As technology has come to play an increasingly important role in the lives of all persons in the United States, in the conduct of business, in the functioning of government, in the fostering of communication, in the conduct of commerce, and in the provision of education, its impact upon the lives of the more than 50,000,000 individuals with disabilities in the United States has been comparable to its impact upon the remainder of the citizens of the United States. Any development in mainstream technology would have profound implications for individuals with disabilities in the United States.

The Assistive Technology Act was first passed by Congress and signed by the President as the Technology-Related Assistance Act of 1988. It’s often called the Tech Act for short and has been reauthorized in 1994, 1998, and 2004. The most current version of the Act is authorized through 2010.

The Tech Act is intended to promote people’s awareness of, and access to, assistive technology  (AT) devices and services. The Act seeks to provide AT to persons with disabilities, so they can more fully participate in education, employment, and daily activities on a level playing field with other members of their communities. The Act covers people with disabilities of all ages, all disabilities, in all environments (early intervention, K-12, post-secondary, vocational rehabilitation, community living, aging services, etc.).

A Look at Key Definitions
The Assistive Technology Act of 2004 defines an assistive technology device in the following way:

…any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. (29 U.S.C. Sec 2202(2))

AT devices can be “low tech,” “medium tech,” or “high tech”–as the examples below show.

  • power and manual wheelchairs, scooters, canes, walkers, and standing devices
  • augmentative communication devices (speech generating devices), voice amplifiers, and speech recognition devices
  • durable medical equipment and medical supplies, such as patient lifts and incontinence supplies
  • orthotics and prosthetics, such as hearing aids and electric larynxes
  • accessibility adaptations to the home, workplace, schools, group homes, nursing facilities, ICF/MRs, and other places (e.g., ramps, stair glides, lifts, grab bars, flashing smoke detectors, lever doorknobs, and environmental controls)
  • special equipment to help people work, study and engage in recreation, such as enlarged computer keyboards, reachers, amplified telephones, magnifiers, voice recognition software, and adaptive sports equipment
  • accessibility modifications in the community, such as audio systems on public transportation, talking ATMs, and voting machines for the blind (Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania, 2008)

An assistive technology service is defined as:

…any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.

Examples of AT services–taken from the law itself–include:

An evaluation of the AT needs of an individual, including a functional evaluation of how AT would help the individual

Purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing an AT device

Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, replacing, or donating an AT device

Coordinating and using therapies, such as occupational therapy or physical therapy, with AT devices under an educational plan or rehabilitative plan

Training or technical assistance for an individual with a disability, or his or her family members, guardians, advocates, or authorized representatives

Training or technical assistance for educational or rehabilitation professionals, manufacturers of AT devices, employers, providers of training and employment services, and others who help individuals with disabilities

A service that expands access to technology, including email and Internet, to persons with disabilities.