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Assistive Technology

What is assistive technology (AT)? Assistive technology refers to devices that are used by people with disabilities to perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible for them to do.

For Americans without disabilities, technology makes things easier. For Americans with disabilities, technology makes things possible.

Radabaugh, 1988

What federal laws define assistive technology?


Equipment or system where principal function is creation, conversion, duplication, control, display, interchange, transmission, reception, or broadcast of data.

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  • First defined in the Technology-Related Assistance Act of 1988 (Tech Act)
  • Re-authorized in 2004 as the Assistive Technology Act (AT Act)
  • Included in the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA)

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Federal law governing rights of children with disabilities to receive free and appropriate public education in least restrictive environment.

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AT Defined in IDEA

An AT device is...
"any item, piece of equipment, or product whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with disabilities.”

An AT service is...
"any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device” (e.g., functional evaluation in customary environments, training for student, family, and staff).

Justin's Story: Reading Words

What does AT have to do with AEM?

Assistive technology (AT) and accessible educational materials (AEM) are closely linked. IDEA references access to printed instructional materials that can be converted into the specialized formats of braille, large print, audio, or digital text. Other than embossed braille and hard copy large print, specialized formats require technology to deliver the content to the student. When a student served under IDEA needs technology for access to the content and the curriculum, the technology meets the definition of AT.

Find out more about AEM and specialized formats.

What assistive technology resources are available?

There are many national and state organizations that provide a wide range of AT resources and references including information about conferences and online learning opportunities.

Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)

Print- and technology-based educational materials designed to be usable across the widest range of individual variability.

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Print Instructional Materials

Printed materials written and published for use in elementary and secondary school instruction, required by a SEA or LEA for use by students in classroom.

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Digital form or representation of a sound which may be used for non-visual access to text and images.

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Digital Text

Published material retrieved and read via a computer.

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