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Assistive Technology

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Assistive Technology includes both accommodations and adaptations. Assistive technology is referred to legally as "Any item, piece of equipment, or product stystem, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child witth a disability." (Source: Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards).

This section of our infowiki focuses on the software and hardware products that assist students with disabilities, both cognitive and physical. These tools can increase efficient student learning. Since the technologies can be in the form of both accomodations and adaptations, so it is useful to discern between the two:

An accommodation refers to a modification which is made to compensate for individual skills or abilities that may not be apparent in certain individuals. Accommodations help individuals complete tasks and assignments through a different method to ensure their success, despite whatever disability may be present. This simply refers to a change in routine or approach, and can be used by all people. (Source: Family Guide to Assistive Technology). Accommodations are most commonly used by individuals with cognitive exceptionalities.
Cognitive Assistance Through Technology: Cognitive areas of need can be twice exceptional, including individuals that have learning disabilities and/or are considered to be gifted and talented.
An adaptation refers to changing the way tasks in every day life are performed. This adaptaion is specially designed for specific for individuals, and is not usually used by others. (Source: Family Guide to Assistive Technology). Adaptive Technologies are most commonly used by individulas with physical disabilities.
Physical Assistance Through Technology: There are three main components of physical disabilities; visual, mobility, and auditory.

Current Issues

Issues that surround assistive technology often occur in direct correlation to the legal systems.

  • In 1988, federal legislation passed The Technology-Related Assistance Act for Individuals with Disabilities, which provided state funding for assistive technology.
  • In 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Actwas passed, which extended the opportunity for people with disabilites access to all public buildings, modes of transportation, and communication devices.
  • In 1998, Section 508 was added to the Federal Rehabilitation Act; it specifies standards for federal government publishing of electonic media including web pages, software, etc. It does not apply to private enterprises, but it does serve as a guideline for best practice for accessibility to electronically published media.
  • In addition to section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act, Section 504 was added to help protect persons with disabilities against discrimination. The nondiscrimination laws apply to organizations and employers that recieve fiscal support from federal funds. This includes schools that house students in grades k-12, as well as colleges and universities.
  • For students with cognitive disabilities, however, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is most importatnt. IDEA was originally passed in 1997, and required special educators and those involved in setting up an Individualized Education Plan consider the use of technology when writing the program. IDEA has since been revised and is currently undergoing another reform. The issue is that this law covers all disabilites and is not researched enough to see if the use of technology is actually limiting the appearance of an individual's cognitive disability. Though there are many school systems that offer assistive technology for this population of students, they were most likely obtained by advocates for the students and/or technology.
  • Another growing issue is that though local school systems may have the technology to offer, it does not mean that each individual teacher of students with cognitive or physical disabilities has access. With the move for special education students to become mainstream and full inclusion, it is imperitive that all individuals that assist the students have access to these programs in order to provide the students with the legal services they are entitled to recieve.


The technology resources discussed on the pages above are aligned with the ISTE standards for both teachers and students which help integrate technology into the life and education of students.


Assistive Technolgy Page Written by: Greg Mares and Janelle Rucinski 2006

Edited by: Demetri Orlando 2006


Also See: http://www.washington.edu/doit/Faculty/Strategies/Academic/Adaptive/

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