Assistive technology (AT) is often an important component to successful employment outcomes for people with disabilities. Whether low tech or high tech, at JAN we are often sharing information with our customers about how devices can contribute to effective accommodation solutions. In this blog, we’re fortunate to interview Marty Exline from ATAP for more details about the work his organization does in the critical areas of AT information, training, and access.
1. For those who are not familiar with the Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs (ATAP), can you describe what your organization does and its relationship to State Assistive Technology Act Programs funded under the Assistive Technology Act (AT Act)? Can you describe what your role is in the ATAP organization?
ATAP is a membership organization of state and territory Assistive Technology (AT) Act programs. ATAP works primarily with national policy issues impacting access to assistive technology. The AT3 Center, a component of ATAP, is the national training and technical assistance provider for all 56 of the state and territory AT Act programs. AT3 stands for “Assistive Technology Act Technical Assistance and Training” Center.
I am the Director of the AT3 Center and work with other AT3 staff to provide training and technical assistance to the 56 AT Act programs.
2. What is the Assistive Technology Act (AT Act) and what are the main goals of this legislation?
The purpose of the Assistive Technology Act of 2004 is to support comprehensive statewide programs to improve the provision of assistive technology for individuals of all ages with all types of disabilities in all settings (community living, education, and employment). The goal of these programs is to increase individuals’ access to and acquisition of AT through a defined set of activities. The Act, administered by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), provides formula grants to support an AT program in each state and territory.
3. What services do the state AT programs provide to individuals with disabilities and how do they qualify for services?
There are four “state-level” activities defined in the AT Act that are provided by almost every state and territory program. These include:
- Device demonstration – Device demonstrations can be in-person or remote to allow individuals with disabilities, family members, and service providers to compare device features to decide which AT meets the needs of an individual.
- Short-term device loans – Device loans are to borrow AT to try out in a particular setting to make decisions about the AT that would best meet someone’s needs. The purpose of a device loan might also be to borrow as a temporary accommodation or when an individual’s device is in for repairs.
- State financing – State financing includes activities such as financial loans with favorable terms but can also include other activities that provide for the payment or other acquisition of AT. The purpose is to help individuals acquire devices once they are matched to the device that meets their needs.
- Device reuse – Device reuse activities can include the exchange, repair, recycling, or other reutilization of assistive technology devices for use by individuals with disabilities at no cost or at significantly reduced costs.
There are also “state leadership” activities that include training, technical assistance, information and referral, and public awareness. A portion of training and technical assistance activities are focused on transition (from school to work; from school to other aspects of adult life; or from congregate to community-based settings). Additionally, many states also conduct activities to improve accessibility of information and communication technology (ICT).
4. Do all state AT programs provide the same services? If not, what’s the best way for someone to find out what services their state program provides?
Almost all state and territory AT programs provide the state level and state leadership services listed above with few exceptions. For instance, there may be another entity existing in a state that already provides that particular service. Many AT programs also provide services in addition to the ones listed above. The best way to find out what services your state program provides is to contact them directly. There is a directory of each state’s and territory’s AT program.
5. Do state AT programs work directly with employers? If so, do they loan them equipment? Do they ever give employers equipment to use for employees with disabilities? Do they sell equipment? Do they come on site to do assessments?
Yes, state AT programs do work directly with employers and most can loan equipment to them. The AT Act prohibits AT grant funds from being used as a direct payment for a device for an individual with a disability. AT programs do not typically sell equipment with the exception of reuse programs, which may be able to provide recycled equipment at a low-cost or no cost. Some AT programs do have staff that are able to do on-site assessments. Check with your state program. Even if they are not able to provide an on-site assessment, they should be able to direct you to other resources who can do so.
6. What types of financing programs do state AT programs offer to individuals with disabilities? Can you give some examples of the type of AT these programs can help fund?
Financial loan programs for individuals with disabilities are one type of state financing activity available in most states. Examples of the types of AT they can help fund are vehicle access modifications, hearing aids, computer adaptations, low-vision devices, and many others. Typically, almost any type of AT device is eligible. Some states also have other state financing programs such as last resort funds, telecommunications equipment distribution programs, and others. Contact your state or territory AT program for information about specific activities.
7. For individuals with disabilities interested in self-employment or starting a small business, JAN often receives questions about funding for the purchase of a desktop computer, a laptop, or related technology that will enable them to work from home. Is this something AT financing programs can help pay for?
Yes, those are all items that typically can be financed by AT financial loan programs.
A state or territory program may also have other activities that may be a resource, such as a computer recycling program.
8. How have ATAP and state AT programs been affected by an increasing number of individuals with disabilities working remotely due to COVID-19? Have their AT needs changed significantly?
One impact on state AT programs was that individuals or organizations that had borrowed devices such as laptops, tablets, or related equipment from their state’s device loan program kept the devices longer than the typical loan period. The programs adjusted their policies and procedures to meet COVID needs.
9. Is there any additional information you would like to share with JAN customers about how ATAP and state AT programs can assist with the employment of people with disabilities?
We would encourage JAN customers to contact the AT program in their state or territory whenever they have AT-related needs. While programs provide the services listed in question #3, they may provide or know of additional services that may meet JAN customer needs. You can find a directory with contact information for the program in your state or territory.
Job Accommodation Network (JAN) Resources:
Benefits and Costs of Accommodation: Accommodation and Compliance: Low Cost, High Impact