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Assistive technology: a student's right.

School districts are responsible for helping students with disabilities select and acquire appropriate assistive technology devices and assisting in training them to use the devices.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendment of 1991 defines an assistive technology device 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 functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities." This broad definition includes a range of devices from low technology to high technology items as well as software.

The legal definition of assistive technology service as it appears in the IDEA is "any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device." Specific services can include:

* Evaluation of the technology needs of the individual, including a functional evaluation in the individual's customary environment.

* Purchasing, leasing or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices for individuals with disabilities.

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

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

* Assistive technology training and technical assistance for an individual with a disability or, where appropriate, the family of an individual with a disability.

* Training or technical assistance for professionals, employers or other individuals who provide services to, employ or otherwise are substantially involved in the lives of individuals with disabilities.

Uses of Assistive Technology

assistive technology covers a wide range of areas as well as adaptive environments. Some common areas where assistive technology can be applied are described below.


In the classroom, individuals with physical disabilities may need assistance with positions for seating so they can participate effectively in school work. Generally, therapists try to achieve an upright, forward-facing position by using padding, structured chairs, straps, supports or restraints to hold the body stable and comfortable. Also considered is the student's position in relation to peers and the teacher. Often, it is necessary to design positioning systems for a variety of settings so the student can participate in multiple activities at school.

Examples of equipment used for positioning are sidelying frames, walkers, crawling assists, floor sitters, chair inserts, wheelchairs, straps, trays, standing aids, bean bag chairs and sandbags.

Computer Access

In order to participate in school tasks, some students require special devices that provide access to computers or environmental controls. The first step is to determine which body parts can be used to indicate the student's intentions. Anatomical sites within the student's control, such as eye blinks, head or neck movements or mouth movements, may be used to operate the devices which provide this access. Once an anatomical site has been determined, decisions can be made about input devices, selection techniques (direct, scanning) and acceleration strategies (coding, prediction).

Input devices include switches, expanded keyboards, mouse, trackball, touch window, speech recognition, head pointers, keyguards, key latches, keyboard emulators (e.g. adaptive firmware card) and electronic communication devices.

Another element of computer access is output. Output devices include any adaptation which may be needed to access the screen display such as tactile (Braille), text enlargement or synthesized speech. Once computer access has been established, it should be coordinated with any other systems the student is using, including powered mobility, communication or listening devices and environmental control systems.

Environmental Control

Independent use of equipment in the classroom can be achieved for students with physical disabilities through various types of environmental controls, including remote-control switches and special adaptations of on/off switches to make them accessible (e.g. VELCROTM attachments, pointer sticks).

Augmentative Communication

Every student in school needs some method of communication in order to interact with others and learn. Students with severe communication impairments or whose speech is neither fluent nor understandable enough to communicate effectively may benefit from some type of communication device. These devices include symbol systems, communication boards and wallets, electronic communication devices, speech synthesizers and communication software.

Assistive Listening

For much of the time in school, students are expected to learn by listening. Students who have hearing impairments can be at a distinct disadvantage unless they learn to use the residual hearing they may have, or they develop alternative means for getting information. Hearing problems may be progressive, permanent or intermittent. Any of these impairments may interfere significantly with learning to speak, read and follow directions.

assistive devices to help with hearing include hearing aids, personal FM units, sound field FM systems, TDDs (telecommunication devices for the deaf), closed-captioned TV or mild-gain hardware systems. (The current terminology for TDD is shifting to "text telephone"or TT.)

Visual Aids

Vision is a primary learning mode. General methods for assisting with vision needs include increasing contrast, enlarging images and making use of tactile and auditory materials. Devices that assist with vision include:

* Optical or electronic magnifying devices.

* Low-vision aids such as handheld or spectacle-mounted magnifiers or telescopes.

* Closed-circuit television read/ write systems.

* Cassette tape recordings.

* Large print books.

* Brailied materials.

* Computer screen reading adaptations such as enlargement, synthesized voice and refreshable Braille.

* Optical character readers.

* Reading machines.

* Scanners.

* Electronic note-taking devices.

* Braille writers.

* Copy machines can increase the size or contrast of images.

* Halogen or other lighting modifications.

* Vision stimulation devices such as light boxes.

Computer-based Instruction

Computer-based instruction can enhance independent participation in activities supporting the curriculum. Software can be selected to mirror the conceptual flamework of the regular curriculum while offering an alternative way of responding to learning activities.

Software can provide the tools for written expression, spelling, calculation, reading, basic reasoning and higher-level thinking skills. The computer can also be used to access a wide variety of databases.


Individuals whose physical impairments limit their mobility may need any of a number of devices to help them get around in the school building and participate in student activities.

Mobility devices include self-propelled walkers, manual or powered wheelchairs and powered recreational vehicles such as bikes and scooters.

Mobility is also a standard term for specialized training and aids used by individuals who are visually impaired or blind. Travel aids for individuals with low-vision blindness or dual sensory impairments include long white canes, electronic image sensors which provide information through vibration and telescopic aids for reading signs or spotting other landmarks.


In order to benefit from education, some students require assistance with self-care activities like feeding, dressing and toileting. Devices which assist with self-care include aids for grooming, dressing, robotics, electric feeders, adapted utensils and specially-designed toilet seats.

Physical Education

Recreation, leisure and play -- students with disabilities want to have fun and interact socially with their peers. Assistive technology can help them participate in interactive recreational activities. Some adapted recreational devices include drawing software, computer games, computer simulations, painting with a head wand, interactive laser disks and adapted puzzles. A student with a disability also has a right to an appropriate physical education including inclusion in gym class when possible or adapted physical education. Assistive devices might include beeping balls or goal posts, wheelchairs adapted for participation in sports, game rules in Braille or on audio cassette, balance or positioning aids, swimming pool lifts or adapted sports or fitness/ exercise equipment.

The above list of uses for assistive technology is not exhaustive. There are many other areas where individuals with disabilities may benefit from using assistive technology.

Assistive Technology Resources

* ABLEDATA includes more than 16,000 products from more than 2,000 companies including computer information, architectural access and employment. The first eight pages are free, but there is a service charge for longer searches. Contact ABLEDATA, 8455 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring, MD 20910, (800) 346-2742.

* Apple Computers, Inc., Office of Worldwide Disability Solutions publishes two booklets, Towards Independence, which lists all adaptive equipment for Macintosh computers, and Connections, which lists adaptive equipment for all Apple computers. Contact Apple Computers, Inc., Office of Worldwide Disability Solutions, 20525 Mariani Ave., Cupertino, CA 95014, (408)974-791 O.

* AT&T Special Needs Center offers a directory of commercially-available products and services and responds to requests for information. Contact AT&T Special Needs Center, Suite 310, 2001 Route 46, Parsippany, NJ 07054, (800)233-1222.

* IBM National Support Center for Persons with Disabilities offers Technology for Persons with Disabilities, a resource guide for persons with mobility impairments and a listing of support organizations free of charge. Contact the IBM National Support Center for Persons with Disabilities, P.O. Box 2150-HO6Rl, Atlanta, GA 30301-2150, (800) 346-2742.

* Trace Research and Development Center offers free information on computer access for persons with disabilities. Contact Trace Research and Development Center, University of Wisconsin, Rm. S-1 51, Waisman Center, 1500 Highland Ave., Madison, WI 53705, (608)262-6966.
COPYRIGHT 1992 EP Global Communications, Inc.
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Title Annotation:Technology Section
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Previous Article:Independent living philosophy: a gift for the future.
Next Article:How technology assists my daughter to compete in the mainstream of life.

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