By Susan Goodman, Esq.
QUESTION: What is assistive technology?
ANSWER: Assistive technology devices and assistive technology services are defined in the the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 (ATA) as follows:
Assistive technology device: Any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off-the-shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.
Assistive technology service: Any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology service.
An assistive technology device may be a "high-tech" device (such as a computer or an augmentative communication device), or it may be "low-tech" (such as eyeglasses, a tape recorder, or a cushion for better positioning). It can also include training for parents, teachers and related service staff.
QUESTION: What are state ATA projects?
ANSWER: The ATA, formerly known as the Technology Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act (Tech Act), created programs in each state to develop statewide, consumer-responsive programs of technology-related services for individuals with disabilities of all ages. The purposes of the ATA are as follows:
Support states in sustaining and strengthening their capacity to address the assistive technology needs of individuals with disabilities.
Support the investment in technology across federal agencies and departments that could benefit individuals with disabilities.
Support micro-loan programs to individuals wishing to purchase assistive technology devices or services.
Some of the activities of the ATA agencies include:
Events and locations where individuals can test devices and equipment;
State-wide toll-free numbers for information and linkages to AT services and suppliers;
Funding guides listing AT resources and funding options;
Innovative ways to get technology into local communities (e.g., mobile van outreach services);
Equipment exchange and recycling programs;
Training of people with disabilities, families, service providers, and others in AT;
Alternative Financing Programs such as micro-loans and equipment recycling to enable consumers to purchase technology.
For the project in your state, visit the Resna Web site.
QUESTION: Do ATA projects conduct minority outreach?
ANSWER: ATA programs are required, by law, to conduct outreach to underserved populations. Several states have initiatives to reach Hispanic populations. For example:
The Idaho Tech Act Project disseminates information on assistive technology in Spanish through the state's Migrant Council regional offices. The project also airs Spanish public service announcements that are broadcast on numerous radio and television stations throughout the state.
The Indiana Tech Act Project (ATTAIN) provides training and technical assistance to more than 1,300 farmers and rural residents by evaluating equipment, machinery, and work sites and providing information on how to make their living and working areas more accessible.
If you want more information on activities conducted in your state, contact your state Tech Act agency.
QUESTION: Can the Protection and Advocacy agency in my state help me and my child obtains the listening device s/he needs?
ANSWER: Each state Protection and Advocacy agency sets priorities with respect to the type of cases in which they will provide legal representation. In addition, each state Protection and Advocacy agency gets special funds designated to handle assistive technology cases. Be sure to ask for the assistive technology attorney when you call your P&A office. For a list of state P&A's, visit the Protection and Advocacy Web site.
QUESTION: People representing minorities receive very few services in our area. Can P&A lawyers help these people get the services they need?
Within the priorities determined by the state P&As, people from under-represented groups should receive the same consideration as others in determining which clients their P&As are able to represent.
State P&As are required, by law, to conduct outreach to under-served populations. If you wish to find out about initiatives in your state, contact your local P&A office and ask to speak to the person in charge of outreach for under served populations.
QUESTION: Do I have the right to an Individualized Plan of Employment (IPE) through Vocational Rehabilitation (VR)?
ANSWER: Vocation Rehabilitation is the program that provides employment-related services to persons with disabilities. Unlike Medicaid (in its current form) and special education, VR is not an "entitlement" program. This means that, even if an individual has a disability and is not employed, s/he does not have a right (is not legally entitled) to receive services from VR. Therefore, s/he would not be "entitled" to VR services or an IPE.
However, if an individual is found eligible for services, the right to an IPE is triggered. Like the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in special education, the IPE is the document that states the specific plan of services for the individual who is receiving VR services.
The Client Advocacy Program offers help to individuals who are trying to get assistance through the VR system. Phone number for this program can be found in the state government section of your local phone book, listed under Vocational Rehabilitation or Protection and Advocacy agency.
QUESTION: We have used our savings to purchase a laptop computer for our child who has severe fine motor disabilities and is unable to write. He needs to use the computer at home to do his homework. The school principal refuses to allow him to bring it to school because s/he claims that the school cannot be responsible if it is damaged. Is there anything I can do?
ANSWER: If your child needs an assistive device to benefit from his/her educational program, it should be written into the IEP. The Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education has issued a policy letter on the subject of school liability for family-owned devices. That letter states: "If a child needs assistive devices to benefit from his educational program, the school is liable for a family-owned device used at school." (The OSEP policy letter stating that technology may be taken home is dated November 21, 1991). The new regulations state that the school may be responsible for providing AT in the home, or in other settings, if the IEP determines, on a case-by-case basis, that the student will need AT in that setting to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.308 (b).
Revised Summer 2000
The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and no official endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education of the opinions expressed herein should be inferred.