Assistive Technology

Computer keyboard with return key colored green and marked "access" with key logo.

What is Assistive Technology?

"Assistive technology 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 the functional capabilities of children with disabilities."
       -- (Federal Register, August 19, 1991, p. 41272)

Put more simply, assistive technology (AT) is anything that makes it easier for a student with a disability to read, write, calculate, speak, see, hear, move, and/or play.  In a school setting these tools and strategies can help give students with a variety of disabilities the ability to master content, organize themselves, and control behavior. Students with disabilities are capable of participating in the general education curriculum with the support that assistive technology can provide.

What is the Assistive Technology Continuum?

Many people think of assistive technology as only sophisticated devices that are expensive and hard to acquire. However, assistive technology is a continuum of tools that range from high-tech tools to no/low-tech tools: 

  • High Tech devices incorporate sophisticated electronics or computers.
  • Medium Tech devices are relatively complicated mechanical devices, such as wheelchairs.
  • Low Tech items are less sophisticated and can include devices such as adapted spoon handles, non-tipping drinking cups, and Velcro fasteners.
  • No Tech solutions are those that make use of procedures, services, and existing conditions in the environment that do not involve the use of devices or equipment. These might include services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, or the services of other specialists. (NATRI, 2006).

A wide range of assistive technology devices are available to check out and trial from our lending library.

Consideration and Assessment of Assistive Technology:

IDEA requires that IEP teams "thoughtfully consider" whether a student needs assistive technology tools or services when developing his or her educational plan, regardless of disability type or severity.  The Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT) Consortium has developed a list of indicators that clearly define the critical elements of effective consideration.

The Virginia Assistive Technology Consideration Guide helps IEP teams document the process they go through when considering whether low to high-tech assistive technology may be needed for a student to meet his or her IEP goals.

The T/TAC at Virginia Tech typically recommends utilizing the SETT Framework, created by Joy Zabala, when coaching school personnel and division AT Teams that are considering assistive technology for a student.

The Virginia Department of Education has released materials for school divisions to use when developing operating guidelines and service delivery models for assistive technology. Included in the document ("Assistive Technology: A Framework for Consideration and Assessment") are definitions, laws, consideration guidelines, and a process for assistive technology assessment. Sample forms are also provided.

The QIAT Community has also created a list of indicators that illustrate the components that make up a quality assistive technology assessment.

To learn more about the process for consideration and assessment of assistive technology and for resources including:

  • data collection sheets
  • decision-making guides
  • assessment forms &
  • referral forms

please visit the Virginia Assistive Technology Network Homepage.