCIL Assistive Technology Subcommittee

Every day, we hear about new assistive technology (AT) that can help us do almost magical things – from being able to hear or see when we couldn’t before, communicate with our friends when we couldn’t speak or write before, enjoy new recreational activities when we couldn’t use our arms or legs before, or control our environment when all we could control was our voice before. These devices are “cool” and many of us want them.

NCIL logo - National Council on Independent LivingHow can you find out about these devices? All states and territories have a state AT program. These programs are charged with telling the residents in their state about AT devices by providing demonstrations, equipment lending libraries, and reuse programs. After you figure out what AT devices you want, the state AT program may be able to help you find a way to pay for them. The Program should also refer you to your state’s Alternative Financing Program (AFP). Many states have an AFP – a program that provides low-interest or no-interest loans for people with disabilities and their families for the purchase of assistive technology. 

So, what’s some of the latest in AT news?

First, there are generic smart home devices. You can watch the Saturday Night Live spoof of the Amazon (Silver) Alexa for an idea of how smart home devices can be integrated into our lives – they can help us with security measures, reminders, weather updates, the news, temperature controls, music, and much more.

As we move individuals with disabilities from institutional settings into their own homes, support teams should consider installing smart home technology. Richard just moved from a nursing home into his own apartment – watch how an Echo has helped him be more independent and in control of his own life! Often, these devices can be paid for by home and community-based waiver services (under assistive technology), but if not, remember to contact your state’s AFP.

Second, in the last several years, there has been a renewed interest in making AT devices. This initiative is called the “Maker Movement.” There are many leaders in the Movement, including Theresa Willkomm (Director of New Hampshire’s State AT program who has popularized “Creating AT Solutions in Minutes”); working with cardboard with mentorship from Adaptive Design and Alex Truesdell and Antoinette LaSorsa; and creating devices with 3-D printers and open-sourced applications.

Transitional Paths to Independent Living (TRPIL), a Center for Independent Living in SW Pennsylvania, participated in a training with Adaptive Design in 2017 and staff are working with others to make cardboard furniture for students in Philadelphia. TRPIL has posted pictures on their Facebook page so that others can watch their progress! TRIPIL has also purchased a MakerBot 3D printer so that staff can create some of the AT devices that are needed by individuals in their community.

And, third, like many AFPs, Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation (PATF) is interested in making connections between AT programs and manufacturers. In early 2018, PATF was able to make a connection between MakerBot and Easterseals SE Pennsylvania. MakerBot ( has since loaned Easterseals a MakerBot Replicator+ so that the therapists and AT specialists can now use computer-assisted design to create switches, communication symbols, keyguards, and other small devices for the students and adults with whom they work.

Lastly, please consider joining NCIL’s Technology Subcommittee if you’re interested in learning more about AT-related policies and legislation. The Subcommittee often meets the last Wednesday of the month at 11:00 a.m. Eastern.


  1. Susie Molloy says

    How can I get in touch with R&D people at various computer companies?
    Are there individuals with whom you’ve worked who have a good handle on access principles, and plenty of imagination?
    I need help to develop a feature that I need badly.
    Susie Molloy
    [email protected]