Back to the Section IV Introduction
Back to the Table of Contents

Accommodations and Assistive Technology

Assistive technology can enable students with disabilities to be more independent at home, in the classroom, at work, and in society. The range of available technology and accommodations and the resulting possibilities for participation in activities for students with disabilities are virtually limitless, constrained only by a lack of knowledge and creativity. It is imperative that the student with a disability, who is preparing to meet the challenges of adult life, learn about accommodations, assistive technology (AT), the laws that relate to AT and accommodations (e.g., ADA, IDEA, Tech Act, Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986 and 1992), and what their rights and responsibilities are under these different laws before they leave school (see "Highlights of the Laws Related to AT" on page 145). It is therefore critical that parents and professionals be educated about the powerful role assistive technology can play in maximizing the independence and inclusion of students with disabilities in society.

The emphasis regarding accommodations during transition years should be on assisting the student to understand:

Teachers and parents must be familiar with the variety of options to assist students in reaching their full potential.

The following will be discussed in this section:


Definition of Assistive Technology and Accommodations Assistive technology (AT) typically refers to a device, while assistive technology service refers to the service provided to assist an individual with the device. Accommodations refer to any device, service, or modification made to enable an individual to accomplish his/her goals.

Assistive technology

Assistive technology can refer to any device or product that enables an individual to perform an activity with greater independence. AT devices include "high-tech" products that are highly specialized and/or specifically designed for use by an individual with a disability (e.g., augmentative communication devices, wheelchairs) and those "low-tech" products that are not readily available to the general population (e.g., Velcro, computer software, calculators, name stamps). Low-tech devices are generally available "off the shelf" at general merchandise stores or through catalogs (e.g., Radio Shack, Lechmere, Sharper Image, Lillian Vernon).

Assistive technology service

Assistive technology service is any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive device. Services include:


Assistive technology devices and services are one type of accommodation. Accommodations can also include modifications or changes to equipment like building up a paintbrush handle so someone is able to grip it, adapting curriculum, or modifying the environment (e.g., building a ramp, relocating an activity to an accessible site or to a different, quiet area of the classroom).


These introductory examples and suggestions for making accommodations should provide a good starting point for making school, work, home, and the community more accessible for individuals with disabilities. This list is by no means conclusive and is meant only as a starting point toward creative thinking. 

Remember: Accommodations can be a team effort! Utilize friends, family, classmates, co-workers, advocates, therapists, human service providers, and school personnel as resources! 

Rules and Regulations -- Making all individuals feel welcome 

  • State rules in the positive (e.g., instead of saying "no dogs," a policy may read, "only seeing eye and service dogs permitted") 
  • Group people by age rather than grade or ability (e.g., allow students to advance with their peers if they choose) 
  • Ask students what types of special accommodations they might need on an application form 
  • If a rule is modified for an individual with a disability (e.g., the three-second lane rule in basketball is lengthened), modify the rule for all involved 
Assistive Technology -- Assistance through devices 
  • Everyday items (typically found in community shops, e.g., alarm clocks, Velcro, rope, scoot guard for rugs) 
  • Specialized items (typically must be ordered through a catalog or specialty vendor, e.g., a sit ski, wheelchair, head switch) 
  • May be owned by the individual, school, employer, business, human service agency, or a consortium 
Physical Environment -- Working around or removing the obstacles 
  • The obvious (e.g., narrow doorways, stairs) 
  • The not-so-obvious (e.g., acoustics, weather conditions) 
Natural Supports/VolunteersPeople power 
  • Buddy/Partner systems 
  • Cooperative grouping and mutual support 
Time/Place Modifications 
  • Accessible buildings/floors (e.g., moving a class to the first floor at an inaccessible school) 
  • Flexible time to allow for frequent medical appointments or unreliable transportation 
Defining SuccessWhy is this important anyway? 
  • flexibility on criterion of success 
  • success is defined on an individual basis 
  • the ultimate goalto be able to choose access to the same programs, services, jobs, buildings, and services as anyone else. 
The most crucial point is to talk with individuals with disabilities to find out what they need. If they are not sure, assist them in figuring it out. Don't be afraid to ask! 


Assistive Technology and the Law

Over the past ten years, several federal laws have increased awareness about the importance of assistive technology and improved access to devices and services. These laws include: The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
(P.L. 101-336)

The ADA became law on July 26, 1990 and protects all Americans with disabilities from discrimination in employment, public services, transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications. Each Title of the Act references assistive technology as a means to achieve equal access and opportunity.

Students should know that in order to be considered for accommodations under the ADA, they:

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-476)

IDEA includes identical definitions of assistive technology devices and services to those included in the Tech Act. Assistive technology can be included in the IEP in a number of ways. It may be part of the student's annual goals and objectives and/or it may be required for the student to be educated in a regular class (e.g., use of computer, calculator, voice synthesizer) under supplementary aids and services. Additionally, the IEP may specify a related service (e.g., speech therapy, physical therapy), which would assist the student in being more independent or in acquiring and learning to use an assistive device.

Assistive technology should be considered as an option in every IEP. Each Local Education Agency (LEA) must ensure that assistive technology or assistive technology services, or both, are made available to a student with a disability if required as a part of the student's:

Ultimately, the TEAM decides whether to include assistive technology in the IEP. As stated earlier, it is imperative that students and parents be educated about the benefits of assistive technology and understand that as members of the student's IEP team they have the right to request that assistive technology be included in the IEP.

To further reinforce the role of an LEA, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has issued several policy statements noting that assistive technology should be considered as part of the process of developing a child's IEP (see Appendix V: Policy Letters and Technical Assistance Circular; J. Schrag, T. Hehir, N. Carney). These policy letters state unequivocally that assistive technology services and devices may be considered as special education, related services, or supplementary aids and services to enable a student with a disability to remain in the regular education classroom. As part of the requirements of a "free, appropriate public education" (FAPE), assistive technology needs must be considered when developing a student's IEP. In response to the requirements of the least restrictive environment principle and special education or related services, students with disabilities have a right to assistive technology. Schools can require parents to pay for AT devices and services if they have been identified in the student's IEP. The school system can ask parents to use private insurance but parents are not required to do so. Parents should be advised that using private insurance to purchase AT may affect future insurability or costs for the lifetime limit of the insurance policy.

AT belongs to the student if the student's private insurance or Medicaid funds have been used to purchase it and should not be used by anyone else unless the student grants permission (e.g., playing a computer game, working on an assignment with a peer). AT purchased by the school district remains the property of the district. The school district can allocate a device to a specific student or have multiple devices that are used by numerous students. It is advisable for the school district to cover the AT under a liability policy. Students must be permitted access to the AT at home if the IEP team (TEAM) indicates that the AT is necessary for a student to benefit from FAPE. A school board cannot change any portions of the IEP, except by reconvening the TEAM. Additionally, the school district may not refuse access to AT on the basis of insufficient insurance coverage. Furthermore, a school district may not postpone implementation of an approved IEP unless there is some extenuating circumstance, such as purchasing and shipping the AT.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986 (P.L. 99-506)

The amendments of 1986 require each state vocational rehabilitation agency to describe in its three-year state plan how rehabilitation engineering services would be included throughout the rehabilitation process. The amendments also require the application of rehabilitation technology services when making determinations of eligibility. This is very important for individuals who might otherwise be ineligible for vocational rehabilitation services. Additionally, rehabilitation engineering was added to the four mandatory services that state rehabilitation agencies must provide.

On November 16, 1990, then-Commissioner of Rehabilitation Services Administration Nell Carney issued a policy directive to all state vocational rehabilitation agencies that set significant new guidelines concerning implementation of the 1986 Rehabilitation Technology Act Amendments (see Appendix V: Policy Letters and Technical Assistance Circular; N. Carney).

Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992 (P.L. 102-569)

The amendments further emphasize that state vocational rehabilitation agencies' priorities must include:
The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-407) and Amendments of 1994 (Tech Act)

This federal mandate provides financial assistance to states on a competitive basis to plan and implement a consumer-responsive system of technology services for individuals of all ages with disabilities. The Tech ACT Amendments were signed into law on March 9, 1994. The purposes of the amendments are to:


Highlights of the Laws Related to AT 


Accommodations are referenced in each title. They must be made except when doing so would impose undue hardship. 

In employment, accommodations frequently require restructuring how a job is customarily performed or the work environment itself. 

In places of public use, accommodations may require ceasing discriminatory eligibility criteria; modifying policies, practices, and procedures; providing auxiliary aids and services; removing barriers, etc. 

Determination is made on a case-by-case basis. No specific form of accommodation is guaranteed for all individuals with a particular disability. 

Other legislation facilitates compliance. For example, the Internal Revenue Code facilitates compliance by allowing deductions for the removal of architectural and transportation barriers. 


Defines AT devices and services the same as the TECH Act. 

AT must be provided when included in the IEP. 

Requires Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to ensure that AT and/or AT services are made available to student if required as part of a student's 

a. Special Education (section 300.17) 

b. Related Services (section 300.16) 

c. Supplementary Aids and Services (sec. 300.550(b)(2)) 

It is a team decision whether or not to include AT in the IEP. As members of the team, students and parents should learn about the possible benefits of AT and have the right to request that AT be included in the IEP. 

In August 1990, the Office of Special Education Programs issued a policy statement asserting that AT should be considered as part of the IEP to enable a student with disabilities to remain in the regular education classroom. 

Rehab Act 

Defines AT devices and services the same as the TECH Act. 

Defines the term "rehabilitation technology" as including AT devices and services. 

Requires each state vocational rehabilitation agency (MRC in this state) to describe how rehabilitation technology services will be provided. 

Requires the application of rehabilitation technology services when determining eligibility. 

Priorities include: 

·students with disabilities in transition 

·individuals with severe disabilities 

·diverse populations 

·assistive technology 

Tech Act 

Defines "AT device" as any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities for individuals with disabilities. 

Defines "AT services" as any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. 

Provides financial assistance to states, on a competitive basis, to implement AT services in response to consumer needs (e.g., Massachusetts Assistive Technology Partnership, MATP, in this state). 

Funds programs of national significance related to AT. 

Establishes and expands alternative financing mechanisms to allow individuals with disabilities to purchase AT devices and services. 


Doing It Better With Technology When Jane was 14 years old, her IEP included a statement regarding the need for assistive technology. It further specified that in order to complete her coursework as well as procure the type of administrative position in which she hoped to someday work, she would need a laptop computer that would fit on her wheelchair tray and would utilize a modified keyboard and joystick control. The school purchased the necessary equipment and began teaching Jane how to use it, making certain to train her in the different environments in which she will be using the equipment.

At age 16, Jane got a job working as an administrative assistant in a doctor's office. She continued working there, utilizing her laptop computer to type correspondence for the next two years, until she graduated high school. Upon graduation (at age 18), and with the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) assisting her with tuition, Jane enrolled in a two-year paralegal program at a local community college. MRC also assisted Jane in applying for a PASS plan so she could purchase an updated computer. During college, Jane realized that she would need to purchase a wheelchair that would adjust to a standing position to alleviate the pressure caused by her spina bifida if she was ever to work full-time. She began the lengthy process of applying to Medicaid for funding.

Upon graduating, Jane found a job working part-time for a busy law firm. The law firm updated the software on her computer to be compatible with other office computers. They also changed several doorknobs to lever-type knobs (the front entrance, Jane's office, the bathroom, the Xerox room, and several key offices and meeting rooms), and eased the pull on the same doors.

When Jane finally received her new wheelchair six months into her employment, she applied and was accepted for a full-time position. At this time Jane's employer purchased an adjustable-height table, which would enable Jane to work from either a sitting or standing position.

Through collaborative planning and utilizing all her resources, Jane was able to actualize her current employment goals. She is now thinking about buying her own condominium and considering going back to school for a degree in business law.


Applications of Assistive Technology Many activities in which students participate depend on physical and cognitive ability (e.g., manipulating tools, reading books, taking exams). This can often prove frustrating for students with disabilities. Computers can be too difficult to switch on or off; doors can be challenging to open or close; likewise, individual activities or assignment steps may be too complex for a student with a learning or cognitive disability. However, technology has given us an infinite number of products and hence a world full of possibilities.

These products can be utilized to make assignments and activities more accessible to everyone. For example, switches controlled by a head, arm, or eye movement, or even a breath of air may be used to turn on or off any electronic device, draw a picture or control a computer. Almost any electronic device can be operated utilizing these devices (e.g., computer games, electronic organizers, stereo systems, televisions, lights). Other items, such as keyboards, can be simplified by using color-coded buttons or buttons with pictures instead of letters.

There is a wealth of literature on the purchase, adaptation, and use of both high-tech and low-tech devices. Most sources recommend that people first research existing devices, then modify the devices. Only when these two options fail is inventing one's own modification recommended. In other words, check out what's already out there before reinventing the wheel. Furthermore, when making a modification (accommodation), you should aim for the least amount of change possible. For example, if an individual uses a computer instead of paper and pencil, the worksheet can be duplicated onto the computer so the end result (printout) looks much the same as the other students' work.

Other types of technology may include environmental accommodations that may encompass anything from simply using lever door handles instead of round knobs to using highly special equipment like automatic door openers or faucets. Using simple modifications instead of complicated devices or equipment also applies to rule modifications made to include students. Assignments or activities can be adapted in order to expand the personal abilities of the student as well as increase participation and understanding of an assignment or activity regardless of ability.

The following five items represent typical areas in which assistive technology and or accommodations can be applied:

Teachers and other school personnel need to understand accommodations to ensure that the high school environment is accessible to all students. Additionally, they need to be able to teach students what the student will need to know for his/her adult life. Finally, students need to be familiar with these areas so they can advocate for accommodations they need.

For each of these areas, some very basic steps can be taken to assist students with that type of disability to participate in an activity or complete an assignment independently. These categories are purposely broadly stated because individuals vary enormously, regardless of their ability. Including every disability in every situation is far beyond the scope of this section. Whoever is providing or receiving the accommodation must always take the needs of the individual into account and must be willing to try new ideas. Each area will be introduced below with examples of typical accommodations and devices. For more information about any of the areas, accommodations, or devices mentioned, contact the Massachusetts Assistive Technology Partnership ( in Appendix I under Assistive Technology Resources).


Individuals who have difficulty with mobility may need a wide variety of devices or accommodations to assist them in getting around school buildings, office buildings, and recreation centers as well as participating fully in all aspects of school/work/recreation/daily living. These accommodations and devices may include:


Individuals who have difficulty grasping may need devices or accommodations to assist them in holding/using everyday items as well as participating fully in all aspects of school/work/recreation/daily living. These accommodations and devices may include:


Individuals who have difficulty seeing may need to use devices or accommodations to assist them in getting around as well as participating fully in all aspects of school/work/recreation/daily living. These accommodations and devices may include:


Individuals who have difficulty hearing may need devices or accommodations to assist them in participating fully in all aspects of school/work/recreation/daily living. These accommodations and devices may include:


Individuals who have cognitive difficulties may need devices or accommodations to assist them in participating fully in all aspects of school/work/recreation/daily living. These accommodations and devices may include:

Funding Assistive Technology

Once a device/accommodation (or group of devices/accommodations) has been selected the next major question becomes funding, especially for larger or more expensive pieces of equipment. Unfortunately, some assistive devices are quite costly. The following are options of for obtaining funding or for the device itself: A school department, under IDEA, is responsible for the purchase of a particular device if it is contained in the student's IEP. Another option is to explore external resources that may loan or rent equipment (e.g., Easter Seals, universities). If a student needs a specialized device, local civic organizations (e.g., Kiwanis, Knights of Columbus) businesses and foundations (e.g., Ronald McDonald Fund) are excellent sources to explore. One will need to become familiar with the various local organizations as some will be more interested in purchasing assistive equipment for an organization while others will be more interested in individual ownership. Some organizations and businesses may also have a "favorite disability" that they prefer to sponsor. Finally, it might be useful to consider cost sharing for the purchase of assistive device among the school, recreation facility/business/place of employment and the student and their family.
Moving On: Planning for the Fut

110 Assistive Devices

The following list of accommodations is by no means exhaustivethere are hundreds of thousands more out there!

audio output devices, augmentative communication aids, braille writers, braille typewriters, braille printers, computer programs to change braille to text and vise versa, character magnification devices, digitizers, electronic scanners, speech synthesizers, eye movement detectors/eye sensor devices, voice analyzers, voice recognizers, computer sketch pads, computer graphic pads, bar code scanners, head switches, finger switches, fist switches, foot switches, breath switches, portable computers, firmware cards, joysticks, trackballs, computer mouses, hand-held mouses, key guards, light pens, ultraviolet light scanners, touch screens, universal TV controls, universal electric controls, calculators, telephone amplifiers, radio amplifiers, headphones, buzzers, sonar sensing devices, pressure plates, robotics, TDDs, remote controls, battery-operated devices, modifications of game rules, tapes, ropes, name stamps, lever door handles, talking clocks, no-spill coffee cups, thick-handled silverware, ramps, dycem, scoot guard, Velcro, smooth pavements, adjustable desks, talking watches, moveable keyboard trays, magnifying glasses, shoe horns, softballs, sit skis, wheelchairs (hundreds of kinds), handcycles, beepers, portable telephones, large-buttoned telephones, dictator tape recorders, regular tape recorders, computer networks, shorter hours, grippers, the "Clapper," long-necked watering cans, built-up gardens, page turners, scanners, reading machines, answering machines, large handles, WD-40, funnels, wide doorways, elevators, escalators, boardwalks, car hand controls, bright lights, dim lights, straws, swimming flippers, life vests, file folders, flashlights, cleaning services, lowered counters, brailled menus, coin templates, credit cards, calling cards, raised-line checks, interpreters, hearing aids, CART, closed captioning, live description, glasses, braces, and so on!

Accommodations & AT 

Have You Thought About This?  
  • Does the student know his/her strengths and weaknesses? 
  • Is the student able to describe his/her needs? 
  • Does the student know what to ask for to accommodate any weaknesses? 
  • Does the student understand and know how to use any assistive devices he/she needs? 
  • Does the student know where to have equipment serviced/repaired? 
  • Does the student have a back-up alternative to assistive devices should they break and be in the repair shop for extended periods of time? 
  • Does the student understand his/her access needs (e.g., ramps, lowered desks, interpreters) in terms of work? home? recreation? 
  • Is the student familiar with laws regarding reasonable accommodation? 
  • Does the student know where to go for assistance if he/she is not being reasonably accommodated? 


Back to the Section IV Introduction
Back to the Table of Contents