Assistive Technology

What is assistive technology? 

Assistive technology (AT) is any kind of technology that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. AT helps to level the playing field for individuals with disabilities by providing them a way to fully engage in life’s activities.  AT devices are tools to help overcome challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance their quality of life and lead more independent lives.

Michigan Alliance for Families has partnered with Alt+Shift (formerly known as MITS) to produce an Assistive Technology Guide for Parents and Educators In addition to the information here, we also have a free On Demand webinar available on this topic.

What does the law say about AT?

Assistive technology is defined in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as both the AT device and the training/support to choose and use an AT device.

  • Devices―any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability (excludes a medical device that is surgically implanted, or the replacement of such device).
  • Services―directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.

Besides IDEA, there are other assistive technology laws to help individuals access AT.

How does this fit into the IEP process?

Because assistive technology has so many benefits , the law requires all IEP teams to consider the need for assistive technology.  Any needs identified should be reflected in the content of the IEP.  Start the process by requesting an assistive technology evaluation (use this sample letter as a template).  You can also contact your local AT coordinator.

What should be included in the evaluation?

To determine the assistive technology needs of a child, an AT evaluation should assess the child’s strengths as well as areas of weakness.  One format for assessment is the SETT framework. More helpful:

What help is available in Michigan?

In Michigan, we have Alt+Shift (formerly known as MITS), a statewide project focusing on:

  • assistive technology (from NICHCY Legacy: Assistive technology enables children/youth with disabilities to participate more fully in all aspects of life (home, school, and community) and helps them access their right to a free appropriate, public education in the least restrictive environment.)
  • universal design in learning (from CAST: Universal design for learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.  UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone, flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs
  • accessible instructional materials (from NCAEM: For students with sensory, physical, cognitive, or learning differences and their teachers, accessible instructional materials (AIM) may open doors to teaching and learning that ordinary print-based materials have closed. Accessible instructional materials are specialized formats including braille, audio, large print, and digital text.)

Additional Organizations and Initiatives in Michigan

What about an iPad?

There is a lot of interest in using  iPads/iPods to meet the assistive technology needs of students.  Obtaining an iPad as an AT service would follow the same process outlined above for any other AT device.

What else is out there?

Check out these quick factsheets from the Center on Technology and Disability

Organizations related to assistive technology:

  • Learning Ally   (previously known as Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic) a non-profit volunteer organization operating nationwide. It produces and maintains a library of educational accessible audiobooks to people who cannot effectively read standard print because of visual impairment, dyslexia or other disability.
  • Bookshare, ensuring that all individuals with print disabilities have equal access to print materials.  Bookshare is free for all U.S. students with qualifying disabilities, thanks to an award from the U.S.  Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs.
  • Center for Implementing Technology in Education identifies evidence-based practices for integrating instructional technology to support the achievement of all students.

Assistive Technology Considerations – from the Michigan Alliance for Families Webinar Series (cc version coming soon)