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ATEN Fact Sheet #1:
What is Assistive Technology?

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[This information is distributed with the permission of Assistive Technology Educational Network (ATEN), Orlando, Florida. Phone: (800) 328-3678. ATEN's Web site is located at]

The Definition of Assistive Technology Devices and Services as Incorporated in the Tech Act and IDEA

Assistive technology device means 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.

Assistive technology service is any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.

Assistive technology has opened the avenue for access to education, employment, and independent travel, as well as leisure time activities for many individuals with cognitive, physical, and communication disabilities. When used in a variety of environmental settings (home, school, community, work place), assistive technology provides innovative solutions that allow individuals with disabilities to be more independent, productive and integrated into the mainstream of society and community life.

Categories of Assistive Technology

Aids for Daily Living
Aids to improve self-help skills and encourage independence in activities such as cooking, eating, dressing, toileting, and home maintenance.

Electronic and non-electronic devices that enhance communication skills for persons who are semi-intelligible or non-verbal. Additional devices include text-to-speech, voice-to-text, telecommunication devices for the deaf, and text telephones (TTs).

Instructional Material Aids
Computers with adaptive switches and keyboards that substitute for normal keyboard use or conventional handwriting; audiotape players, braille displays or print magnifiers for students who are blind or visually impaired.

Sensory Aids
Devices for people who are blind or visually impaired or hearing impaired may include hearing aids, FM systems, auditory trainers, eyeglasses, low vision aids, reading devices, and telecommunication devices for the deaf.

Mobility Aids
Vehicles used to increase personal mobility including manual and electric wheelchairs, canes, scooters, walkers, modifications of vans for travel, and canes used by pedestrians who are blind or visually impaired.

Environmental Control Systems
Switches that allow persons with limited voluntary movements to access security systems in their home or surrounding area, home appliances, television, and computers.

Home/Work Site Modifications
Modifications in the home or work environment to remove or reduce bathrooms, ramps, customized desks and work tables to accommodate wheelchairs, automatic door openers, alternate computer systems, and voice output devices for the blind or visually impaired.

Seating and Positioning Aids
Adapted seating, standing tables, seat belts, braces, transfer aids, cushions and wedges to maintain posture, and devices for trunk alignment that assist people in maintaining body alignment and control so they can perform a range of daily tasks.

Leisure time or Recreational Adaptations
Structural adaptations to promote participation in cultural events and leisure time activities for individuals with disabilities. Devices may include guide rails in bowling alleys for people who are blind, special prostheses that assist amputees to participate in sports, computer decelerators that slow down arcade games, and audio descriptions for movie, sporting, and cultural events.

[The information on this ATEN Fact Sheet was compiled from the RESNA Technical Assistance Project.]

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998.

ŠEducation Development Center, Inc.