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What is Assistive Technology?

January 24, 2024
Early Childhood, Special Education

As defined in the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA), the federal special education law, Assistive Technology (AT) is: “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 functional capabilities of a person with a disability.”

The IDEA requires that school districts provide AT to all students with disabilities who need it to receive a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). The Individualized Education Program (IEP) team is charged with the responsibility for determining a student’s individual need for AT in order to benefit from their education and have access to the curriculum.

Types of Assistive Technology

AT refers to tools that are necessary to help students benefit from instructional materials and communicate effectively. AT items can be described as “low-tech,” “mid-tech,” or “high-tech.” Some examples of each are provided below.

  • Low-tech devices: paper communication cards and text highlighters. 
  • Mid-tech devices: calculators and single switch devices.
  • High-tech devices: Augmentative Communication Devices (AAC), computers, and tablets with speech-to-text programs

What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?

Children and adults with severe speech or language problems may need to find other ways to communicate besides talking. Augmentative means to add to someone’s speech and Alternative means to be used instead of speech. There are many types of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) they can use.

Some people use AAC throughout their life. Others may use AAC only for a short time, like when they have surgery and can’t talk.

For additional information, consult the NYSED Reference Guide: Assistive Technology: A Family Guide

How to Refer Children for an AT Evaluation

If you believe your child needs assistive technology, you can write a letter to your local CPSE. This letter is called a referral and it must be made in writing. In the referral you should include:

  • The current date
  • The child’s name, date of birth, school, and student identification number (OSIS)
  • A description of why you think they need AT
  • Your printed name and signature

Here is a sample letter. To find your district and information on your CPSE, call 311 or visit the NYC Department of Education (NYCDOE) website.

Submit the request by email, fax, regular mail, or deliver it in person.

  • If your child is in preschool, submit to your Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE).
  • If your school-age child is in public school, submit to your child’s IEP team.
  • If your school-age child attends a non-public school or is not currently enrolled, submit to your Committee on Special Education.
  • If your child receives home instruction, submit to: Office of Homeschooling: 333 Seventh Avenue, floor 7 New York, NY, 10001

The Evaluation Process

  • Your child will be evaluated at school, the Office of Assistive Technology, or at home, depending on need.
  • Your child and their teachers will be trained to use any AT equipment recommended.
  • Customized goals will be developed for your child.
  • Evaluation may include a trial. Your child’s performance will be reviewed and their IEP goals will be adjusted, if appropriate.

The New York City Public Schools (NYCPS) Central Assistive Technology Teams aims to provide high quality assistive technology assessment, training, resources, and implementation support to students, families, teachers, and other NYCPS Staff. To learn more, visit the NYCPS website at Assistive Technology (