Accessible Assistive Technology
What is assistive technology?
In the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law that created Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), “assistive technology devices” (AT devices) have a broad definition and, essentially, anything that helps a student with a disability do something is an AT device (see the legal definition below). In fact, if the last three words (with a disability) were deleted, everything from pencil and paper to iPads and laptops would be considered AT devices for all students.
What is accessible assistive technology?
Accessible AT devices are those that can be used efficiently, effectively, and sustainably by a person with a disability. Examples of accessible AT devices include screen reading software (JAWS, VoiceOver), refreshable Braille displays, video digital magnifiers (CCTVs), etc. These tools allow blind/low vision students to access the same educational information that non-disabled students do.
Before deciding on what accessible AT device you need, you will want to determine how it will be useful in order to prove why you need it. A great tool to use in this determination is the SETT Framework (developed by the late educator Joy Zambala).
SETT stands for Student, Environment, Task, Tools.
In other words, you want to think about:
- Your strengths, skills, etc.: touch typing, Braille knowledge; ability to use magnification well
- Your needs: How much use are visual materials? Is audio at all helpful? Can you use a mouse? Keyboard? Switch?
Environment: Your school.
- In-person: buses, classrooms, school hallways, cafeteria, whiteboards, SmartBoards/Promethean Boards, laptops, software used by the school, books, lighting in various areas (too much, too little, glare, photophobia concerns, etc.)
- Virtual: platform used, screenshots, screen sharing, online software and simulations, lighting in a study area (too much, too little, glare, photophobia concerns, etc.)
Task: What you need to do.
- Access materials efficiently: understand the structure of documents, understand graphics and pictures, understand what is happening in videos, interact with text and numbers
- Show what you know: share your work with peers and the teacher (in a format they can access), create materials (including documents, spreadsheets, graphics, videos), etc.
Tools: What you need to do things.
- In order to read and create documents, need: documents provided in accessible format; Windows laptop computer (not a Chromebook) with screen reader software (like JAWS) and/or screen enlargement software (like ZoomText) (Note: Fusion combines JAWS and ZoomText); Mac laptop with VoiceOver; refreshable Braille display, large monitor; accessible tablet (like an iPad); Braille embosser, laser printer, Perkins Brailler, slate and stylus
- In order to read graphics, need: tactile graphics, alt text descriptions, high color contrast
- In order to make graphics, need: tactile graph paper; graphic art tape, tactile markers, accessible drawing tools (Sensational Blackboard, TactileDoodle, inTact SketchPad/Draftsman); Braille embosser, laser printer
- Videos: audio description
- Software and platforms: accessible interfaces
- In order to measure: tactile caliper, click rule, Braille/large print ruler, tactile/large print protractor, Braille/large print measuring cups and spoons
- Data collection in biology, chemistry, and physics: Sci-Voice TM Talking LabQuest 2 Version 2.3 Package, including Logger Pro software (allows you to collect data and analyze it without the use of vision at all)
Additional SETT resources
Using School-provided Accessible Assistive Technology Outside of School
Can I use my school-provided accessible assistive technology AT home and in the community?
Absolutely! In every state, including Maryland, students with IEPs (individualized education plans) are entitled to receive from the school transition services relating to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills. In other words, school is more than just your classes; it is the place for you to develop the skills you will need before and after high school graduation.
School-related tasks that you would need accessible AT for at home include accessing the internet for information, taking notes, creating documents, etc. You also might need accessible AT for these tasks in your community or at work (volunteer or paid). Tasks that might not be part of regular school classes include cooking, cleaning, getting transportation, reading directions on box mixes, shopping in person, ordering things online, etc.
Can I get additional school-provided accessible assistive technology to use only at home and in the community—not at school at all?
Yes. As noted above, both school-related tasks and non-school-related tasks fall under “transition services.” Thus, it is completely appropriate for your IEP to include instruction, services, and tools, including AT, to help you do things efficiently and effectively in your home and in the community, even if you are not doing those things at school.
Accessible Assistive Technology in the Home, Community, and at Work
What kinds of accessible assistive technology might I need at home?
It all depends on what you want/need to do at home. Some examples of accessible AT that might be helpful include a Braille embosser or laser printer. These tools will allow you to emboss/print out both schoolwork and other items you might want to read. Large monitors and refreshable Braille displays are important also, but they might not be enough. Non-disabled students can read many lines of text at a time on a typical-size screen. Enlarged print often provides fewer lines of text, even on large monitors. Additionally, reading on a large monitor for a long time can cause eye fatigue, especially if you have low vision, so it may be quite important to have a printer with good-quality output. For Braille readers, most currently available refreshable Braille displays provide only one line of Braille at a time. It is less efficient to scroll up and down, especially when accessing Nemeth Code (math) or Music Braille. Again, non-disabled students can see many lines of text at a time at home, so it makes sense that Braille reading students need an embosser at home as well.
Other types of accessible AT at home may include accessible kitchen tools (measuring cups and spoons, timers, thermometers, scales, text-to-speech software, etc.). Additionally, in order to master orientation and mobility tools like accessible compasses and long white canes, you should be able to use them all the time—not just in school.
What kinds of accessible assistive technology might I need in the community?
Well, what do you want to do in the community, and what tools do you need to do it? For example, maybe you want to be able to read a menu when you go out to eat (and if not now, you’ll likely want to when the world starts opening up again). Most restaurants don’t have accessible menus, and the lighting in many restaurants can make it difficult to read any print menu. What are some possible solutions that don’t require someone to read the menu to you?
Of course, there are many other activities in which you want to engage now or want to learn how to do for your life after high school. Think about what you want to do and what kinds of tools that might help you (even if you don’t know if they exist yet!). If you want help in this process, please reach out to us at the free Bridges Helpdesk.
What if I have a job and need accessible assistive technology to do it?
You already know the answer: YES! Employment (training for and doing) is part of Transition and should be part of your IEP. Please reach out to the free Bridges Helpdesk for more information and assistance.
Determining What Training You Need
Learning how to use accessible assistive technology
While it is great to have accessible AT; having it is not enough. You need to know how to use it and how you can use it for tasks that come up in the future. Great news: the same law that requires schools to provide “accessible technology services” requires schools to provide the AT devices referenced above.
What kinds of accessible AT training can my school provide?
AT services include many things, including:
- Evaluations of AT needs
- Providing, maintaining, repairing, or replacing AT devices
- Coordinating with other services
- Training or technical assistance
Accessible AT training: Myth or Fact?
AT training depends on what you need. Limitations that are not directly related to your IEP needs are not valid. Here are some statements about accessible AT training in the IEP:
If my accessible AT device breaks, I have to pay for it: MYTH
This is a myth. Under the law, AT services include maintaining, repairing, and replacing AT devices. Now, it’s important to be careful with all equipment, but the law says that the school is responsible to pay for needed maintenance, repair, and replacement of AT devices you need.
Only school employees can provide accessible AT training: MYTH
This is a myth. Training isn’t limited to that provided by school employees. If the school employees can’t provide the training you need on the accessible AT device you need, the school can hire outside contractors to provide that training until they have employees who can do it.
Accessible AT training must be directly related to current classes in school: MYTH
This is a myth. AT training isn’t limited to school tasks. As noted in earlier posts, IEP services include both what you need at school right now and transition services. Transition services include preparation for life after high school graduation: education, employment, and independent living. Accessible AT training should meet each of these needs.
Accessible AT training can only occur during the school day: MYTH
This is a myth. AT training doesn’t need to be provided during the school day. Your need for accessible AT training doesn’t mean you should have to drop any classes or electives to “fit in” the time. Accessible AT training is needed IN ADDITION TO classes, electives, and extracurricular activities. You do not need to give up anything in order to get the accessible AT training you need.
User manuals and links to YouTube videos are enough AT training: MYTH
While user manuals and links to YouTube videos may be somewhat useful, they do not constitute AT training. After all, your regular classes have teachers working with students. They might use textbooks and videos, but they are still involved in teaching. Just as a Calculus class requires more than a textbook and some videos, so does accessible AT training.
Only students can receive accessible AT training: MYTH
This is a myth. The law states that your IEP can include accessible AT device training for your parents, teachers, employers and others. In fact, these services must be included in your IEP if they are needed to provide you FAPE (free appropriate public education).
You mean my parents and teachers can get accessible AT training for devices I use? Yes!
This is true. The law provides that a student’s IEP can require that the school provide training or technical assistance for parents, other family members, and school personnel in relation to AT that a student needs.
Even my employer can get accessible AT training for devices I use? Yes!
This is true. The law specifically mentions employers and others who work with you as being able to receive training or technical assistance, if needed, to support your use of accessible AT at work.
How do I get the accessible AT devices and training I need into my IEP?
We’ll delve into this question in the fourth part of this four-part series: Accessible Assistive Technology in Your IEP. Please also feel free to contact us at the free Bridges Helpdesk anytime.
Getting the Accessible AT Devices and Training You Need into Your IEP
How do I get accessible AT devices and training into my IEP?
Make a list of what you think you need and why you need it. Look back at the earlier parts of this series. Think about the SETT Framework, and write down ideas for accessible AT devices that can help you do what you need to do in school, at home and in your community. Consider current needs as well as needs in the future—again, in school, at home, and in the community. Making a list of your needs and possible AT device solutions will help you and the whole IEP team make good decisions.
Next, discuss your list with your parents. Show them what you have learned, and ask if they have additional ideas about tasks with which accessible AT devices might be helpful. Please consider having these conversations with anyone else you feel could provide good feedback and ideas, including teachers, family members, and friends.
You are part of the IEP team, and you have the right to attend and participate in every IEP meeting. You (or your parents) are permitted to ask for an IEP meeting any time. You may contact your IEP case manager and ask for an IEP meeting to discuss your need for accessible AT devices and services and add them to your IEP. Also, IEPs can be changed without a formal meeting if you, your parents, and the school agree.
If you do have an IEP meeting, let the team know what your accessible AT device and training needs are, show them how you determined you needed these things, and ask them to amend your IEP in order to provide those devices. You may also ask the team to add needed accessible AT services, including training and instruction to your IEP.
The team may want to get a formal AT evaluation performed, and that’s not a bad idea. However, if everyone agrees that you need a particular accessible AT device or training, there’s no need to wait for a formal evaluation to be performed.
Dare to compare
If there is some disagreement about making a large purchase, ask the IEP team to consider adding a trial use of the accessible AT device to your IEP.
Overcoming past obstacles to getting the AT you need
Usually, when schools try to avoid providing accessible AT devices and training, it isn’t because they want to be mean or keep something from you. Blindness and low vision are “low incidence”—meaning that they are kind of rare. Accessible AT devices and services are also somewhat rare, so schools might not know much about them. To complicate matters even further, accessible AT devices tend to be more expensive than similar, more widely used, inaccessible technology. Many teachers, administrators, and even parents might have trouble understanding why you need a device that costs so much.
What you can use school-provided AT devices for
Some schools claim that students may not take school-provided accessible AT off campus or use it for anything that’s not directly related to classwork. This is incorrect. You have the right to use school-provided accessible AT if your IEP team agrees that you need it for either classes or for transition (training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills).
Cost cannot be a factor
The school is legally obligated to provide you the accessible AT you need at no charge to you. The cost of the equipment is irrelevant.
Accessible AT training
Your school must provide AT services to support you in using your accessible AT device. These AT services include evaluations and paying for, maintaining, repairing, or replacing the accessible AT device. These services also include training and technical assistance for you and, if appropriate, for your parents, family members, school personnel, your employers, and others involved with supporting you as you use the device.
FAPE means FREE Appropriate Public Education
Additionally, the law requires that the school provide needed accessible AT devices and training at no cost to you or your family. No cost means that the school may not charge you any fees related to the device or training. It also means that the school must pay for travel expenses if you need to travel to receive training. Finally, schools may not require you or your parents to take financial responsibility for damages to accessible AT devices that might occur.
Points to remember
The law allows each of the following:
- Taking your school-provided accessible AT home to use for school work at home
- Using school-provided accessible AT home for non-school-related tasks, including:
- Personal tasks
- Employment-related tasks
- Tasks related to practicing your religion
- Providing training or technical assistance for your accessible AT devices to:
- Your parents
- Professionals who work with you
- Your employer
- Others who work closely with you
- Having the school to pay for needed maintenance, repairs, and replacement of school-provided accessible AT devices
- Note: The school is not allowed to require you or your parents to sign papers that accepting responsibility for loss or damage.
- If you want more information or support in getting more accessible AT into your IEP, please reach out to us at the free Bridges Helpdesk.
Contact the Bridges Helpdesk for More Information
- Our Accessible web form
- Email: Helpdesk@imagemd.org
- Text: Send to: (410) 357-1546
- Voice mail: Call (410) 357-1546, leave a voice mail message, and we will return your call
This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.
Updated as of September 30, 2023.