Assistive technology (AT) can dramatically affect the success of your special needs family member. AT can give students equal access to curriculum, the work environment, or any other environment that use government funding. Assistive Technology includes devices that are used by individuals in order to perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible.
The AT can compensate for the impairments of the disability, increase classroom participation, foster independence, improve learning and working, assist in communication, and help the individual become successful in multiple aspect of life. In the school environment, assistive technology accomplishes these goals by allowing students with many types of disabilities to see, hear, read, write, and communicate. In fact, assistive technology often provides the student with the only access to the general curriculum.
People who use AT products and services may have difficulty speaking, typing, writing, remembering, pointing, seeing, hearing, learning, walking, breathing, etc. Everyone uses assistive technology. We may not think that the things we use on a daily basis to make our life a little bit easier, like alarm clocks, planners, computers, talk to text software, canes, automatic windows and doors, lined paper, stools or chairs, the list could go on and on. An individual with special needs may rely on AT devices to perform tasks and be more independent, enriching their life.
AT devices are protected under the law. This means that if there is need for an individual, then the use of the devices cannot be denied. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA is the federal special education law that addresses services for children with disabilities, set into law in 1975. IDEA requires that states provide a free appropriate public education for children with disabilities, including related services. This law requires schools to provide necessary assistive technology devices and services to help children with disabilities receive an appropriate education. To that end, every child with a disability must be considered for assistive technology.
Section 504 of the rehab act protects qualified individuals with a disability in the US from discrimination in any program or activity receiving FEDERAL FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE—for instance: government offices, banks, educational institutions, hospitals and clinics, etc. So, if money can be traced back to the federal government through grants, loans, tax breaks, and the like. then this law is applicable.
When selecting AT devices, evaluating the product or device is critical. The goal is to help or improve function, access or ability, not hinder or impede it. Following the steps below can help us narrow in on the selection process.
- Consider: Look at what tools are available and how they may restrict or support skills by doing a skills assessment. With an assessment, we are looking at the easiest or simplest way to solve the problem without distracting others or causing more difficulty for the individual, teachers, or other students.
- Consult: After the needs are figured out, ask other people about the AT devices they use. Don’t be afraid to seek out professionals for advice. Check out websites, blogs, and forums for advice on different devices. Ask for examples of how the device helps, the limitations one might encounter, and pros and cons of the device.
- Conclude: Once a decision has been made about what is appropriate and what will meet the needs, it then is necessary to purchase, make, or obtain the AT and begin using it. When we make a decision on AT devices, we must keep in mind that the needs may change, a person’s ability may outgrow the device, or that we might need to reevaluate.
Building in some flexibility when selecting the device can save time and money in the future. For instance, if a person struggles to turn pages of a book, then an e-reader would be more appropriate. However, if the person is unable to use a mouse and keyboard as well, then selecting a device that is internet capable may be a better option. Before you purchase the device, try it out. Each state has a National Assistive Technology center. Often, families can try out devices or other AT items prior to purchasing. Below are a few links:
Things to remember about Assistive Technology:
- AT levels the playing field by providing access
- Each person requires different types of AT
- One size does not fit all
- AT does not have to be expensive
- AT can change based on the needs, development, and milestones reached by the individual
- AT is protected by law
“Working Together with Military Families of Individuals with DisAbilities!”