AT Overview

What is Assistive Technology?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 defines assistive technology as both a device and a service.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 defines an assistive technology device and “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain or improved the functional capabilities of a child with a disability. The term does not include a medical device that is surgically implanted, or the replacement of such device.” ( 34CFR§ 300.5).

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 defines an assistive technology service as “any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.” ( 34CFR§ 300.6). The term includes:

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

2. Purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices by children with disabilities;

3. Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing assistive technology devices;

4. Coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices, such as those associated with existing education and rehabilitation plans and programs;

5. Training or technical assistance for a child with a disability or, if appropriate, that child's family; and

6. Training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing education or rehabilitation services), employers, or other individuals who provide services to, employ, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of that child.

Within the school setting it is important to distinguish assistive technology from instructional or educational technology and software.

Instructional software is designed to assist students in acquiring and developing specific skills in the curricular content areas. Teachers may use instructional software or technology to teach material within a curricular/subject area.

Assistive technology provides a method to bypass or compensate for communication problems, physical challenges and/or learning difficulties and is considered when a student is unable to effectively access or participate in their curriculum.

IDEA uses the meaning given to the term universal design in the Assistive Technology Act of 1998. Section 3 of the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 states that the “…term ‘universal design' means a concept or philosophy for designing and delivering products and services that are usable by people with the widest possible range of functional capabilities, which include products and services that are directly usable (without requiring assistive technologies) and products and services that are made usable with assistive technologies.” (29 U.S.C. 3002).

The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) is at the national forefront in terms of defining and providing practical applications for universal design for learning (UDL). CAST describes Universal design for learning (UDL) as a framework for designing curricula that enable all individuals to gain knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for learning. UDL provides rich supports for learning and reduces barriers to the curruculm while maintaining high achievement standards for all. UDL considers all learners and is a way of educating students that takes into account individual differences and learning styles. The need for UDL is need is great given that our student population is more diverse than ever before and educators are challenged to teach all learners. 

Technology is the Great Equalizer

Technology increases the possibilities and has the potential to include all learners. Disabilities diminish as technology advances. The line between assistive technology, instructional technology and technology in general is becoming blurred and may be virtually eliminated in the future as technological advances and principals of UDL are adopted by students, teachers and administrators and become more commonplace. 

Assistive Technology and the IEP 

School districts are required under the law to provide appropriate assistive technology to students with disabilities when it supports their acquisition of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, requires the IEP team to consider a student’s need for assistive technology devices and services whenever an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is written. The principal reason for considering and providing assistive technology is to enable students to meet the instructional goals set forth for them. In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act require schools to provide assistive technology for students with disabilities, if needed to assure equal access to the school’s programs and services. The process for considering assistive technology is explained in more detail in the article Assistive Technology and the IEP.  

Assistive technology is considered for students who are having difficulty achieving IEP goals in areas of prioritized need such as:

  • Writing mechanics
  • Writing composition
  • Reading
  • Math
  • Learning and studying
  • Organization

Assistive technology is considered for students who are having difficulty accessing their educational environment and curricular materials in areas such as:  

  • Computer Access
  • Mobility
  • Communication
  • Hearing
  • Vision
  • Positioning & Seating
  • Activities of Daily Living

Low-tech options should be considered first because low tech options are typically:

  • portable
  • easy to use
  • require no training
  • their use may be virtually transparent
  • inexpensive
  • readily available 

Examples of low-tech options include: 

  • Reading frames
  • Sticky notes and removable highlighter tape
  • Highlighters
  • Bold-lined paper
  • Graph paper
  • Communication books
  • Timers
  • Seat cushions
  • Graphic organizers (paper)
  • Color coded folders or tabs
  • Pencil grip
  • Dictionary/thesaurus

Mid-Tech options are considered if low-tech options are not useful.

Mid-tech options typically: 

  • Offer many of the advantages of low tech
  • Do not require extensive training
  • Tend to be relatively inexpensive
  • Are lightweight and portable allowing them to be used anywhere

Examples of mid-tech options include:

  • Recorded books
  • Tape recorders
  • Amplification systems
  • Calculators
  • Hand held talking dictionaries
  • Electronic organizers
  • Switches
  • Talking switches

High-tech options are consider when low and mid-tech devices are not useful

  • Often not portable
  • Can require extensive training
  • Often highly visible to others
  • Expensive
  • Prone to breaking down

Examples of high-tech options include:

  • Alternative keyboards
  • Digital whiteboards
  • Text-to-speech software
  • Word prediction software
  • Speech recognition software
  • Augmentative communication software
  • Braille translation software


How many schools do you cover?

one - 9.7%
two - 32.3%
three - 25.8%
four - 12.9%
five or more - 19.4%

Total votes: 31
The voting for this poll has ended on: November 17, 2013

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