What is assistive technology?
Assistive technology (AT) makes it possible for individuals with disabilities to participate in activities that might otherwise be difficult or impossible for them. AT can provide access to play, school, community and work activities, and can support communication with others.
Often it can be the game changer that helps young children, youth and adults with disabilities be successful and more independent. It can:
- Help students be more independent with reading, writing, spelling, math and organizational skills
- Support access to technology; leisure and adapted play; and positioning, seating and mobility
- Help provide access to the general education curriculum for individuals with disabilities
AT ranges from low-tech tools (e.g., adapted toys and pencils, reading guides, and graphic organizers) to high-tech tools (e.g., computers with reading and writing apps, voice-activated tablets, and an eye gaze communication system). AT can be used at any age and in any grade, and there are no prerequisites for its use. Based on the needs of individuals and the technology available, AT use can change over the years.
What laws define AT?
Federal law defines AT as both a device and a service. According to IDEA (2004)* and the Regulations Governing Special Education Programs for Children with Disabilities in Virginia (2002):
- An AT device is "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 the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.”
- An AT service is "any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.”
AT services help individuals with disabilities acquire and use AT. Examples of services include:
- An assessment to identify devices needed
- Training for students, families and teachers
- The repair of a broken AT device
IEP teams are required to consider the AT needs of students with disabilities (IDEA, 2004). The Virginia Department of Education promotes the use of a decision-making process such as the Assistive Technology Consideration Guide (2018) and the Virginia Assistive Technology Resource Guide (2016). Both of these documents are located on the Virginia Assistive Technology Network website.
Consideration of Assistive Technology in the IEP
It is the responsibility of the IEP team to consider the need for assistive technology devices or services. The consideration process is a discussion among team members to determine if the use of low to high tech supports will assist the student in making progress in their IEP goals and accessing the curriculum and their educational environments. The IEP team should document the consideration process and decisions about AT devices and services.
Frequently used AT decision-making tools
What do families need to know about AT?
Students, their families and caregivers often are the greatest advocates for AT use. Including students and families in AT decision-making ensures that student preferences are honored, and increases the likelihood that the device(s) will be a good match to the student’s needs. When students and families have knowledge about AT and how it can be used, they are better advocates for its use in school and at home.
Students and families should be invited to participate in the AT decision-making process, to take part in AT trials and to learn to use the devices. Also, it is important for families to be involved at critical decision points in the student’s educational life to help make the most effective AT decisions. Some of these critical decision points include:
- Transitioning from early intervention to preschool
- Transitioning from preschool to school-age programs
- Times when curriculum and testing decisions are made
- Every annual IEP meeting
- Post-high school transition planning
- AT Tools in Schools booklet
- I’m Determined
- AAC at Home
- Five Quick Tips for Families on Using AT to Support Instruction at Home
- Center for Technology and Disability
What is an assistive technology team?
Many Virginia school divisions have assistive technology teams. These AT teams can:
- Assist with developing AT policies and procedures
- Identify AT needs and make recommendations for the purchase of specific AT
- Maintain an inventory of the division’s AT equipment
- Provide AT assessments
- Support students and professionals in learning how to use AT
- Provide professional development to the division staff and families on AT
VDOE's T/TAC at VCU’s supports the development and ongoing growth of assistive technology teams in regions 1 and 8. To learn more about developing an AT team, check out these frequently asked questions for AT teams.
Where can I go to learn about AT and borrow devices?
Visit VDOE's T/TAC at VCU’s lending library to explore and learn about current AT devices and materials. Various AT devices are available for checkout to determine if they are a good fit for your student prior to purchasing them. AT materials include switches, adaptive toys and leisure items, augmentative communication devices and apps, computer peripherals, and a variety of low-tech tools for math, literacy and organization. You can find examples of what is available in the lending library by exploring:
- Resources for Assistive Technology: Communication and AAC
- Resources for Assistive Technology: Computer Access
- Resources for Assistive Technology: Reading and Writing
VDOE’s Assistive Technology Network
The VDOE Assistive Technology Network supports the priorities of VDOE by developing and disseminating tools and information about AT consideration, AT assessment and the integration of AT across the curriculum. Through systems-change efforts, the AT Network supports the development of division AT teams across Virginia who then help build the capacity of their divisions to make appropriate AT decisions and provide access to AT for their students. The AT Network sponsors professional development activities such as workshops, the Virtual TechKnowledgy Conference (webinars) and the face-to-face TechKnowledgy Conference.
Visit the Virginia Assistive Technology Network website for additional information about assistive technology use in Virginia programs and school divisions and to find contact information for your local T/TAC AT Network representative.
Frequently used AT decision-making tools
Professional development and other resources
As AT processes are developed and refined, it is important to make sure they are aligned with existing program policies and follow current information on effective practices in AT. Many of the resources below were developed by committed consumers, families, service providers and other leaders of AT within their own programs.
- Accessible Instructional Materials of VA
- OCALI Assistive Technology Internet Modules
- Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology
- TechKnowledgy Conference
- Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative
*Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), P.L. 108-446. 20 U.S.C § 1401 et seq.; 34 C.F.R. § 300.1 et seq.