Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms
An adaptive device is a device that assists a disabled or impaired individual in accomplishing typical activities of daily living (ADL), such as eating, typing, walking, reading, or driving. Often referred to as adaptive equipment, assistive or adaptive technology, adaptive devices are distinguished from assistive devices in that they are designed specifically for use by disabled individuals; for example, a hearing aid is a purpose-built adaptive device, while a loudspeaker could be considered an assistive device depending on how it is used. Similarly, a spelling- and grammar-correction application may be useful for nearly everyone, even professional writers; however, if it is designed to help people with dyslexia write more fluently, it becomes adaptive technology.
Most people understand that the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, provides protections and accommodations for people with disabilities such as blindness or limited mobility. However, the ADA also includes protections and accommodations for sensory, cognitive, and psychiatric conditions as well as chronic diseases. That means employees are protected against discrimination for a wide range of disabilities and that employers must provide reasonable accommodation for disabilities. Accommodation may include providing adaptive devices and technology to help an employee perform their job.. Because of this, many adaptive devices and technologies are subsidized or available to employers at reduced or no cost through national and local programs, and any adaptive devices supplied to employees are tax deductible.
The definitions of adaptive and assistive devices and technology are similar enough that it’s often not important to make the distinction between the two; access to both is required by the ADA if the request is reasonable in terms of cost and availability.
The difference often comes into play when selecting and purchasing a device. Because it is specifically designed to assist someone with a disability, adaptive technology may be easier to use or more tailored to that need, whereas assistive technology may require modification or be more difficult to learn and use.
However, because an adaptive device is usually designed for a more specific use and thus a smaller group of consumers, it can be more expensive to purchase than assistive equipment that can perform a similar function with a broader application. The narrow vs. broad application of adaptive and assistive devices can also come into play when people with varying disabilities need to use a single device or technology due to budget or other constraints.