Technology can be big -an automated lift for van or bath -or small -a Velcro-attached grip for a fork or a pen. It can be new-age -interactive voice-activated software for speech therapy-or a wheelchair. It can be high-tech - a computer screen operated by eye movement- or low-tech -a specially-designed door handle for people with muscle strength or dexterity problems.
Technology can be a substitute - such as an alternative augmentative communication device that provides vocal output for a child who cannot communicate with her voice. This means that a child who cannot speak can push a button and ask her mom for an apple. Or tell her sister her new dress is pretty. It means a child in school can ask questions of his teacher or talk with his friends. It means a worker can converse with others in his office.
Technology is a key to leveling the playing field for individuals with disabilities. An individual may use assistive technology to travel about, communicate with others, engage in recreational and social activities, learn, work, control the immediate environment, and increase his or her independence in daily living skills.
Devices to control the environment are important to people whose ability to move about and to turn electrical appliances on or off is limited. Switches that respond to slight pressure assist children unable to flick or turn on a light. Motorized lifts can aid in getting in or out of bed or a bathtub. Automated doors means easy passage within and outside of buildings. Rails and grab bars can make movement easier.
Positioning equipment helps put a child in the correct posture to improve eating, drinking, and digesting. It can also help her sit or stand to enjoy family, friends, and learning. Hearing devices help those with hearing disabilities discern sounds and language. Magnifiers, talking books, and Braille readers can open up the world to those with vision disabilities. Daily living skills are enhanced by velcro closures on clothing, long-handled combs, or automated feeding devices such as those activated by chin movements.
Education aids include adaptable keyboards, computer software programs, automatic page turners, and adapted pencil grips to enable children to participate in classroom activities.
Wheelchairs, scooters, and hand controls on automobiles enhance mobility. Adapted car seats and wheelchair restraints augment transportation safety. At work sites, special computers, ramps, and telephone headsets mean fewer barriers to employment.
For fun and games, there are special wheelchairs for organized sports, and tricycles and bicycles for children who use wheelchairs. Adaptive switches can help a child play with toys and games. Easels are also adaptive for young artists in wheelchairs and slanders. Exercise machines for people who use wheelchairs can provide a great workout for the upper and lower body, as well as arms and legs. There is even a bowling ball with a handle.
Acquiring assistive technology does not just happen once in a lifetime. The type of device needed may change depending on a child's age, newly acquired skills, and physical challenges. Some devices are better leased, some borrowed, some purchased.
How Can Laws Help
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the law that provides for a free appropriate public education for children with disabilities through age 21. Under this law, a child must receive special education, related services or supplementary aids and services needed to receive an appropriate education. IDEA says that assistive technology devices and services can be considered special education, related services, or supplementary aids and services. Assistive technology is defined broadly in the law as any item, piece of equipment or product system -whether acquired commercially or off the shelf - modified, or customized that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.
Assistive technology must be considered for each child with a disability when developing an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This means that school districts are responsible for providing assistive technology devices and services if it is determined by an IEP team that the child needs it to benefit from his or her educational program. In addition, a child is allowed to take a device home if it is needed to enable him or her to benefit from his educational program as determined the IEP team.
To determine the assistive technology needs of a child, an assistive technology assessment should be conducted. This assessment, like all assessments, should be descriptive of how a child participates in his or her world from the perspective of a broad range of people, including the child. It should not be limited merely to what skills the child possesses but should include the ways in which a child communicates, what he likes and dislikes, what kind of strategies and interventions are helpful in interacting with the child. At the assessment, different types of technology could be introduced to the child. This assessment should take place in a child's customary environment --home, school, and neighborhood. Once it is agreed that assistive technology would benefit a child, issues related to design and selection of the device, as well as maintenance, repair, and replacement of devices should be considered. Training (to use the device) and ongoing technical assistance is necessary not only for the child, but for family, teachers, service providers, and other people who are significantly involved in a student's life. All of these issues need to be addressed on a properly developed IEP.
It is important to integrate and coordinate any assistive technology device with therapies, interventions, or services provided by education and rehabilitation plans and programs.
Other programs that provide opportunities for funding assistive technology include:
VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION (VR): The Rehabilitation Act provides for assistive technology (called rehabilitation technology) for individuals with disabilities who are receiving employment-related services through the VR program. Each state has an agency to operate the program. If you do not know yours, contact your governor's office, look in the phonebook under state government agencies, or, if all else fails, contact the US Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in Washington, DC: Phone: (202) 205-5465 Web site: www.ed.gov/offices/OSERS
MEDICAID: Funding may be available for assistive technology for people eligible for Medicaid. To locate your local Medicaid agency, contact the state Department of Health or Department of Social Services. Your governor's or state legislator's offices can also provide the name of the Medicaid program.
Each state operates an Assistive Technology project under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998. These projects focus on various activities such as provision of resource information, systems change and advocacy activities, loan programs, lending libraries, and recycling programs. The RESNA Technical Assistance Project can provide contact information for your state's program. Contact information: Phone: (703) 524-6686 Fax: (703) 524-6630 Web site: www.resna.org
Each state has a Protection and Advocacy Program to provide legal services for people with disabilities. Each state P&A should have an individual who is knowledgeable about assistive technology issues on staff. To locate your state office, call the National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems (NAPAS): Phone: (202) 408-9514 Fax: (202) 408-9520 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: www.protectionandadvocacy.com
If you have difficulty obtaining assistive technology through the school, other parent assistance and advocacy resources exist. To identify your state's Parent Training and Information Centers, contact the Parent Advocacy Center for Educational Rights: Phone: (952) 838-9000 Fax: (952) 838-0199 E-mail: email@example.com Web site: www.pacer.org