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Masters of Special Education with Academic Instruction Certification

Assistive Technology (AT) - Topic 19

What is it?

Assistive technology (AT) is usually classified as either a device or a service. An AT device is any item that is used to improve the functioning of a student with a disability (Pierce & Porter, 1996). AT devices can be complex (such as an augmentative communication device), or simple (a picture attached to a board by Velcro). An AT service simply includes the maintenance, repairing, supplying and training of the AT device. A student who is eligible for special education is entitled to AT devices and services if they are needed for that student to receive “a free and appropriate public education” (IDEA, 2004). The basic function of all AT is to eliminate or reduce the number of communication barriers caused by a student’s disability.

Why is it important?

The ability to communicate is essential to successful educational outcomes for students with disabilities. Unfortunately, many students with disabilities are unable to communicate either vocally or physically due to motor and sensory impairments. Assistive technology provides students’ with disabilities a tool to communicate their wants and needs (Lancioni, O’Reilly, & Basili, 2001).


Lancioni, G. E., O’Reilly, M. F., & Basili, G. (2001). Use of microswitches and speech output systems

with people with severe/profound intellectual or multiple disabilities: A literature review.

Research in Developmental Disabilities, 22(1), 21-40.

Pierce, P. L., & Porter, P. B. (1996). Helping Persons with Disabilities to Become Literate Using

Assistive Technology Practice and Policy Suggestions. Focus on Autism and Other

Developmental Disabilities, 11(3), 142-146.

Web Links

The Family Center on Technology and Disability

Center for Implementing Technology in Education

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