What is Assistive Technology (AT)?

What is Assistive Technology (AT)?

AT is “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 a child with a disability”

– 20 USC 1401(1)

AT can be anything from a simple device, such as a magnifying glass, to a complex device, such as a computerized communication system.


The Possibilities of Assistive Technology



How Can Assistive Technology Help?

Technology makes it possible for children with disabilities to lead independent and fulfilling lives.

AT can help in various areas, including:

  • Aids for daily living
    Eating, Dressing, Recreation & Leisure, and Home Living
  • Studying/Reading/Accessing the computer
  • Composing written material and performing math calculations
  • Communication
  • Community access


Aids for Daily Living

  • Eating
  • Adapted utensils/plates
  • Arm support
  • Automated feeding
  • Home Living
  • Switch
  • Battery Interrupter
  • Control Unit
  • Infrared sender/receiver
  • X-10 unit and peripherals
  • Recreation & Leisure
  • Adapted toys and games
  • Battery interrupters and switches
  • Adapted sporting equipment
  • Universal cuff to hold crayons, markers, paint brush
  • Modified utensils
  • Computer programs
  • Dressing
  • Velcro Fasteners
  • Button hook
  • Dressing aids



  • Learning/Studying
  • Print and picture schedules
  • Low-tech aids to find materials
  • Text highlighters
  • Voice output reminders for tasks, assignments, steps to tasks
  • Software for manipulation of objects/concept development
  • Software for organization of ideas and studying
  • Reading
  • Changes in text size/space/color/background color
  • Book adapted for page turning
  • Use of pictures with text
  • Talking electronic devices for single words
  • Scanner with OCR and talking word processor
  • Electronic books


Math/Computer Access


  • Abacus, math line
  • Calculator/Talking Calculator/Calculator with large keys/On-screen calculator
  • Software with cueing for math computations
  • Tactile/voice output measuring devices

Alternate Computer Access

  • Adapted keyboards
  • Word prediction, word completion, macros, abbreviation expansion to reduce keystrokes
  • Keyguard
  • Alternate mouse
  • Switches
  • Voice recognition software and hardware


Composing Written Material

  • Word cards, word book, word wall
  • Pocket dictionary, thesaurus
  • Electronic dictionary/spell check
  • Word processor with word prediction
  • Multimedia software for production of ideas
  • Voice recognition software
  • Mechanics of writing
  • Pencil/pen with adapted grip
  • Adapted paper
  • Slantboard
  • Typewriter
  • Portable word processor
  • Computer



  • Communication book/board
  • Eye gaze board
  • Simple voice output product
  • Voice output device with levels
  • Voice output with icon sequencing
  • Voice output with

dynamic display

  • Device with speech

output for typing

Communication Board



Work/School to Work Aids and Adaptations

  • Scheduling aids (calendars, reminders, task analysis)
  • Switch/device
  • Adapted keyboard
  • Communication aid
  • Keyboard emulator
  • Adaptive seating/positioning
  • Electronic communication
  • Electronic organizer
  • Adapted computer input
  • Environmental control unit


How do I Determine What Type of Technology My Child Needs?

An assistive technology evaluation will help match your child’s strengths and challenges with appropriate AT devices and services.

Evaluations can be conducted by:

  • Schools
  • Independent agencies
  • Individual consultants

What to consider during the evaluation:

  • Areas that your child is having difficulties with
  • Your child’s strengths and preferences
  • The different environments in which your child interacts with others

An evaluation should result in a recommendation for specific devices and services. AT services include training on and maintenance of AT devices.


Where Can I Learn More about
AT Options?


  • Speech-language therapists
  • Occupational therapists
  • School professionals

Community organizations

  • Parent training and information centers (PTIs)
  • Community technology centers
  • State assistive technology programs
  • Rehabilitation Centers

If possible, visit an AT Center with your child to see and try out various devices and equipment. Many states have AT centers that loan and re-cycle AT devices.

AT workshops, demonstrations, conferences, and the Internet are all good resources for learning more about AT.

The Family Center on Technology and Disability website has a variety of helpful resources www.fctd.info.


Assistive Technology
in Schools



Understanding the Law and AT
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Your child’s AT needs must be considered.

“Assistive technology” may not be identified as such, but may be included as “accommodations.”

If necessary, an AT evaluation must be


AT devices and/or services must be

provided by the school system if

identified in the child’s IEP.

Training of teachers, aides, and

the student may be listed in the

IEP as “AT Services.”


Understanding the Law and AT Continued…
Individualized Education Programs (IEP)

Federal law requires that public schools develop IEPs for each eligible child with a disability.

IEPs are developed by a team of knowledgeable persons and must be reviewed once a year.

The team may include: child’s teacher, parents, the child, a qualified school system representative, parent advocate, translator

When AT is included in an IEP, the school must make sure it is provided.

If parents disagree with the proposed IEP, they can request mediation or, ultimately, a due process hearing from the state educational agency if applicable in that state.


Understanding the Law and AT Continued…
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

Prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities

Applies to all programs that receive federal funds, including the public school system

Students with disabilities must be given the same opportunities to participate in educational programs and activities as their classmates, and the use of AT may be considered as an accommodation.

If a child does not qualify for special education services, they may be able to acquire AT through a 504 plan.


Consideration of Your Child’s AT Needs

An IEP team’s consideration of AT
generally follows the following steps:

1. Gather information about your child, including his or her disabilities and abilities

2. Share information gathered about your child

3. Remember that your child’s preferences in areas such as color and style are important to consider


Consideration of Your Child’s AT Needs, Continued…

4. Make a list of your child’s needs, environments, and tasks, and prioritize your child’s biggest educational challenges.

5. Brainstorm possible solutions to your child’s main goals.

6. Review a list of possible devices,

and choose which one to try first.

7. After deciding upon a device,

acquire the device for the student

to try.

8. Evaluate your child’s success with the device and make changes as needed.


What happens if the IEP Team cannot determine what AT devices and services are best for my child?

A second, independent AT evaluation may be needed.

The evaluation should be performed by a qualified professional either in the school system or by an independent organization at the district’s expense.


Disagreeing with the School About AT

You have the right to disagree with the school’s decision concerning AT

Common reasons for disagreement:

  • You disagree with the writing in the IEP
  • You believe your child is not receiving appropriate AT devices and/or services
  • You think additional services are needed


Steps to resolve disagreements

Discuss the situation informally with school representatives

Take formal action, which may include:

  • Mediation
  • A due process hearing
  • The filing of a formal complaint with the state


Funding for
Assistive Technology



Funding AT

Funding sources can be organized

according to their criteria, which may include:

  • The individual’s purpose for using

the technology

  • The nature of the equipment
  • The individual’s age
  • Location – many foundations focus on specific states, cities, and communities
  • Financial circumstances


Government Funding for AT

  • Special education, vocational rehabilitation, and Medicaid are the three largest government programs that fund assistive technology.
  • Funding can only be granted to those who meet the specific program’s eligibility requirements.
  • Many funding programs use “means testing”
  • Means testing: a way of determining eligibility for a program or service based upon income, resources, or other measures of individual or family economic status


Medicaid vs. Medicare


  • Established under Title 19 of the Social Security Act
  • Administered by state agencies
  • Provides medical assistance for individuals “whose income and resources are insufficient to meet the costs of necessary medical services”
  • Will purchase, rent, or lease various types of AT if they are considered medically necessary


  • Provides insurance to many children and adults with severe disabilities
  • Part B of Medicare describes that they may pay for all or a portion of your child’s AT devices if they qualify as “durable medical equipment”
  • An AT device must be considered medically necessary – the child’s doctor must prescribe a specific device and it must be supplied by a Medicare-approved provider


Other AT Funding Sources

Community Service Organizations

  • In many communities service, religious, or fraternal organizations provide equipment directly to individuals in particular circumstance.

Foundation Support

  • Many foundations address disability-related needs on an ongoing basis.
  • Are more likely to give grants or loans to organizations.

Commercial Loan

  • Commercial credit is becoming more widely available for purchases of AT.
  • Loans may be available through traditional lending organizations.
  • 14 states have received federal funding to establish financial loan programs for individuals with disabilities to purchase AT.

Private Insurance


Developing a Funding Strategy

Research technology and funding options on the Internet or at a local information center

Make a list of opportunities that you want to pursue first, second, and third

Make a budget of all of your family’s expenses.

  • Helps you determine what funds you can put

toward the purchase of a device

  • Helps you make the strongest

possible case for funding


Developing a Funding Strategy Continued…

Identify people in your life who can help you with the funding process

  • This includes friends, relatives, and co-workers
  • They may have organizational contacts or valuable proposal writing skills

Keep good records of your funding progress

  • It helps to stay as organized as

possible when presenting your case