BrailleNote Touch

BrailleNote Touch

I do not believe that we should live in the past. I do, however, think there is a lot we can learn from the past decades of Assistive Technology developments and events that can help us in the future. Last year, I put together an Assistive Technology Timeline and buried it at the end of a very long blog. Recently, a very smart person told me to dig it up and put it front and center, hence this post, with updated links and pictures.

The timeline below is not inclusive and was compiled in 2020 with only the vast offering of the internet and my memory…and yes, I even used Wikipedia in some instances.  The dates of these events are approximate. The credit given to some of the inventors is a best guess because conflicting information was found during my searches. So rather than using the following timeline as 100% fact or all-encompassing, please just think of it as a starting place or a guide to see how far we have come in the past 40 years of assistive technology and maybe as an inspiration for the future.  Here’s to even more decades of amazing developments!

Assistive Technology Timeline 1980-2020


-The Don Johnston company started developing its first assistive technology products for reading and writing such as Co:Writer and Write:OutLoud

Old Write:Outloud Install Disk from Don Johnston

Old Write:OutLoud Install Disk from Don Johnston


Abledata, an assistive technology database, begins the planning stages


The Express 3, the first device with synthesized speech capabilities debuts


-The Office of Technology Assessment publishes a Case Study on Assistive Devices for Severe Speech Impairments


-The Touch Talker, the first portable augmentative communication device from Prentke-Romich debuts

Picture of the TouchTalker



First version of Microsoft Windows is developed 

1980 something

-The Pocketalker Personal Listening device debuts

Older Pocket Talker


-Steve Mendelsohn, attorney, and advocate publishes “Financing Adaptive Technology”


-The Assistive Technology Act began as the Technology-Related Assistance Act with the first round of states receiving the grant in 1988 and the final states receiving their grants in 1995

-The terms Assistive Technology Devices and Assistive Technology Services are defined for the first time in this federal legislation

U.S. Capital

U.S. Capital


Jaws Screen reader for DOS debuts


-The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law

-AT is first mentioned in The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990 after the fact

Dragon Dictate-a speech to text software program debuted at $9000 and had to be entered one word at a time.


-The first DynaVox, an augmentative communication device, was released

An older Dynavox AAC device

One of the older Dynavox AAC Devices


-US Department of Health and Human Services publishes, “AssistiveTechnology for the Frail Elderly: An Introduction and Overview”, which coincidently makes a prediction for the year 2020.


-The Assistive Technology Act came to North Dakota and ND Assistive (formerly known as IPAT) began in state government under the Department of Human Services, Vocational Rehabilitation

Old IPAT Logo

Old IPAT Logo


Bluetooth was invented

Bluetooth Logo

Bluetooth Logo


Built-in accessibility features were added to the Microsoft operating system for the first time with Windows 95.

JAWS screen reader for Windows 1.0 debuts

A pic of a more recent copy of Jaws software

A more recent copy of Jaws software

RESNA certification begins for Assistive Technology Professionals




-Scan and read Technology for personal computers debuts with software such as Kurzweil 3000 and 1000 and TextHelp-Read and Write

Old TextHelp Read Write Gold Flash Drive

Old TextHelp Read Write Gold Flash Drive


-The Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs (ATAP) is established

Dragon Naturally Speaking 1.0 debuted as their first continuous dictation product although the concept was developed in 1975

Dragon Systems Inc. Logo

Dragon Systems Inc. Logo


-The Section 508 Rehabilitation Act Amendments were signed into law.  This law required that all electronic and information technology be accessible for all federal agencies.

ATIA-The Assistive Technology Industry Association begins


-The American Paralysis Foundation and the Reeve Foundation joined forces and would later start the High Impact Innovative Assistive Technology Awards with funding from the Administration on Community Living

Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Logo, Today's Care, Tomorrow's CUre

Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Logo


-The Complete Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault becomes the first digital talking-book master produced in the National Library Services or Talking Books recording studio


Medicare coverage for speech generating devices


-ND Assistive opens the first-ever Assistive Technology Center in North Dakota


-the first CapTel phone debuts

First CapTel Phone

First CapTel Phone


-The Assistive Technology Expo started in Fargo, North Dakota

-The Assistive Technology Act was reauthorized


Tobii introduces the first Eyegaze controlled computer


-First hand-held, text-to-speech electronic reading system-from Kurzweil and the National Federation of the Blind

-The prototype of the Obi Self Feeder developed

a man using the Obi Self-Feeding Device

A man using the Obi Self-Feeding Device

National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard became effective


-Birth of the iPhone

-First LiveScribe SmartPen debuted

Livescribe Pulse Smartpen

Livescribe Pulse Smartpen


Proloquo2Go -the very first full-featured Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) App debuts

Proloquo2Go Logo

Proloquo2Go Logo

iPhone Accessibility Debuts for 36 seconds

-ND Assistive becomes a non-profit.


-The iPad is hatched and changes life as we know it in the area of assistive technology-even without a camera

The First iPad

The First iPad


-Siri launches on the iPhone for the first time

The old Siri logo

The old Siri logo

-ND Assistive’s Possibilities Fund debuts


-The ND Assistive Blog begins


ND Assistive opened the Home First Demonstration Center in Fargo-a simulated home filled with Assistive Technology


Amazon Echo debuts with the Alexa Voice Assistant

First Amazon Echo

First Amazon Echo


Steve Gleason Act Passes and reverses Medicares decision to decrease funding for Speech Generating Devices


-Google Home launches

-Liftware Level Spoon debuts

Liftware level with Spoon Attachment in front of the Liftware signage

Liftware Level with Spoon Attachment

-ND Assistive opens the first Home First Demonstration Center in Mandan


-Microsoft debuts the app for the platform of its competitor, Apple, with Seeing AI, and it’s FREE!

Seeing AI Logo

Seeing AI Logo


Google launches Voice Control for Android mobile devices

Tablet with Google Voice Access Turned on

Google Voice Control Activated


-The 21st Century Assistive Technology Act was introduced in the Senate by Senator Casey and CoSponsored by our own ND US Senator Kevin Cramer, and Senators Collins, Hassan, and King

-First National Assistive Technology Awareness Day 

-$6 App for Text to Speech with OCR-Voice Dream Scanner Debuts

-Live Transcribe by Google launches-free amazing speech to text translation to help people who are deaf

Live Transcribe Logo

Live Transcribe Logo


-30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

-COVID-19 debuts and ND Assistive keeps its doors open and continues to serve with a new grant to prevent social isolation for those in nursing homes 

-Video communication becomes a great way to social distance especially for seniors

-First North Dakota Assistive Technology Awareness Day Celebrated

Group of people at the ND State Capital including Governor Doug Burgum

Skip to content