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Assistive Technology

Definition of Assistive Technology Devices and Services

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Public Law 105-17) offers clear definitions of assistive technology devices and services.

Assistive Technology Device:

Assistive technology devices are identified in the IDEA as:

any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities. (Section 300.5)

The definition of an assistive technology device as provided in the IDEA is very broad and gives IEP teams the flexibility that they need to make decisions about appropriate assistive technology devices for individual students. Although the IDEA uses the term "device", IEP teams should remember that assistive technology also includes assistive technology hardware and software. Assistive technology may also include technology solutions that are generally considered instructional technology tools, if they have been identified as educationally necessary and documented in the student's IEP. For example, a classroom computer with a word processing program can be considered assistive technology for a student who demonstrates difficulty in writing and spelling if the IEP team has determined that it is educationally necessary.

As used in this document, assistive technology device includes devices, hardware, and software that are required by a student with a disability. Assistive technology devices can be purchased from a local store or a vendor that specializes in the production and sale of assistive technology devices. Assistive technology devices often need to be modified or customized to meet the individual needs of a student with a disability. For example, a computer keyboard may need to be adapted through the addition of tactile locator dots for a student with a visual impairment. When determining assistive technology needs, IEP teams should consider commercially available solutions that may be used "as is" or that can be modified to meet the student's needs. However, in some situations it may be necessary to construct a device to meet the student's unique needs.

A range of assistive technology devices is available. Some are relatively "low technology" and inexpensive. For example, a pencil grip is an assistive technology device that may be used by a student with a physical disability to improve handwritten communication through increasing their grasp of and control over their pencil. An adapted cup with enlarged handles may be used by a student who has difficulty holding a standard cup. Other devices are more "high technology" tools and are often more expensive. An example of a "high technology" tool is an augmentative communication device in which students type in messages on a communication display and they are spoken aloud.

Assistive technology devices are available in a variety of categories to address functional capabilities of students with disabilities. These categories include but are not limited to:

Academic and Learning Aids: Electronic and non-electronic aids such as calculators, spell checkers, portable word processors, and computer-based software solutions that are used by a student who has difficulty achieving in his or her educational curriculum

Aids for Daily Living: Self-help aids for use in activities such as eating, bathing, cooking,

dressing, toileting, and home maintenance

Assistive Listening Devices and Environmental Aids: Electronic and non-electronic aids such as amplification devices, closed captioning systems, and environmental alert systems that assist a student who is hard of hearing or deaf with accessing information that is typically presented through an auditory modality.

Augmentative Communication: Electronic and non-electronic devices and software solutions that provide a means for expressive and receptive communication for students with limited speech

Computer Access and Instruction: Input and output devices, alternative access aids, modified or alternative keyboards, switches, special software, and other devices and software solutions that enable a student with a disability to use the classroom computer

Environmental Control: Electronic and non-electronic aids such as switches, environmental control units, and adapted appliances that are used by a student with a physical disability to increase his or her independence across all areas of the curriculum

Mobility Aids: Electronic and non-electronic aids such as wheelchairs (manual and electronic), walkers, scooters that are used to increase personal mobility

Pre-vocational and Vocational Aids: Electronic and non-electronic aids such as picture-based task analysis sheets, adapted knobs, and adapted timers and watches that are used to assist a student in completing pre-vocational and vocational tasks

Recreation and Leisure Aids: Electronic and non-electronic aids such as adapted books, switch adapted toys, and leisure computer-based software applications that are used by a student with a disability to increase his or participation and independence in recreation and leisure activities

Seating and Positioning: Adaptive seating systems and positioning devices that provide students with optimal positioning to enhance participation and access to the curriculum

Visual Aids: Electronic and non-electronic aids such as magnifiers, talking calculators, Braille writers, adapted tape players, screen reading software applications for the computer, and Braille note-taking devices that assist a student with a visual impairment or blindness to access and produce information that is typically present in a visual (print) modality

(Adapted from the Assistive Technology Guidelines for Kentucky Schools,

Department of Education)

A particular student with a disability may require assistive technology solutions from one or more of the above categories. For example, a student with a severe intellectual disability may use an augmentative communication device to supplement his or her communication skills, adaptive switch toys to participate in leisure activities, and an adapted keyboard for accessing the software applications on the classroom computer.

The above listed categories of assistive technology devices are not disability specific. For example, a student with a learning disability who has difficulty focusing on the teacher's lecture in class due to processing difficulties may require an assistive listening device to amplify the teacher's voice in a classroom. Students with various types of disabilities use adapted tape recorders originally developed for visually impaired and blind children to access audio-taped reading materials.

The need for assistive technology devices is determined by the student's IEP committee. Typically, assistive technology solutions are identified through consideration of assistive technology or through an assistive technology assessment. Once an assistive technology device has been determined educationally necessary, the student's IEP team should document the required device(s) in the IEP. Information on considering and assessing the need for assistive technology devices and documenting assistive technology devices is included in subsequent sections of this manual.

Assistive Technology Service:

As defined in IDEA, an assistive technology service is any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, and use of an assistive technology device.

The term includes-

(a) The evaluation of the needs of a child with a disability, including a functional evaluation of the child in the child's customary environment;

(b) Purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices by children with disabilities;

(c) Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, retaining, repairing, or replacing assistive technology devices;

(d) Coordinating and use other therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices, such as those associated with existing education and rehabilitation plans and programs:

(e) Training or technical assistance for a child with a disability or, if appropriate, that child's family, and

(f) Training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals or rehabilitation services), employers, or other individuals who provide services to employ, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of children with disabilities.

(Section 300.6)

As stated in the IDEA, assistive technology services are provided to assist in the selection, acquisition, and use of an assistive technology device. Often IEP teams focus their energies on the device itself and forget that the assistive technology services, as described in this document, are critical to the student's use of the device. For some students, appropriate assistive technology devices are identified through an assessment that the IDEA specifies must assessment should be conducted in the student's customary environment. After, a device has been selected to meet the student's needs, the next step or "service" is to actually provide the assistive technology device for the student's use. After the device has been obtained, and if appropriate, modified, all appropriate individuals should be trained in the use of the device and the device should be made available for the student's use across instructional settings as needed.