What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.


The Work Environment and Assistive Technology

Once we move on from school to work, assistive technology can continue to be a need but how does one obtain the equipment needed or find out what would work for them best in this new atmosphere?

As stated by National Center for Technology Innovation and Center for Implementing Technology in Education (2006): "Employers are not required to provide the exact accommodation requested by the employee. An employee may suggest an accommodation, and the employer may suggest an alternative recommendation, which the employee must consider. The employer has the right to request "medical" documentation and refuse letters from educational specialists. If the employee does not provide such documentation, the employer is not required to provide an accommodation.

If necessary, individuals with disabilities should contact the Human Resources office in their workplace to initiate a request for accommodations under the ADA. For additional information on ADA and the workplace, see The Americans with Disabilities Act.

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which took effect July 26, 1992, prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment. An individual with a disability is a person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  • Has a record of such an impairment; or
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

A qualified employee or applicant with a disability is an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job in question. Reasonable accommodation may include, but is not limited to:

  • Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.
  • Job restructuring, modifying work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position;
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, adjusting modifying examinations, training materials, or policies, and providing qualified readers or interpreters.

An employer is required to make an accommodation to the known disability of a qualified applicant or employee if it would not impose an "undue hardship" on the operation of the employer's business. Undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as an employer's size, financial resources and the nature and structure of its operation.

An employer is not required to lower quality or production standards to make an accommodation, nor is an employer obligated to provide personal use items such as glasses or hearing aids.

Finding employment may seem like a job in itself. However, state vocational rehabilitation (VR) services help adults and youth with disabilities find and succeed in employment. Many high schools' special education coordinators include VR services in transition planning for students with Individualized Education Plans.

Local VR offices work within the community to evaluate client needs, make matches with employers, and offer support for success. If AT is required for success at a particular job, the device and training may be funded through the VR office. The VR case manager can serve as a liaison with the employer to arrange and integrate the AT and employee needs into the workplace. See the link below to find a state VR office."

Following are some links that may help you as you begin to explore this subject further:

  • Assistive Technology at Work was written for people with learning disabilities however the information provided on this site is useful to people with various disabilities as there are some great links provided.
  • The Department of Rehabilitation has provided a page of Assistive Technology Links. Assistive technology is one of the services that may be provided to consumers of the Department of Rehabilitation. Worth exploring!
  • The AT Network states, "Finding and buying the appropriate AT for your needs can be a daunting task. It doesn’t have to break your bank account. There are many resources here to help you get what you need or find alternatives to expensive equipment.
Being organized and having a plan is a crucial first step." They also share that "There remains no comprehensive public AT funding mechanism in place, and the most common AT solutions depend on one's eligibility for complex social benefit programs. As things currently stand, an acute understanding of the ins and outs of overlapping federal and state health bureaucracies is the best way to find funding sources for the AT." On their site you will find several links that they have provided to try to help you through this sometimes daunting task, including a sample letter to organizations requesting help and support.

In California, California Assistive Technology Systems (CATS) is your main resource for help and support. You may contact them at:
2000 Evergreen
P. O. Box 944222
Sacramento, CA 94244-2220
Project Director: Benjamin Harville
Phone: 916-263-8950
TTY: 916-263-8685
Fax: 916-263-7472
Email: bfharvil@dor.ca.gov
Web: http://www.atnet.org

For other states, RESNA has put together a pretty comprehensive listing.