Rehabilitation Assistive Technology Issues for Infants and Young Children with Disabilities: A Preliminary Examination

Article excerpt

A statewide survey of the technology needs of 206 children with disabilities aged 0-5 years was conducted in Arkansas as a component of P.L. 100-407 grant application processes. Unmet needs were reported for these children in all areas of life functioning, with the greatest need categories being use of computers, specialized vehicles, building accessibility, visual aids, and self-help aids. A large percentage of children reported not having had evaluations prior to receiving their assistive devices or the opportunity to purchase assistive devices on a credit plan. Lack of transportation services was reported by most parents, with a majority of parents indicating a need for additional information regarding technology and related services. implications and issues relevant to professionals planning to apply for P.L. 100-407 funding are discussed.

There has been an exponential increase in the utilization of assistive technology in our society, and these technologies have dramatically impacted upon the quality of life for all persons. Assistive technologies are not only the tools of the future, but they are increasingly important compensatory and instructional implements of today. For persons with disabilities, particularly infants and young children, the promise of technology holds exciting possibilities (Cain & Taber, 1987; Goldenberg, Russell, & Carter, 1984; Kinney & Blackhurst, 1987). Technology provides a range of options that enable even the most seriously impaired children maximum opportunities to participate fully in the mainstream of our society (Cavalier, 1988; Green & Long, 1980; Parette & VanBiervliet, 1990b).

The term assistive technology has been defined in various ways by professionals across the education and rehabilitation disciplines. For example, one recent definition offered by Reynolds and Mann (1987), suggested that assistive technology was applicable to a wide range of highly specialized mechanical, electronic, and computerized tools which are commonly used in both rehabilitation and special education settings. Generally, such technologies are designed to perform specific orthotic or prosthetic functions, though they are not prostheses or orthotics in the traditional sense. Such a definition, then, would include positioning and mobility devices, augmentative communication aids, computer applications, adaptive toys and games, electronic interfaces, and adaptive environments (Brady, 1988; Garner & Campbell, 1987; Hofmeister & Friedman, 1986).

More recently, the passage of P. L. 100-407, the TechnologyRelated Assistance for Individuals Act of 1988 defined assistive technology in a broad sense, encompassing virtually anything that can be used to enhance the lives of persons with disabilities. Assistive technology, as defined in P. L. 100-407 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 functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. [29 U.S.C. 2202, Sect. 3(l)]

Assistive technology has been demonstrated to enhance both the educational functioning and independence of persons having a wide range of disabilities such as visual and hearing impairments, communication and movement disorders (Bigge, 1982; Enders, 1984). When assistive technology is applied to a particular child, it is typically with two major purposes in mind: (a) to correct or remediate a specific impairment; and (b) to assist a child to learn specific material and/or to learn specific tasks (Gamer & Campbell, 1987).

For infants and young children who have disabilities, the availability of needed assistive technology can often enable the child to overcome obstacles that might otherwise be encountered during the child's interactions with the environment (Behrmann & Lahm, 1983; Fewell, 1983; Langley, 1983). Similarly, the acquisition of developmental skills, as well as the facilitation and automation of therapeutic activities have been shown to result from the use of assistive technology across a number of learning settings (Vanderheiden & Dolan, 1985). …