Assistive technologies like wheelchairs, communication devices, and adaptive tools can help improve the lives of both adults and children. Technology can help people compensate for or even overcome impairments. It can also free people, and allow them to participate in school and work. Assistive technology also gives people access to things like reading, music, sports, travel, and community life. DRW works to ensure that all people with disabilities in Wisconsin can get the assistive technology they need to live more productively and independently.
Assistive Technology Device
Any item, piece of equipment, or system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.
Assistive Technology Service
Any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.
Technology Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities or the Tech Act of 1988
The Tech Act is a federal law which outlines the rights of individuals with disabilities of all ages to receive needed technology. This law provides funding to states to assist people with disabilities to obtain information on resources and assistance in obtaining necessary technology. In addition, the law provides definitions for assistive technology.
The Tech Act currently provides funding for technology loan closets which are available at most independent living centers. Schools as well as individuals can borrow devices.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA which was re-authorized in 1999
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal law which governs special education services for eligible students with disabilities. IDEA uses the same definition for AT as the Tech Act. When IDEA was re-authorized in 1997, changes were made regarding the provision of assistive technology for students with disabilities. The law now requires that all IEP teams consider the need for assistive technology for all students eligible for special education. Assistive devices must be considered for all areas of need, regardless of disability type or severity.
Assistive devices can be provided to the student at home, at no cost to the family, if it is determined necessary to meet the student’s goals. An example might be a computer to perform written work assignments or a tape recorder to listen to books on tape. Devices provided to a student through the IEP process belong to the school and not the student. Therefore, students involved in transition need to be aware that these devices will not move with them when they leave school. Transition IEPs should make appropriate plans for ensuring that AT needs will be met when school is finished.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
504 is a section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, an equal rights law for people with disabilities. Section 504 pertains to public institutions that receive federal funding, such as public schools. Eligible people with disabilities must be provided equal access to programs and environments. Therefore, the provision of assistive devices may be appropriate as a means to accommodate a person with a disability. To qualify for services under Section 504 an individual must have a disability that interferes with one or more major life functions such as: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. Providing an assistive listening device to a student who is hard of hearing may be one example of an accommodation under Section 504.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to public facilities and some employers. It also requires government entities, such as public schools, to provide effective communication for people with disabilities. The ADA further requires those entities to consult, when possible, with the individual as to their preferred means of communication. This requirement gives the student with a disability more control over the type of accommodation provided. For example, a deaf student may prefer an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter over closed captioning for a movie shown in school.
To be in compliance with the ADA, school districts must make reasonable accommodations to non-accessible programs for individuals with disabilities. The ADA protects not only students with disabilities, but any individual with a disability who may visit the school. A parent with a disability may also need accommodations. A parent with low vision may need written materials in an alternate format when attending school functions or meetings. A grandparent with a hearing impairment who wants to attend a play at the school may need an assistive listening device.
The Social Security Act
The Social Security Act (SSA) provides funding for assistive technology or durable medical equipment to those eligible for Medicaid due to low-income or medical need. Durable medical equipment may be provided through a prior authorization process and may include such devices as communication aids, wheelchairs, and physical therapy equipment. Additional services may be provided under the Medicaid provision for school based services or Early Periodic Screening Diagnostics and Treatment (EPSDT) for those eligible under the age of 21. Devices purchased under Medicaid belong to the recipient.
Disability Rights Wisconsin challenges funding denials for assistive technology and related services for people with disabilities. We also help parents work with their children’s schools to get assistive technology (AT) assessments and to get assistive technology incorporated into their child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). If necessary, Disability Rights Wisconsin advocates can assist parents with mediation and due process.
If a person needs assistive technology and is denied funding for it by a school, medical assistance, or private insurance, we can help fight to get coverage for that technology.