The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) defines assistive technology as devices and services, such as visual aids, communication tools, and specialized equipment for accessing a computer, that are used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities, allowing them to benefit from special education and promoting their independence. Other examples of typical assistive technology include Braille readers, wheelchairs, augmentative communication devices, electronic dictionaries/spellers, alternative keyboards, and computer software programs. IDEA mandates that assistive technology be considered in the development of individualized education programs (IEPs) for all students with disabilities, with special emphasis on facilitating students’ access to the general education curriculum.
In addition to IDEA, two additional pieces of legislation relate specifically to technology for individuals with disabilities. The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (known as the “Tech Act”) provides states with funding to develop comprehensive programs to meet the assistive technology needs of individuals with disabilities. In this law, Congress noted that there have been significant advances in technology, that technology benefits all individuals, that technology is a necessity for some individuals with disabilities because it enables them to engage in life’s tasks, that using assistive technology devices and services with exceptional individuals ultimately can reduce the overall costs of disabilities, and that many individuals with disabilities lack access to the assistive technology devices and services requisite for their functioning in the school and community at a level commensurate with their abilities. Because of these concerns, Congress identified a number of objectives in this legislation, including increasing awareness of the needs of individuals with disabilities for assistive technology devices and services; improving the availability of, and funding for, assistive technology; expanding the knowledge of well-organized applications of assistive technology devices and services; and promoting collaboration among state agencies and public and private entities that provide assistive technology devices and services.
The Assistive Technology Act of 1998 (ATA) expands its predecessor and affirms that technology is a valuable tool that can be used to enhance the lives of individuals with disabilities. It also confirms the role of the federal government in promoting access to assistive technology devices and services for individuals with disabilities. The ATA is intended to support states in strengthening their ability to address the assistive technology needs of individuals with disabilities. It requires states to engage in public awareness programs that provide information on the accessibility and benefits of assistive technology devices and services, facilitate interagency coordination that improves access to assistive technology for individuals of all ages who have disabilities, and provide technical assistance and outreach support to statewide community-based organizations that provide assistive technology devices and services.
Technology supporting students’ progress may be high or low tech. Computers or other complex devices using multifunction technology may not always be needed, depending on the students’ presenting characteristics and needs. Often, relatively low-tech supports (such as pencil grips, calculators, and graphic organizers) can greatly facilitate the learning of children with disabilities. Regardless of the level of technology offered, these supports enable students to communicate, receive instruction, and participate in the academic, recreational, and social activities of school and the community, ultimately promoting independence.
Instructional and assessment accommodations, which may involve some form of assistive technology, are required by IDEA for all students with disabilities, and these accommodations must be described on each student’s IEP. Any number of instructional and assessment accommodations may be employed for students, depending on their unique needs. These accommodations may relate to the types of instructional methods and materials used (e.g., highlighters, diagrams, graphic organizers, books on tape), testing arrangements (e.g., using a computer to have items read aloud, allowing students to respond orally, using a calculator), and use of specialized communication systems (e.g., augmentative communication boards).
These are just a few of the accommodations whereby assistive technology can enable students to access the same material as their nondisabled peers.
Innovations in technology continue to shape how educators can better meet the needs of their students with disabilities. Assistive technology can be skillfully incorporated as a part of instruction and delivered to enhance the education and life functioning of individuals with disabilities. This technological enhancement, called the “great equalizer” for students with disabilities, requires that educators keep in step with new developments in the technology for the betterment of the exceptional students they teach.
- Assistive Technology Act, P.L. 105-394 (1998).
- Behrmann, M., & Jerome, M. K. (2002). Assistive technology for students with mild disabilities: Update 2002. Available from http://www.cec.sped.org Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, P.L. 108-446 (2004).
- Technology: The great equalizer. (n.d.). Available from http://www.cec.sped.org Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act, P.L. 100-407 (1988).
- Center for Applied Special Technology: http://www.cast.org
- Journal of Special Education Technology: http://jset.unlv.edu
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