Assistive Technologies Definitions

The Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1997 (IDEA '97) defines assistive technology with these words:

300.5 Assistive Technology Device
...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 children with disabilities.

If you take a closer look at this definition, it really has two parts. An assistive technology device…

  • is an item or piece of equipment
  • which, when used, increases functional capabilities

Almost anything can be considered assistive technology if a person with a disability needs it to increase, maintain or improve the way he or she functions. Assistive technology devices are often referred to as assistive technology tools. Here's a list of reasons why people with disabilities might use assistive technology tools.

  • communication
  • managing the environment
  • hearing and listening
  • moving their bodies
  • working with numbers
  • play
  • reading and writing
  • to help them remember
  • to help them see
  • help them work

Another way to look at the question of what is assistive technology is to ask what the tool would do for a person. Here's some things assistive technology commonly does:

  • Increases levels of independence
  • Improves quality of life
  • Increases productivity
  • Enhances performance
  • Expands educational/vocational options
  • Increases success in regular education settings
  • Reduces amount of support services needed

What are Assistive Technology Services?

IDEA '97 also tells us that there are services that must be provided to support a person's use of assistive technology. Everyone needs some help when they begin to use a new tool for the first time. Here's what IDEA '97 has to say about assistive technology services:

300.6 Assistive Technology Service
Any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. Such term includes:

  • Evaluation: the evaluation of needs, including a functional evaluation, in the child's customary environment
  • Providing Devices: purchasing, leasing or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices
  • Selecting, Repairing: selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing of assistive technology devices
  • Coordinating: coordinating with other therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices, such as those associated with existing education and rehabilitation plans and programs
  • Training and Technical Assistance - Child: training or technical assistance for an individual with disabilities, or where appropriate that child's family
  • Training/Technical Assistance - Professionals: training or technical assistance for professionals, employers, or other(s) who provide services to, employ, or are otherwise, substantially involved in the major life functions of children with disabilities

When is the use of Assistive Technology Appropriate?

Assistive technology is any tool or device that a student with a disability uses to do a task that he or she could not otherwise do without it or any tool the student uses to do a task more easily, faster, or in a better way. It can be a commercial product or something someone makes. It can be a simple "low tech" device such as a pencil grip or an expensive "high tech" device such as a computer.

Assistive technology has the powerful potential of impacting significantly upon a student with disabilities by contributing to his or her learning, independence, self-esteem, and quality of life. The only way to truly know whether assistive technology will make a significant difference for a student is try it out. For instance if a student is struggling with getting meaning from printed text, the IEP team may think that the student will benefit from having text scanned into a computer and spoken. The only way to determine if this will work is to try it. If the student has never tried the assistive technology, the IEP team should write the trial use of the technology into the IEP, rather than the purchase or permanent acquisition of the assistive technology.