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Celebrating National AT Awareness Day

April 17, 2024
Lori Gerhard, Director, Office of Interagency Innovation and Robert Groenendaal, Assistive Technology Program Manager

Today, as we celebrate National AT Awareness Day, we recognize the importance of AT devices and services in making community living a reality for millions across the country.

Assistive technology (AT) is any item, device, or piece of equipment used to maintain or improve the independence and function of people with disabilities and older adults. AT solutions enable people of all ages with short-term or long-term disabilities to fully engage in all aspects of life. AT solutions can take many forms, from augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices that empower people to interact and socialize with others to home modifications that empower people to continue living among family and friends in their own neighborhoods.

AT impacts all aspects of community living. AT can help students with disabilities realize their future dreams by enabling full engagement in all aspects of education. AT can help people with disabilities overcome barriers to employment and employers create more accessible workplaces that attract the most qualified job seekers—regardless of disability. And AT can help people with a variety of disabilities travel from place to place to engage with friends and family and participate in community activities.

The AT Act network's reach and innovative partnerships

National AT Awareness Day also celebrates the vital role the ACL-funded AT Act network plays in helping people learn about, and access, AT solutions. This network is made up programs in every state and territory and is was most recently authorized by the 21st Century Assistive Technology Act. As a result of the AT Act network's efforts, in FY2023:

  • 52,729 individuals participated in assistive technology device demonstrations to learn more about the array of AT available to meet their needs and select AT that works for them;
  • 50,951 AT devices were provided on short-term "try before you buy" loans to people with disabilities, older adults, service providers, and agencies—these short-term device loans allow people to use the AT and learn if it meets their needs;
  • 93,356 AT devices were reutilized, allowing consumers to save a total of over $38 million by obtaining a lightly used or refurbished AT device rather than purchasing a new one; and
  • 766 financial loans totaling $11,001,748 were made at an average interest rate of 4.25% to enable consumers to purchase needed AT.

Partnerships are key to increasing people’s awareness of, and access to, AT. The AT Act network is constantly exploring new programs and partnerships to expand access to AT solutions. For example:

  • The Nebraska AT program has a partnership with Nebraska’s Office of Special Education to provide training and technical assistance to educators across the state. This partnership also supports, at no cost to schools, a statewide loan pool of AT that schools may borrow for students to try, for short-term needs, and for professional development.
  • The Maryland AT Program (MDTAP) is collaborating with the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) on 3D printing of AT devices such as jar openers and book page holders. As part of the project, MDTAP established a small 3D printing lab in its main office and has worked with UMBC's 3D printing lab to create a catalog of frequently used AT devices from which people can order.
  • The North Dakota AT program collaborated with North Dakota Aging Services to develop a strategy for providing assistive technology that promotes independence and safety to adults receiving services from the Vulnerable Adult Protective Services program. The resulting pilot program uses a model encompassing assessment, goal setting, equipment procurement, device installation, and training.
  • Maine’s AT program has begun working with the Maine Workforce initiative to update the technology at career centers throughout the state, develop best practices around accessible communication, and provide information in multiple formats. Once the initiative is fully launched, the program will be working with each center on training and local partnerships.

Just as AT Act programs are embracing partnerships, ACL also is actively working with partners across the federal government to increase awareness of, and access to, AT. For example, ACL is working with the U.S. Department of Education to increase students’ access to assistive technology. Through Peer Action Learning Cohorts, the ACL-funded National Assistive Technology Act Technical Assistance and Training (AT3) Center is offering technical assistance to strengthen partnerships between AT Act programs and state education agencies. In addition, the ACL-led Housing and Services Resource Center—a partnership between the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, and Veterans Affairs along with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness—has published a series of resources (including a webinar and a resource guide) on the importance of home modifications and AT in advancing access to housing for older adults and people with disabilities.

Peer-to-peer support for people using AAC

In addition to the work of the AT Act network, many other disability and aging network grantees are working every day to connect older adults and people with disabilities to AT. For example, ACL recently launched a new initiative to develop a model for providing peer-to-peer support to help people with disabilities find—and, most importantly, learn to use—augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) tools. The initiative is being led by the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) in partnership with the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and CommunicationFIRST.

Through this five question survey, people who use or need AAC can share their experiences and help inform the development of this partnership.

Learn more about AT devices and solutions: Visit this directory from the AT3 Center to find your local AT Act program.

Last modified on 04/17/2024

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