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Assistive Technology Keyboard.

By Roba Hrisseh, Ph.D., OSEP Scholar, OSEP Intern

What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology (AT) includes two main components:

  • AT devices, and
  • AT services.

AT devices are defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as “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 the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.”

AT services consist of “the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.” AT services include the evaluation of a student with disability for AT, the provision of the AT for the child, the designing or customizing or adapting of AT devices, and the training about how to use the AT, among other items.

AT can range from low-tech (easily attainable, do not require batteries, and inexpensive) to high tech (not as easy to obtain, usually computer-based, and expensive to attain).

Diagram on Assistive Technology: Low Tech: Software screen readers Speech generating systems Eye-gazing devices Specialized learning software High Tech: Pencil grips Visual schedules Communication boards Graphic organizer

What are some examples of AT?

Some examples of AT that are low tech include pencil grips, visual schedules, slant boards, graphic organizers, modified scissors, page holders, communication boards.

Some examples of AT that are high-tech include screen readers, speech generating devices, eye-gaze devices and specialized learning software.

What is the AT guidance?

Recent excitement has emerged about the newly released AT guidance from the U.S. Department of Education. But what is the AT guidance?

The AT guidance is a document jointly released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology and the Office of Special Education Programs that aims to increase understanding of AT for students of all ages.

To notify the release of the guidance, a Dear Colleague Letter was published from Glenna Wright-Gallo, Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), and Roberto J. Rodríguez, Assistant Secretary of the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development.

There are two parts to the AT guidance:

  • the Dear Colleague Letter, which aims to introduce the guidance to everyone, and
  • the AT Myths and Facts document, which aims to make an easier understanding of AT rules in IDEA, clear up common misconceptions about AT, and share examples of AT device and service use for children with disabilities.

Why is this important?

Technology is continuously developing and progressing. Specifically, assistive technology, which is designed to support students with disabilities is also constantly evolving. The AT guidance helps to increase understanding of AT in education, which can help educators better support all students in accessing high-quality education.

Where can I learn more?

Several technical assistance (TA) centers are available to help, who are funded by the Office of Special Education Programs. These TA centers provide technical assistance about AT to schools, individuals, families, districts, states, and other stakeholders. Some of those of those TA centers that offer support specifically about AT are outlined in the table below:

 TA Center Name    Supports
Bookshare Supporting students with dyslexia, blindness, cerebral palsy, and other reading barriers through accessible educational reading materials.
Center for Innovation, Design, and Digital Learning (CIDDL) Supporting the use of educational technology for educators, related services, or preparation programs. Building capacity for higher education faculty to use educational technologies in personnel preparation.
Center on Inclusive Technology & Education Systems (CITES) Supporting school districts to create systems that can include all students with disabilities with a focus on assistive technology and accessible materials.
Audio Description and Captioning Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) Supporting individuals through a robust library of audio description and captioning resources, accessible education videos, teaching tools, and professional development opportunities.
Use of Technology for Early Childhood Assessment Innovative Technology for Early Childhood Assessment (INTECA) Supporting stakeholders in early intervention in using technology to administer assessments remotely
National Center on Accessible Educational Materials Providing technical assistance, coaching, and resources of accessible educational materials and technologies for individuals with disabilities.
National Instructional Materials Access Center Supporting the production of accessible educational materials in Braille, large print, and digital text.
STEMIE: Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Support the development and enhancement of engagement in STEM for students with disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Education submitted its 2023 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) annual report to Congress in March.


The 45th Annual Report to Congress, compiled by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), focuses on children and students with disabilities who received services specific to IDEA Part C for infants and toddlers or IDEA Part B for children and youth.

The report summarizes U.S. progress in:


  • providing a free appropriate public education for children with disabilities under IDEA Part B, and early intervention services to infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families under IDEA Part C;
  • ensuring that the rights of these children with disabilities and their parents are protected;
  • assisting states and localities in providing IDEA services to all children with disabilities; and
  • assessing the effectiveness of efforts to provide IDEA services to children with disabilities.
Read the 45th Annual Report to Congress preface or view the full report.
2023 Annual Report to Congress on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Medication management for people who are visually impaired

Visually impaired people are more than twice as likely to need help with medication management. Use these tips for medication labels, storage, and administration.

Registration opens in March

Mark your calendars to join us on Thursday, May 2, 2024, for the 7th Annual Older Adult Mental Health Awareness Day Symposium!

This free, all-day, virtual event will feature an engaging plenary, informative sessions, and a diverse array of topics addressing the most pressing needs in older adult mental health.

The symposium is brought to you by ACL, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the National Council on Aging (NCOA).

Watch your inbox for free registration information in mid-March!

Who should attend?

Public health practitioners, professionals in the aging network, mental health providers, health care professionals, and anyone interested in ensuring the mental health of older adults are encouraged to attend. In partnership with the E4 Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Disparities in Aging, NCOA anticipates offering continuing education for several disciplines.

Individuals in Maryland who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits may be eligible to receive tuition waivers (free tuition) at Maryland Community Colleges.

Individuals who are legally blind and who meet income and resource requirements are eligible to receive SSI (and, in some cases, SSDI). For children younger than 18, the income and resources of a parent or guardian are considered for eligibility purposes; for individuals over 18 years of age, only their income and resources (and those of a spouse, if any) are included. 

If the individual is enrolled in classes as part of a degree or a certificate program designed to lead to employment, tuition for up to 12 credits per semester may be waived. If they are not enrolled in such a program, tuition for up to six credits per semester may be waived.

To qualify, you MUST file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by March 1. More information can be found at the Community College Tuition Waiver for Students with Disabilities Receiving SSI or SSDI web page. Reach out to the Bridges HelpDesk with any questions or concerns at 410-357-1546, Helpdesk@imagemd.org or via the accessible web form.

OTC 101 Ask the Experts webinar series, webinar #2: How can over the counter hearing aids help? AARP and NIH experts answer questions about new devices available directly to consumers.

Join HLAA for the second event in their OTC 101: Ask the Experts Webinar Series sharing important information about over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids.

This exciting new class of products may provide another pathway to treatment for some adults with mild-to-moderate hearing loss. In 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized its rule permitting the sale of OTC hearing aids directly to consumers over 18, which are now available from a variety of retail and online stores. HLAA is presenting a series of four webinars through spring 2024, designed to answer your questions and clear up confusion.

The next OTC 101: Ask the Experts webinar on February 20 features Charlotte S. Yeh, M.D., chief medical officer for AARP Services, Inc. and Kelly King, Au.D., Ph.D., audiologist and program officer at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), on a panel moderated by HLAA Executive Director Barbara Kelley.

This complimentary event will be captioned, recorded and open to all. 



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