Assistive Technology for Individuals with Disabilities

Assistive Technology for Individuals with Disabilities

Yukiko Inoue (University of Guam, Guam)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-503-2.ch504
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Census 2000 figures indicate that more than 19% of the U.S. population aged five and older are people with disabilities (Goddard, 2004). Technology has the great potential for improving the education and quality of life of individuals with special needs. Blackhurst (2005) identifies six distinct types of technology impacting education: (1) technology of teaching (instructional approaches designed and applied in very precise ways); (2) instructional technology (videotapes and hypermedia); (3) assistive technology (AT) (devices designed to help people with disabilities); (4) medical technology (devices which provide respiratory assistance through mechanical ventilation); (5) technology productivity tools (computer software and hardware); and (6) information technology (access to knowledge and resources).
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AT was practically unknown in 1975, the year of landmark legislation establishing equal educational rights for students with disabilities (and personal technology tools for education were in their infancy at that time); in 1997, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) amendments required AT consideration in every student’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP) (Dalton, 2002). IDEA is the nation’s special education law, originally enacted in 1975 (Boehner & Castle, 2005): “The Act responded to increased awareness of the need to educate children with disabilities and to judicial decisions requiring states to provide an education for children with disabilities if they provide an education for children without disabilities” (p. 1).

The late 1970s and early 1980s saw the introduction and refinement of the micro-computer; the 1980s also witnessed an increased emphasis on AT and the emergence of technology literature and computer software targeted directly at special education; and major technology advances such as the evolution of the Internet occurred during the 1990s (Blackhurst, 2005).

The first significant law dedicated to AT was the Technology Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act (TRAID) of 1988 (Public Law 100-407), which established a definition and criteria for those in the field of AT (Campbell, 2004):

The legislation’s primary accomplishment was to provide grant funding for states to establish AT resource centers…. Although many regard AT (such as computer software) as high tech, this definition is all encompassing. The law also provides for low-tech devices, such as pencil grips, weighted writing implements, and magnifying glasses…. In 1998, the federal government passed the Assistive Technology Act (ATA) (Public Law 105-394), which reaffirmed the government’s commitment to AT. (p. 168)

With the implementation of these federal laws, institutions of higher learning are able to utilize state agencies in the development of technology programs based on a universal design model.

In 2001, the American Library Association Council approved the AT policy that libraries should work with people with disabilities, agencies, organizations, and vendors to integrate AT into their facilities and services to meet the needs of people with a broad range of disabilities, including learning, mobility, sensory, and developmental disabilities (Goddard, 2004).

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