Assistive Technology

Thomas Rosati, A.T.P.

Rehabilitation Engineers of North America, 
Assistive Technology Practitioner National Certification

 Assistive Technology for Administrators


What is Assistive Technology?

      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. - I.D.E.A.

      A quandary that districts face is the delineation of educational vs. therapeutic therapies and assistance.  There is a need for greater justification in I.E.P. goals to demonstrate the use of equipment or assistive technologies is being used not just for skill development but for educational needs.  Equipment should assist greater independence and lessen dependence of a caregiver or further goals that are moving towards a less restrictive environment.

What is an Independent Assistive Technology Evaluation?

      Independent Educational Assistive Technology Evaluations are created in accordance with I.D.E.A. regulations for Assistive Technology consideration which by law should appear in every Students I.E.P. All evaluations are made after direct assessment of a students abilities, a review of pertinent school records, parent interviews, teacher interviews with district staff including classroom teachers, related service staff, special needs educators. Evaluations from district and outside sources are reviewed which normally include educational, psychological, medical, and speech language and hearing reports,  Specialized medical, clinical, and educational  testing will also be used where available.

     Evaluations are prepared based on the standards and ethics demands specified for RESNA for Assistive Technology Providers.  Recommendations are independently crafted without undue influence from the school district or advocates for the student.  The evaluator is not affiliated with any specific manufacturer or product and any item suggested in the report Ethical testing and evaluation standards for individuals examining students are also discussed at

An independent evaluation is requested either from a C.S.E., or when an impasse has been reached on the evaluation. These evaluations are presented at a district C.S.E.  The C.S.E. by consensus approve the recommendations.


Is Assistive Technology just AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) and is it all High Tech?

      Assistive Technology is for more independent, productive and enjoyable living. It can be simple or complex. It can include Velcro, adapted clothing and toys, computers, seating systems, powered mobility, augmentative communication devices, special switches, assisted listening devices, visual aids, memory prosthetics, and thousands of other commercially available or adapted items. These technology solutions are designed to improve an individual's educational abilities to learn, communicate, work and interact. Assistive technology should help a student achieve greater independence and  enhance the quality of their lives . Outside of school this might also include Environmental Control Devices or  E.C.U.s. They may also be known by the mnemonic E.A.D.L. (Electronics for Assisted Daily Living)

What are the regulations school personnel should know about?

      I.D.E.A., A.D.A., and specific knowledge of law cases, I.E.P. regulations, and 504 regulations are all vital “talking points”  about which district C.S.E.s  should be well versed.  Knowing the specific regulations and training for teachers and those who are responsible for teaching, and to assist in achieving  I.E.P. goals, is often a missing piece in a district or classroom planning.

Supplementary aids and services

     These services include aids, services and other supports, and are to be made available in regular education classes and "other education-related settings" to enable children with disabilities to be educated with their nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. 20 U.S.C. § 1401(29).  AT devices and services would be included in this definition.  These supports are to be provided in other settings, in addition to the classroom, such as extracurricular activities. See 34 C.F.R. § 300.306. A student who needs an alternative communication system, for example, should be able to use that system in after school and other nonacademic functions. As noted above, any such use must be listed on the IEP. 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(A)(iii).

Who pays for Assistive Technology?

      AAC devices are considered to be "durable medical equipment" and generally are funded through private insurance or through Medicare. The process in obtaining an AAC device has many steps.

      A school district or agency may purchase AAC for use by an individual but the device is the property of the school or agency, not the individual. This can be problematic if the individual moves out of the district or the agency service area.

     All other equipment may be provided from home or outside sources, but if it is used in the educational setting, then it is the districts responsibility to provide any equipment that is listed in the students’ I.E.P.  Part of a home school collaboration is the sharing of equipment and devices within the regulations.  

Who Evaluates a student for Assistive Technology?

     Assistive technology is not nice and neat and in most cases can not be taken care of  by a single individual.  A C.S.E. will often pay for an evaluation out of ignorance of the materials requested, for items that will cost less the evaluation itself.  A P.T. can pick out a modified toilet with the C.S.E. will have no problem with that, yet if assistive technology is recommended they are hampered by a lack of familiarity with the particular components, or overwhelmed with anything beyond a basic computer.  This often delays or hinders acquiring Assistive Technology often having it languish between staffings and annual reviews.

      If an Assistive Technology Evaluation is to be done, it should be done right.  A justification of need should be done with evaluation in various settings, with classroom and parental involvement.  A battery of tools should be employed to look at the educational day of a student and determine where if any assistive technology should be integrated into a students personal curriculum.

      This justification includes a profile of the potential user including vision, hearing, motor and cognitive abilities, present ability to communicate, communication situations he/she might regularly encounter, necessity of being able to communicate emergency information to a caregiver (medical necessity), and summaries of the user's ability in the interaction with each AAC device. In this part the clinician has to state why one device is more appropriate than the other. A complete list of equipment including the AAC device, amount of memory, batteries, carrying cases, A/C adapters, specialized software and other peripherals must be a part of the justification as well as a request for funds for repair and maintenance, usually 5% of the overall cost of the device per year.

     SETT stands for Student, Environment, Tasks and Tools. Determining the students hopes, their dreams, their goals, their aspirations, their strengths, their abilities. Find out what is we asking that student to do in what environment? The classroom, the library, the cafeteria, the bus? Look at what tasks students to do in those places. Finally, after we know that student, the tasks we want them to do and the places we want them to do them, then we take a look at the solutions or the tools that will help that child do those things in those places. Those solutions can run the gamut of really fall into three groups of options, from no-technology options to low-technology options to high-technology options.

     Assistive Technology evaluation is a cross discipline process. Often a team of professionals including an S.L.P., and O.T. a P.T., a reading specialist, as vision, Hard of Hearing , or Deaf  Education professionals are needed to be part of this process.

     An A.T.P. (assisted technology provider) can be a certified specialist in this area.  This is a national certification from the Rehabilitation Engineers Society of North America (R.E.S.N.A.).  There are excellent exemplar training programs like the one offered from California State University at Northridge, which help train generalists in aspects of this transdisciplinary approach to learning.
A district technology coordinator is usually NOT the person who should do an A.T. evaluation.  They may be very helpful when it comes to getting hardware and peripherals but few have any special education training or knowledge, and most would not know a Cheap talk from a Liberator.  You should ask questions if you have a recommendation made by a person who is unqualified to do assistive technology evaluations.

What is an A.T.P.?

      An Assisted Technology Provider is certified through the  Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America (R.E.S.N.A.) .  In order to be considered  as an A.T.P. a candidate must have extensive experience working with Assistive  Technology in the field,  had a course of study directly in assistive technology. Candidates are then eligible to sit for a national test of 200 questions demonstrating their knowledge and proficiency in areas of A.T. 

There are 10 competencies an A.T.P. needs to demonstrate in order to be certified. (See for the complete list)

Does an Item need to be purchased for only one individual?

     Missing from the federal requirements is the notion that assistive technology is for all students. On a broader scale, assistive technology, or any technology, is for all students. If you look at schools today, you see grand computer labs for students, and assistive technology should become a part of the total technology program and make the technology for students with disabilities a bit more personalized through the I.E.P. process.  School districts and visionary principals should be looking at access for all instead of modifications for a few.

     Universal Design for Learning (UDL) draws upon and extends principles of universal design as used in architecture and product design. Architects practicing universal design create structures which accommodate the widest spectrum of users possible. In universally designed environments adaptability is subtle and integrated into the design. Designing for the divergent needs of special populations increases usability for everyone. The curb cut is a classic example. Although they were originally designed to help those in wheel chairs negotiate curbs, curb cuts ease travel for those pushing carriages, riding skateboards, pulling suitcases, or simply walking.

      The central practical premise of UDL is that a curriculum should include alternatives to make it accessible and appropriate for individuals with different backgrounds, learning styles, abilities, and disabilities in widely varied learning contexts. The "universal" in universal design does not imply one optimal solution for everyone. Rather, it reflects an awareness of the unique nature of each learner and the need to accommodate differences, creating learning experiences that suit the learner and maximize his or her ability to progress.

     The C.A.S.T. program which is well known for the BOBBY web check program for accessible web sites, is a good resource on other types of modifications and techniques that a school can look at integrating into their system.

 Who is Responsible for the Assistive Technology Device?

      Assistive Technology in the schools is funded through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This special education program lists a variety of assessments and services that school systems must provide so students with disabilities may receive a "free and appropriate public education."


Section A, Part 300 of IDEA states that for Special Education in a school district:
Assistive technology service means any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.

This includes:

·         The evaluation of the needs of a child with a disability, including a functional evaluation of the child in the child's customary environment;

·         Purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices by children 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.

Can any Device or Equipment go home?

     If an individual is school-age and has a disability, and if the AT service or tools are written into the IEP in such a way that they must be available in the home for the student to successfully complete homework, then the school district is responsible for providing the tools. The Individualized Educational Program (IEP) is the plan or outline of placement decisions, goods, and services to be provided to the student according to the annual determinations of a student's IEP team.

      Part of the complete IEP is attachment of goals and objectives for each individual student. If the student needs Assistive Technology to successfully meet the goals and objectives, and if it is written in, then the student must have access to the same tools at home as he uses in school.

      Equipment (hardware/software) written into IEPs should appear in the Special Equipment section of the IEP as well. It is only by having it written into the IEP that the school becomes responsible for ensuring that it is available to the student, it necessary, outside of the school.

Is a school district responsible for putting AT in a private school setting?

     If the student has a disability and if the school has placed the child in a private school setting, the Assistive Technology equipment and services must be provided on site of the private school.

     If the parents (not the school district) have placed the student with the disability into a private school setting it does not have to be provided within the private school. –I.D.E.A.

      If, however, the student has a disability that is identified and the student has an IEP, and if the IEP has Assistive Technology equipment or services written as part of the educational plan, this service must be provided. According to IDEA, it can be provided in the public school setting or at a neutral site to which the student with the disability must travel.

Is a school district responsible for providing AT in the home if a child is home        tutored?

     Home tutoring is described as an employee of the school district entering the home of a student for a prescribed length of time weekly or daily to work directly with the student who requires such service.

     If the student has a disability that is identified and the student has an IEP, and if the IEP has Assistive Technology equipment or services written as part of the educational plan, the technology and services must be provided, but it does not have to be provided within the home. According to IDEA, it can be provided in the public school setting or at a neutral site to which the student with the disability must travel.

Is a school district responsible for providing AT in the home if a child is home schooled? (IDEA)

     If the student has a disability that is identified and the student has an IEP, and if the IEP has Assistive Technology equipment or services written as part of the educational plan, it must be provided, however, it does not have to be provided within the home. According to IDEA, it can be provided in the local public school setting or at a neutral site to which the student with the disability must travel.

Who needs to be trained to use any Assistive Technology?

      Training or technical assistance for a child with a disability or, if appropriate, that child's family; and training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing education or rehabilitation services), employers, or other individuals who provide services to, employ, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of that child. It includes everything from evaluation through coordination of the assistive technology services with all the other services that the student receives.

      Training for the child and professionals is very important. Without that training, that technology goes unused and stays in the closet. As assistive technologies are being considered for all students, consideration of how that technology is going to be implemented in the classroom, who is responsible for that hardware and software, and how to support people to implement that technology are needed.

When is Assistive Technology Appropriate? When is it Necessary?

      Assistive Technology is appropriate any time a student needs help or needs the ability to concentrate and be more efficient on their work then it could qualify as being appropriate to meet their needs.  If they are a special needs student in order for it to be acceptable, then it needs to be in their I.E.P. with verifiable ease of access and classroom coordination.  If not and the district C.S.E. is unwilling to consider this, then it needs to be appealed.  Additionally needed equipment must be in working order, and needs to be should be documented by a comprehensive A.T. evaluation done in the student’s regular learning environment.

      It becomes a necessary item for consideration when the student can benefit from the use of technology. Just having the computer in the room does not make it accessible, usable, or appropriate. This does not count if they are asked to settle for a broken computer in the corner of the room. This does not mean that they may need to have their own computer or a laptop. A basic system used properly and possibly with some small modifications can be sufficient to meet a student's needs.

Computers can help level the playing field

     It becomes an assistive technology issue when a level of transparency can not easily be met because of logistics.  Examples would be a high school student moving between rooms where each room would need modifications. Practicality issues should also be addressed, such as  Is the student y are trying to use the computer facing the back of the room to take classroom notes, or they have to go down to the library to print anything). In these cases the best solution often is having the student be as independent of the system, often by the use of a portable device, often a laptop computer.

      Districts are not always ready to jump to the laptop level (because then everyone will want one), and staff will not know how to use them. A step I usually take is to ask for training for staff, set up benchmarks for using the existing computer system, with a follow up C.S.E. or at least a staffing to demonstrate why the current system is or is not working well (and then get the laptop).  A district might also consider a lower technology device before going to a laptop level. There are systems like the alphasmart that are keyboards with little monitors that use infrared to send work to the printer  or to a word processing program.  They have their merits but a laptop or tablet can be used for many more and things (they have started to add Internet and little work applications to the systems), but a computer that goes back and forth to and from school is far more appropriate. 


There is also a lot of good information on this website from The Family Center on Technology and Disability