AT or IT?

April 11, 2019

Two persons with headsets at a computer

Even in the world of technology, there is sometimes some confusion when it comes to determining whether something is an IT (Information Technology) related issue or whether it is an AT (Assistive Technology) related issue. In today’s e-bulletin, we are going to look at the definitions of these two closely related concepts, and we’re also going to attempt to create some kind of road map to understand how to determine whether a technology-related issue should be considered AT, or whether it should be considered IT. This information is especially relevant for teachers and AT users who use our help desk(new window), and the aim here is to provide AT users and teachers with a clearer picture of whether an issue should be brought to the IT department or handled by an AT specialist.

What is AT (Assistive Technology)?

Assistive technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities. As long as a piece of technology is being used by a person with a disability to accomplish a task that they would otherwise not be able to accomplish, that piece of technology is considered AT. There is no specific person or criteria for who should or should not make use of Assistive Technology. The focus is really about the ability to perform a task. These technologies can support an individual to perform tasks in all aspects of a person’s life, from home to school, work and play. There are many types of assistive technology from low tech such as highlighters to help with reading and note taking to High tech item such as an iPad to help someone communicate.

What is IT (Information Technology)?

The definition of IT is a bit more straightforward. IT is defined as “the technology involving the development, maintenance, and use of computer systems, software, and networks for the processing and distribution of data”. And, as the definition above would suggest, the IT department is responsible for the installation and maintenance of those networks, software, and hardware.

Is the issue IT or AT?

This isn’t always so simple to determine, and there is certainly a lot of overlap. Let’s look at some examples of questions that highlight the differences between IT and AT:

Example 1: “I can’t use Microsoft Word because it’s asking me for a password, and I don’t know what the password is.” This is an IT issue. The AT Help Desk, or another 3rd party help desk will not be able to help with this as they will not have access to your log in information. If the issue requires a password or log in, it will likely be considered an IT issue.

Example 2: “How do I export PDFs when using ClaroPDF?”.
This is an AT issue. Anything that has to do with troubleshooting an app (unless the issue is related to a password or log in associated with the app) is an AT issue, as it relates directly to the operation of the assistive technology.

Example 3: “I’m having trouble accessing WI-FI using my iPad”.
This is an IT issue. Typically, any issue that relates to connecting to a network would be considered an IT issue. Only the IT department would have the ability to diagnose and fix a network related issue, as the IT department would have overseen the establishment and maintenance of that network in the first place.

Example 4: “I’m having trouble using the Speak Screen feature on my iPad”. This is an AT issue. Because the problem lies with the functionality of the AT device itself, an AT specialist would be the one to troubleshoot and ultimately rectify this issue.

To summarize, if the issue is related directly to the functionality of the assistive technology and is specific to that piece of AT or App, then it is likely an AT issue. If the issue is more general in nature, or it relates to connecting to a network or using a password, it likely an IT issue. For more information, troubleshooting, sourcing, and suggestions, please don’t hesitate to call the AT Help Desk at 1-855-450-3287, email us at (new window), or visit us online at window)