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Curriculum Highlights

Assistive Technology


  • Participants will understand the reasons for and the importance of proper positioning techniques for people with disabilities.
  • Participants will be able to describe examples of state-of-the-art technologies for people with disabilities.

Why This Topic is Important

Disability can be defined as "any condition that challenges the development or functioning of an individual, such as sensory, physical, or mental impairments..." Assistive technology can help people with disabilities meet these challenges and become more self-reliant, productive, and included in schools, workplaces, communities—anywhere.

An "assistive technology device" is any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. (29 U.S.C. Sec 2202(2))

An "assistive technology service" is any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an "assistive technology device." (Assistive Technology Act of 2004)

Assistive technology can help people communicate, move around, meet their own needs, learn, control their environment, work, and be more self-reliant, anywhere, all the time. Technology allows us to identify and build on a person's abilities, rather than focusing on what the person cannot do. Assistive technology can make inclusion, productivity, and participation a reality.

The quality of life for many people with significant disabilities can radically improve when we're creative in identifying, developing, applying, and/or funding the appropriate adaptive or assistive technology devices.

Concept Highlights
  • Technology can assist a person who may have a functional limitation; it can help people see, hear, move around, communicate, work, learn, and be more self-reliant.
  • Technology is not always affordable or accessible for many people who could benefit from it.
  • Technology helps us see the abilities of people who are labeled with disabilities, and these success stories need to be shared.
  • Policymakers need to understand how assistive technology can save money by enabling self-reliance, helping people learn in school, and get real jobs.
  • People with disabilities, families, and professionals need to understand what's possible with technology. People need to be strong and clear in their advocacy for the increased availability of assistive technology.


There are many ways we can improve the lives of people with disabilities through environmental changes and assistive technology:

Assistive technology—new or old, simple or complicated, low cost or expensive—can enable people with disabilities to:

We've never had greater opportunities for developing and applying assistive technology. There is much more support for the idea of helping people to be more and more independent. A number of pieces of important legislation are in place, including the Rehabilitation Act Amendments, the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act, and the Fair Housing Act.

To take advantage of these opportunities, we must take action to:

The cost of these actions will be small in comparison to the resulting savings in productivity, economic growth, human dignity and well-being.

9Adapted from Abilities and Technology (1986). MN Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities.

Possible Actions to Improve Accessibility and Use of Technology:

Examples of Assistive Technologies:

Digital Literacy and Media Literacy

In the 21st Century, information and computer technology, social media, and electronic communication (computers, smart phones, iPads, and more) can be critically important in helping students with disabilities learn and succeed in school and helping adults with disabilities acquire and maintain real jobs. (See

Partners participants, and others with disabilities, can improve their lives, and the lives of others, by taking the various online courses at As described in the Partners in Policymaking® Coordinator's Handbook Supplement: Integrating Online Learning, the online courses can supplement in-person Partners sessions, or be useful stand-alone learning opportunities.

A four-year-old child with cerebral palsy could not write with a pencil. His parents helped him learn how to use a computer at this young age. When he began kindergarten, and throughout his school career, he was included in general education classrooms, doing most of his schoolwork (including language arts, math, social studies, and more) on the computer. Worksheets could be scanned into the computer. His parents and teachers found computer software programs that mirrored the content being taught in the classroom. During the high school years, he began using voice-recognition software; instead of one-finger typing, he was able to wear a headset microphone and dictate his words to the computer. Today, he's a successful college graduate, and he uses a very simple device—a name stamp—as his legal signature.

An inclusive education provides great benefits for everyone, but if homeschooling is the preferred option, or if parents want to provide something in addition to the public school, students with and without disabilities, as well as adults, can experience great success via online learning, at sites like,, and other sources.

Online courses are also available through public and private colleges and universities. A person can earn a college degree (and then move on to a great job) without ever setting foot on a college campus.

Encourage Partners to share the latest technology with one another and keep up-to-date with the latest technology advancements.