Assistive Technology: A Student's Right

The Exceptional Parent, November-December 1992 | Go to article overview

Assistive Technology: A Student's Right


School districts are responsible for helping students with disabilities select and acquire appropriate assistive technology devices and assisting in training them to use the devices.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendment of 1991 defines an assistive technology device as "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." This broad definition includes a range of devices from low technology to high technology items as well as software.

The legal definition of assistive technology service as it appears in the IDEA is "any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device." Specific services can include:

* Evaluation of the technology needs of the individual, including a functional evaluation in the individual's customary environment.

* Purchasing, leasing or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices for individuals 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.

* Assistive technology training and technical assistance for an individual with a disability or, where appropriate, the family of an individual with a disability.

* Training or technical assistance for professionals, employers or other individuals who provide services to, employ or otherwise are substantially involved in the lives of individuals with disabilities.

Uses of Assistive Technology

assistive technology covers a wide range of areas as well as adaptive environments. Some common areas where assistive technology can be applied are described below.

Positioning

In the classroom, individuals with physical disabilities may need assistance with positions for seating so they can participate effectively in school work. Generally, therapists try to achieve an upright, forward-facing position by using padding, structured chairs, straps, supports or restraints to hold the body stable and comfortable. Also considered is the student's position in relation to peers and the teacher. Often, it is necessary to design positioning systems for a variety of settings so the student can participate in multiple activities at school.

Examples of equipment used for positioning are sidelying frames, walkers, crawling assists, floor sitters, chair inserts, wheelchairs, straps, trays, standing aids, bean bag chairs and sandbags.

Computer Access

In order to participate in school tasks, some students require special devices that provide access to computers or environmental controls. The first step is to determine which body parts can be used to indicate the student's intentions. Anatomical sites within the student's control, such as eye blinks, head or neck movements or mouth movements, may be used to operate the devices which provide this access. Once an anatomical site has been determined, decisions can be made about input devices, selection techniques (direct, scanning) and acceleration strategies (coding, prediction).

Input devices include switches, expanded keyboards, mouse, trackball, touch window, speech recognition, head pointers, keyguards, key latches, keyboard emulators (e.g. adaptive firmware card) and electronic communication devices.

Another element of computer access is output. Output devices include any adaptation which may be needed to access the screen display such as tactile (Braille), text enlargement or synthesized speech. …

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