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We have to stop thinking of technology in terms of nouns (e.g. PowerPoint, YouTube, or Twitter) and instead think in terms of verbs (presenting, sharing, communicating).

~ Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey, 21st Century Skills

Assistive technology (AT) is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of tools, strategies, and services that enables a student with a disability to complete a task they would otherwise have difficulty with or be unable to do. Accessible technology refers to technology that's been designed with the needs of many different users in mind. Often Accessible technology includes similar tools and features as AT. For example, think about closed captions… Providing text with video or audio is a well-established assistive technology support for students with hearing impairments. But the inclusion of video/audio materials can also be beneficial for students learning English, students who are visual learners, and even a student who comes to school with fatigue and just needs a little extra support that day. As a result, Accessible technology has broad implications. Universal Design for Learning tells us that what’s good for a few can be good for many, and for educators, this is a good place to begin to make learning accessible. What can educators make available in the instructional design from the start that will enable ALL students (including students with disabilities) to be more successful? 


When talking about students with disabilities, there are references to tools, strategies, and the supports, as “assistive technology” as this legally required mandate must be addressed the the IEP process. By expanding an understanding of how Assistive and Accessible technologies overlap and compliment each other, teachers can shift into supporting ALL students.


The Open Access training sequence called "Accessible Curriculum for ALL" is designed for both general and special education teachers.

Accessible technology for all document to download
UDL and AT Barriers Reduced

Dive a bit deeper into this topic by exploring the article

Why is Technology So Important for our Students with Disabilities:

The National Education Technology Plan (NEPT, Office of Educational Technology, 2017) states that one of the main goals of education is that “all learners will have engaging and empowering learning experiences in both formal and informal settings that prepare them to be active, creative, knowledgeable, and ethical participants in our globally connected society.” This requires that learning resources embody the “flexibility and power of technology to create equitable and accessible learning ecosystems that make learning possible everywhere and all the time for all students.” 


Think about the quote at the top of this page. It’s not enough to provide teachers with a box of tools. Teachers need to understand how to leverage those tools using methodology that considers the variability of all learners, and how to strategically implement them to reduce the specific barriers to learning for the students they are teaching. By grounding the provision of assistive technology in the practices of universal design for learning, teachers can support the goal for students to be successful in inclusive settings. 

What is the impact for our students with disabilities? 


The National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (most recently published in 2016) looked at postsecondary outcomes for students nationally and found that students with high incidence disabilities who received assistive technology performed significantly better than those who did not receive assistive technology. 


Students who received AT graduated at a rate of 99.8% compared to 79.6% for students who did not receive AT.


Students who received AT enrolled in postsecondary education programs at a rate of 80.9% compared to 40.1% for students who did not receive AT.


Students who received AT obtained a paying job at a rate of 80% compared to 50.8% for students who did not receive AT. 


What are the mandates for providing assistive technology? 


Because AT is so important for students with disabilities, there exist specific mandates for providing tools, strategies and the services that support their use. Since 1990, IDEA has required AT devices and services be available to every student with a disability - if that student needs AT in order to receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). Needing AT to access an educational program can mean access to special instruction; access to the general curriculum; and/or access to extracurricular activities. In many cases, the provision of assistive technology can be the most meaningful way of ensuring students can meet more challenging objectives and experience an appropriately ambitious program. 


More than one federal law addresses the requirement that schools provide AT to students who benefit from it and have equal access to their educational programs.


This overview of the “Legal Basis for Assistive Technology” from Gayl Bowser and Penny R. Reed,  includes key excerpts about assistive technology mandates.

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