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The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988.

The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988

On June 23, 1988, Congressman Jim Jeffords of Vermont and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa introduced the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988. On August 19, 1988, President Reagan signed the Act and it became law, Public Law 100-407. The support for the legislation was very strong. People with disabilities, their families and advocates and those who direct or provide services to those with disabilities emphasized to Congress the importance of technology and support services in technology for people with disabilities. And although many people indicated that much "off-the-shelf" technology is available to assist people with disabilities, such technology, as well as other specialized or customized technology, more often than not, is not accessible. Those concerned about the issue identified three major problems:

* People with disabilities and those involved with them, such as parents, siblings, friends, teachers, counselors, and employers, lack knowledge of and training in the use of technology and support services or the benefits that such technology and services would provide.

* Funding for technology and support services is uncoordinated, severely limited and primarily dependent on a personal source of assistance or aggressive action by an individual to make it available from a nonpersonal source.

* There is no comprehensive system in place to help people with disabilities acquire technology, to ensure that such technology is appropriate or customized to meet an individual's unique needs or circumstances, or to provide training in, upgrading, replacement, or repair of such technology.

The primary purpose of the Technology Act is to assist states to develop comprehensive, consumer-responsive programs in technology-related assistance for disabled people of all ages and, thereby, overcome these serious problems.

The legislation is very comprehensive. It contains seven purposes related to the State Grants Program for Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities. Through the State Grants Program it is anticipated that participating states will: increase the awareness of the needs of people with disabilities for technology and support services; increase the awareness of policies, practice and procedures that facilitate or impede the availability of such technology and services; increase the availability of and funding for technology and support services; increase the awareness and knowledge of the efficacy of technology and support services among people with disabilities and those involved with them, including insurers and employers; increase the capacity of public and private agencies and other groups to provide technology and support services to those with disabilities; increase coordination among such agencies and groups; and, finally, increase the probability, during times of transition, that an individual will, to the extent appropriate, be able to keep technology and access support services that he or she needs.

Another purpose of this legislation is to identify federal policies that facilitate the payment for technology and support services, those policies which do not, and eliminate inappropriate barriers to such payments. The final purposes of the Technology Act is to support technical assistance, information, training and public awareness programs, as well as model demonstration and innovation projects in technology and support services for people with disabilities.

On October, 1, 1988, $5 million in federal funds were available for the Technology Act. Most of the money will be used to fund seven or eight State Grants, awarded on a competitive basis. However, it is also anticipated that some of the money will be used to fund a technical assistance center to help states develop and implement statewide programs in technology-related assistance, and also to fund an evaluation contract to assess how well states that do receive grants do in responding to the purposes of the act that apply to them.

The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education, is responsible for administering the legislation. NIDRR published proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register on April 12, 1989. The program announcement for the State Grants Program for Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities was published in spring 1989 and grant awards will be made before September 30, 1989.

Key Definitions

In drafting the legislation, care was taken not to limit or to define narrowly important concepts that would influence how states develop statewide programs in technology-related assistance. This effort is best reflected in four concepts that are defined in the law -- assistive technology device, assistive technology service, individual with disabilities, and technology-related assistance. For example, assistive technology device was defined 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." The character of such a device is, as the definition suggests, defined very broadly. The definition of assistive technology service is also broad, covering selection, acquisition and use of a device. In this context a service includes the evaluation of need for a device; purchasing, leasing or otherwise providing devices; selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, or replacing devices; coordination and use of therapies in conjunction with devices; and training and technical assistance for the individual, family member or others substantially involved in the major life functions of people with disabilities.

The term, "individual with disabilities," although broadly construed, is a conjunctive concept. Such an individual is one who has a disability or handicap for the purposes of any federal or state law and who is or would be able to achieve a greater level of functioning or maintain a level of functioning with assistive technology devices and services.

Title I, The State Grants Program

In the Technology Act, the State Grants Program includes 12 functions and 8 activities that are not mandatory, but are suggestions or examples of how to use grant funds to accomplish the purposes of the act that apply to the State Grants Program. Illustrations of some of the functions are: conducting of needs assessments to determine the extent and nature of the needs of those with disabilities for technology and support devices (defined as assistive technology devices and assistive technology services in the law); identification and coordination of resources; training, technical assistance and public awareness programs related to technology; the direct provision of technology and support services; developing evaluation plans and collecting data; developing initiatives in consumer involvement; creation of new partnerships; and support for community-based and state organizations. Suggestions for activities are elaborations of many of the suggested functions and include a variety of needs assessment activities, support for model service delivery systems, dissemination projects, and inter-state cooperative agreements. Suggested functions are similar to goals, and suggested activities are similar to objectives. They are also a reflection of the flexibility being offered to participating states. Such a state is not required to give emphasis to certain functions or activities, nor to respond to all equally or in a certain combination; rather, to accomplish the purposes of the act that apply to the State Grants Program, such a state is expected to do what it deems necessary and appropriate. The functions and activities in the law represent some of the ways, but not the only ways, of accomplishing the purposes of the program.

The State Grants Program has two parts. Initially, states must compete for a 3-Year Development Grant and then apply for a 2-Year Extension Grant. This approach was adopted to phase in the costs of this new program and to give states time to observe and learn from the experiences of the earliest participants. In fiscal year 1989, the year beginning October 1, 1989, if funds allow, the Secretary of Education may award up to 10 Development Grants on a competitive basis. In the next year, the Secretary may award 20; and, in the following year, any number of Development Grants on a competitive basis. Any state that successfully completes a 3-Year Development Grant, if it completes a 2-Year Extension Grant, will receive funding on a non-competitive basis. However, priority for funding, if funding is limited, is given to states that receives grants in the first years of competition--1989 and 1990.

Funding for each participating state is flexible, can gradually increase and is subject to special factors the Secretary must take into account. Any state that receives a grant, assuming adequate funds, will receive $500,000 to $1 million a year for the first 2 years of participation and between $500,000 and $1.5 million a year for the remaining 3 years of participation. The Secretary, in making awards within these ranges may take into account state population and the nature of activities proposed. Also, states that propose using funding from other sources to complement grant funds will be rewarded, rather than penalized, for doing so. And finally, in making awards for Development Grants, the Secretary is to consider giving grants to states from various parts of the country and to states that reflect in their applications varying levels of capacity to develop statewide programs in technology-related assistance for people with disabilities.

Development Grants, as indicated, are awarded on a competitive basis. Therefore, how states respond to the application requirements for these grants is very important. The law specifies 17 application requirements. In an application, a state is expected to describe how it intends to or how it has addressed these requirements: designation of the responsible entity; agency involvement; public involvement; preliminary needs assessment; state resources; goals, objectives, functions, activities, and outcomes; information and evaluations; state policies with respect to contracts and agreements; and nine additional requirements in the form of assurances related to fiscal management, reports and availability of information in forms to reach persons with all types of disabilities.

Although it is expected that a state will be judged on how it responds to all requirements, some requirements, because of their nature, will be weighted more than others. Some likely candidates for special weighting are likely to be: how a state describes the designated entity and related organizational and management factors; how it describes agency and consumer involvement; how it describes its approach to measuring progress toward a consumer-responsive statewide program of technology-related assistances for people of all ages with disabilities; what its goals, objectives, functions, activities and outcomes will be; and, as a total application, how responsive it is to the purposes of the State Grants Program.

In an Extension Grant application a state will not be competing with other states, but will be judged on the basis of the extent to which it achieved what it intended to achieve under the Development Grant. The Extension Grant application has many requirements similar to those in the Development Grant application; however, it also includes some additions--results of a needs assessment; comments and state reaction to such comments on how satisfied people are with state efforts; documentation of progress made under the Development Grant; and an assurance that the state will comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act pertaining to the compatability and accessibility of electronic equipment in the workplace for those with disabilities.

Accountability measures in the Technology Act are of several kinds:

* First, at the end of each grant year, a state must submit to the Department of Education a progress report, including problems encountered and how the state intends to remedy these problems. Although impact of state efforts on people with disabilities and other players is welcomed in any progress report, such impact information is required at the end of each year of an Extension Grant (years four and five of state participation).

* Second, in the last year of a Development Grant (year three of state participation), the Secretary must conduct an onsite visit with a monitoring team, which must include peer reviewers, to determine the extent to which a state is making significant progress toward the development of a statewide program consistent with the purposes of the State Grants Program.

* Third, the Secretary is to conduct a national evaluation of the State Grants Program. In this evaluation, the Secretary is to assess the status and effects of state efforts to carry out the purposes of the program, especially in terms of the impact of such efforts on people with disabilities.

* Fourth, working with states, the Secretary is to explore the merits and feasibility of creating a national information system for this program; one which would allow qualitative and quantitative descriptions of the impact of the program on people with disabilities, public agencies, fiscal resources committed to technology and support services for people with disabilities, community-based organizations, and employers.

Title II, Programs of National Significance

Title II is comprised of 4 parts:

* Part A -- A Study on Financing of Assistive Technology Devices and Assistive Technology Services for Individuals with Disabilities;

* Part B -- National Information and Program Referral Network;

* Part C -- Training and Public Awareness Projects; and

* Part D -- Demonstration and Innovation Projects.

With the exception of the study mandated under Part A, which is the responsibility of the National Council on Disability, the remainder is the responsibility of the Secretary of Education. It is anticipated that the Part A initiative will receive funding in 1989; however, such funding is very remote for the other initiatives. Nonetheless, it is hoped that these initiatives will influence, to some extent, some of the funding priorities of NIDRR and the Office of Special Education Programs that relate to technology.

The purpose of the Part A Study is to review and recommend appropriate changes in funding policies which impede payment for technology and support services. It is anticipated that a report on this undertaking will be available in 18 months. The purposes of Part B are to explore the feasibility and, if warranted, create a network to provide information and expertise to personnel involved with those with disabilities who would benefit from technology and support services. Although funding now is unlikely for Part B, the Administration for Developmental Disabilities in the Department of Health and Human Services is funding two projects that are exploring the feasibility and effectiveness of general information systems devoted to information about services for those with disabilities. When funding for Part B is available, perhaps the information and experiences associated with these two projects will be of use in expediting the objectives of Part B.

In Part C, when funds are available, they will be given to two kinds of training projects: one that educates people with disabilities and other relevant groups, including those in organizations and agencies, in developing, demonstrating, disseminating, and evaluating curricula, materials and methods used to train people to provide technology-related assistance; and one that prepares personnel to provide technical assistance and administer programs or to support the development and implementation of statewide programs in technology-related assistance. Part C funding would also support a broad range of public awareness activities, including, for example, media spots on the impact and benefit of technology on the lives of those with disabilities.

When available, Part D funding would support model demonstrating direct service projects, applied research and development activities that increase the provision of reliable and durable technology, participation of the disabled in testing technology before mass marketing, making common technology accessible to the disabled, and increasing efforts in technology transfer.

Implications of the Technology Act

The Technology Act is comprehensive legislation. It reflects the belief that the topic -- technology and its benefits for those with disabilities -- has been speculated upon and studied enough, and that now is the time to encourage action. It reflects the belief that, although federal funds are limited, such funds can serve as a catalyst to redirect other funding to the technology needs of people with disabilities. It reflects the belief that federal legislation that focuses on outcomes, state-directed accountability and administrative flexibility can have a positive impact on the lives of those with disabilities. But, most importantly, this act reflects the commitment to increase choices and opportunities "to choose" for the disabled. Increased access to technology for such people will increase the likelihood that they will have more control over fundamental and important aspects of their lives, such as when, what and how they eat; where and how they live; where and what they do to earn a living; and when they move and what they move. Technology will allow those with disabilities to communicate not only what they need, but what they feel. Technology will allow them to learn not only some things, but anything. Technology in the hands, eyes, ears, feet, and minds of people with disabilities means more than the opportunity to be independent -- it means the opportunity to participate and contribute, to make the world a better place, not only for oneself, but for others.

Dr. Morrissey is a professional staff member, Committee on Education and Labor, U.S. House of Representatives. Dr. Silverstein is staff director, Subcommittee on the Handicapped, U.S. Senate.
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Author:Silverstein, Robert
Publication:American Rehabilitation
Date:Jun 22, 1989
Previous Article:RSA priorities: toward meaningful services to disabled people.
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