Assistive technology makes it possible for individuals with disabilities to participate in activities that might otherwise be difficult or impossible for them. AT can provide access to play, school, community and work activities, and can support communication with others.
Often it can be the game changer that helps young children, youth and adults with disabilities be successful and more independent. It can:
AT ranges from low-tech tools (e.g., adapted toys and pencils, reading guides, and graphic organizers) to high-tech tools (e.g., computers with reading and writing apps, voice-activated tablets, and an eye gaze communication system). AT can be used at any age and in any grade, and there are no prerequisites for its use. Based on the needs of individuals and the technology available, AT use can change over the years.
Federal law defines AT as both a device and a service. According to IDEA (2004)* and the Regulations Governing Special Education Programs for Children with Disabilities in Virginia (2002):
AT services help individuals with disabilities acquire and use AT. Examples of services include:
IEP teams are required to consider the AT needs of students with disabilities (IDEA, 2004). The Virginia Department of Education promotes the use of a decision-making process such as the Assistive Technology Consideration Guide (2018) and the Virginia Assistive Technology Resource Guide (2016). Both of these documents are located on the Virginia Assistive Technology Network website.
Students, their families and caregivers often are the greatest advocates for AT use. Including students and families in AT decision-making ensures that student preferences are honored, and increases the likelihood that the device(s) will be a good match to the student’s needs. When students and families have knowledge about AT and how it can be used, they are better advocates for its use in school and at home.
Students and families should be invited to participate in the AT decision-making process, to take part in AT trials and to learn to use the devices. Also, it is important for families to be involved at critical decision points in the student’s educational life to help make the most effective AT decisions. Some of these critical decision points include:
Many Virginia school divisions have assistive technology teams. These AT teams can:
VDOE's T/TAC at VCU’s supports the development and ongoing growth of assistive technology teams in regions 1 and 8. To learn more about developing an AT team, check out these frequently asked questions for AT teams.
Visit VDOE's T/TAC at VCU’s lending library to explore and learn about current AT devices and materials. Various AT devices are available for checkout to determine if they are a good fit for your student prior to purchasing them. AT materials include switches, adaptive toys and leisure items, augmentative communication devices and apps, computer peripherals, and a variety of low-tech tools for math, literacy and organization.
The VDOE Assistive Technology Network supports the priorities of VDOE by developing and disseminating tools and information about AT consideration, AT assessment and the integration of AT across the curriculum. Through systems-change efforts, the AT Network supports the development of division AT teams across Virginia who then help build the capacity of their divisions to make appropriate AT decisions and provide access to AT for their students. The AT Network sponsors professional development activities such as workshops, the Virtual TechKnowledgy Conference (webinars) and the face-to-face TechKnowledgy Conference.
Visit the Virginia Assistive Technology Network website for additional information about assistive technology use in Virginia programs and school divisions and to find contact information for your local T/TAC AT Network representative.
As AT processes are developed and refined, it is important to make sure they are aligned with existing program policies and follow current information on effective practices in AT. Many of the resources below were developed by committed consumers, families, service providers and other leaders of AT within their own programs.
*Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), P.L. 108-446. 20 U.S.C § 1401 et seq.; 34 C.F.R. § 300.1 et seq.