Technology And Disability Law

Written by Brian Wallace

In the beginning

Numerous people’s daily struggles have been eased by consumer technology, which has made it simpler to run homes, go grocery shopping, and stay in touch with loved ones. For people with impairments, these technologies can be extremely empowering because they make daily activities more accessible and less frustrating. Press releases and news articles may have mentioned similar information: “Alexa is a Revelation to the Blind,” The benefits of self-driving cars should go to Americans with disabilities, and Amazon Alexa can help people with autism do more things on their own. The need for disability law experts to bring about further technological change is still crucial.

However, are these technologies helpful? Disability advocacy group Assistive technology is “any device, software, or equipment that helps people work around their challenges,” according to An item or piece of software may qualify for insurance coverage and tax benefits if it is labeled as assistive technology (or other relevant regulatory classifications). It may alter how medical professionals view devices and have an effect on product development. In this article, we discuss how to define assistive technologies in the current consumer tech revolution with Dr. Joseph Stramondo, a bioethicist and disability scholar.

What does “assistance technology” mean?

Dr. Stramondo claims that classifying assistive devices isn’t that easy. To get to a folded blanket that is at the top of my closet, for instance, I might use a broom. Does the broom assist me in overcoming my difficulties? Sure, but we wouldn’t categorize it as helpful.

According to Dr. Stramondo, assistive technologies can be recognized if they have an effect on a person’s narrative, that is, if the technology classifies the user as belonging to a disability group. According to him, any technology is assistive if it classifies a user as disabled due to the significance that it has in our collective cultural imagination. For instance, while utilizing an autonomous car would not convey a cultural indication of reduced mobility, using a motorized wheelchair would. Dr. Stromondo would categorize the motorized wheelchair in this case as an assistive equipment but not the AV.

The same idea applies to platforms or tools with multiple uses. Computers, smartphones, and smart speakers are useful to people with disabilities, but their use does not signify membership in a disability group. However, certain add-ons or programs might. Screen reading software undoubtedly qualifies as assistive technology, but a laptop does not, according to Dr. Stramondo. Although an iPhone would not be considered assistive technology, LookTel, a special app that aids persons who are visually impaired in counting money, would be.

In the right situations, technological features like the fall detection option on the Apple Watch might potentially be categorized as assistive. According to Dr. Stramondo, “features themselves should be understood as assistive technologies.” If only disabled people use these functionalities and if they are ingrained in the narrative that our culture perpetuates about disability, then these features are assistive regardless of how they are engaged.

Healthcare necessity versus assistive technology

Medical necessity

Medical necessity is a separate classification used by Medicare, Medicaid, and the majority of commercial insurers to determine which items they would discount, subsidize, or pay. Medical necessity is a very demanding standard, frequently requiring a doctor’s prescription and compliance with national guidelines.

According to Dr. Stramondo, “I would not think that it would be helpful to determine the level of assistance based on whether a technology is funded by health insurers, because so many very important technologies are currently not funded since they do not pass the test of medical necessity.” He cites Laura Hershey as an illustration; she suffers from muscular dystrophy and published a well-known essay regarding stringent medical necessity standards. “I would anticipate that [the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA)] would offer everybody who requests one a motorized wheelchair. Such a chair can significantly improve a disabled person’s quality of life, but MDA has very severe requirements for who is eligible to obtain one.

Alternative strategies are suggested by Dr. Stramondo and others, such as fusing definitions of assistive technology with assessments of quality of life, preventative healthcare initiatives, or compensatory justice.


According to Dr. Stramondo’s perspective, consumer technology currently occupies a medium ground. These devices and platforms are not assistive technologies in and of themselves, but they do enable strong assistive features, programs, and add-ons that help the disabled people manage their daily lives.

More importantly, despite product classifications or categories, handicap groups are important consumers of consumer electronics. The implementation of inclusive strategies like Universal Design ensures that consumer technology improves the lives of all potential consumers.