“For most people technology makes things easier. For people with disabilities, however, technology makes things possible. In some cases, especially in the workplace, technology becomes the great equalizer and provides the person with a disability a level playing field on which to compete.”

  • Mary Pat Radabaugh, Director of IBM National Support Center for Persons with Disabilities, 1988

Assistive technology allows thousands of individuals with disabilities across the country to live healthy, safe, and independent lives. This post will explain what assistive technology is, how to choose the right type for you or your loved one, and resources to help pay for assistive technology.

What is Assistive Technology?

Photo of Kyla Bishop, DRA attorneyAssistive technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of an individual with a disability. For example, both eyeglasses and prosthetics are a type of AT.

AT includes a variety of both low and high-tech devices, such as:

  • Adapted pencil holders
  • Graphic organizers
  • Talking calculators
  • Braille and braille embossers
  • Walkers
  • Wheelchairs
  • Screen-Reader software
  • Powerlifts
  • Specialized keyboards

Even an app can count as AT! Did you know that most phones come programmed with AT apps?

AT does not include devices that are surgically implanted, sign language interpreters, and service animals.

How Do I Choose the Right Type of Assistive Technology?

When deciding on what type of AT to go with, it is important to focus on the area of difficulty rather than the underlying disability. This is because many different disabilities can all affect our cognitive, sensory, and motor/mobility functioning. It is also important to bear in mind that AT is not a “one size fits all” – what works for one person may not work for another.

Doctors, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and rehabilitation specialists are also good sources for recommendations on AT.

Another great resource for choosing AT is iCAN’s Tools for Life Demonstration Center. iCAN allows all Arkansas residents, regardless of income, to try out their available products and attend demonstrations on how to use them. Free of charge!

Who Pays for Assistive Technology?

Payment for assistive technology will depend on the user and his or her situation. At DRA, we often handle AT in the context of special education and employment.

Special Education

Special education is specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. Children with a disability may require AT to fully participate in the classroom. AT can help students in a variety of academic areas, such as reading, writing, math, and organization. The school must pay for any AT that is identified in the child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Employment

Employers must pay for AT that allows an employee to work so long as it isn’t too expensive or otherwise burdensome. Some common AT used in the workplace include:

  • An ergonomic or adapted keyboard
  • Screen readers
  • Screen magnifiers

Arkansas Rehabilitation Services

Arkansas Rehabilitation Services (ARS) can assist with paying part of or the full cost of AT that is necessary for maintaining employment. ARS provides job training and career preparation programs designed to help individuals with disabilities secure and maintain employment. The agency’s Access and Accommodations department assists individuals in both accessing and learning how to use AT.

iCAN

iCAN is the Arkansas statewide AT program designed to make technology available and accessible for everyone who needs it. While iCAN cannot pay for AT, it does offer a variety of services to help individuals find the right type of AT for them, such as loaning AT products. They also offer:

  • Information assistance
  • AT device demonstrations and training on how to use AT devices
  • AT device exchange
  • AT device reuse

These services are free for individuals with disabilities regardless of age, geographic area, disability, income, or eligibility for any other service. You can check iCAN’s stock of available AT by clicking here.

Other Assistive Technology Resources

The Alternative Financing Program – The Alternative Financing Program (AFP) is a resource designed to provide individuals with disabilities access to extended-term, at or below market-rate loans for the purchase of assistive technology. Arkansas residents with a certified disability and in need of assistive technology can apply for a loan through this program. Family members, guardians or authorized representatives may also apply on behalf of the individual with a disability. Applicants must be age 18 or older or have a co-signer age 18 or older.

The Center on Technology and Disability – The Center on Technology and Disability (CTD) hosts a library with various resources and webinars on AT, particularly regarding special education. (This website is available through 2021)

AbleData – AbleData is the premier source for impartial, comprehensive information on products, solutions and resources to improve productivity and ease with life’s tasks. AbleData provides a wealth of information to assist domestic and international customers and their family members, vendors, distributors, organizations, professionals and caregivers in understanding assistive technology options and programs available.

Telecommunications Access Program – The Telecommunications Access Program (TAP) provides free telecommunication equipment to eligible Arkansans who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, or who have a speech, visual, mobility, or intellectual impairment. Click here to see if you meet the eligibility criteria.

Kyla Bishop is a staff attorney at Disability Rights Arkansas. Email her at kbishop@disabilityrightsAR.org.