ATS – Assistive Technology Overview

Assistive Technology Devices:

According to Federal law, the definition of assistive technology 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 individuals with disabilities. 

[20 U.S.C. Chapter 33, Section 1401 (25)]AT devices


In light of distance learning, it should be noted that there is a difference between assistive technology and instructional technology.  

Assistive Technology Services:

According to Federal law, the definition of assistive technology service is:

… any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. 

(A) the evaluation of the assistive technology  needs of an individual with a disability, including a functional evaluation of the impact of the provision of  appropriate assistive technology and appropriate services to the individual in the customary environment of the individual;

(B) a service consisting of purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices by individuals with disabilities; 

(C) a service consisting of selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, replacing, or donating assistive technology devices;

(D) coordination and use of necessary therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices, such as therapies, interventions, or services associated with education and rehabilitation plans and programs;

(E) training or technical assistance for an individual with a disability or, where appropriate, the family members, guardians, advocates, or authorized representatives of such an individual;

 (F) training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing education and rehabilitation services and entities that manufacture or sell assistive technology devices), employers, providers of employment and training services, or other individuals who provide services to employ, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of individuals with disabilities; and, 

(G) a service consisting of expanding the availability of access to technology, including electronic and information technology, to individuals with disabilities. 


In light of distance learning, it should be noted that there is a difference between assistive technology and instructional technology.

Instructional Technology Defined:

Instructional technology, also referred to as educational technology, is the application of technology to teaching and learning.  Instructional technology is for use by teachers and students to enhance academic achievement (Edyburn, 2013).  The Association for Educational Communications and Technology Definitions and Terminology Committee defines educational technology as “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources” (Richey, 2008, p. 24)

How is the need for Assistive Technology services/devices determined by the IEP team?

IDEA mandates that the IEP team consider Assistive Technology during the development of an IEP. During the IEP development, the team determines the student’s goals and benchmarks and discusses the need for supplementary aids and services to support and implement those goals and benchmarks. Utilization of usual and customary supports should be considered. If the usual and customary supports are not sufficient, the IEP team should consider site based technologies (Tier 1) to support the student’s needs. After implementation of site based technologies (or, if implementation of site based technologies is not deemed sufficient to address student needs), teams may also consider Equipment Loan (Tier 2) or Referral for Assessment (Tier 3) as appropriate.

Clark County School District Assistive Technology Services:

While Federal law requires that devices and services are considered during the development of each student’s annual Individualized Education Program (IEP), districts are to determine a model for the provision of services.  Within the Clark County School District, Assistive Technology Services utilizes a three-tiered model in support of our mission: Tier 1 – Site-Based Assistive Technology and Services, Tier 2 – Equipment Loan, and Tier 3 – IEP Referral for Assistive Technology Assessment.


As the definition of assistive technology is broad, there are several departments within CCSD that provide AT devices and services.  These include but are not limited to: Speech-Language and Audiology, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Occupational and Physical Therapy, and Vision Services.


The mission of Assistive Technology (AT) Services is to guide the consideration and implementation of disability related, educationally relevant devices, services, and supports which result in student engagement and success in the least restrictive environment.


If an IEP Team determines the need for AT devices and services, the Team should submit an Assistive Technology Service Request.  The Service Request will guide IEP Teams to the tier which will address the needs that have been identified in the IEP.         

Three-tiered model:

Tier 1: Site-Based Assistive Technology and Services

Each school issues technology such as iPads and Chromebooks, software and apps for students to access.  In addition, nearly all schools have a supply of light-tech AT available for students to utilize. 


  • Examples:  Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), picture schedules, iDevices, chromebooks, Symbolstix Prime, News-2-You, computers, Unique Learning System, light-tech equipment (ex:  Big Macks, Go Talks, Cheap Talks),  etc. 


Tier 2: Equipment Loan 

Additional light-tech AT can be checked out using the Equipment Loan Form (ELF).  


  • Examples:  PECS books, single message communication devices (ex:  Big Macks, One Step, Step-by-Step), switch interfaces, Cheap Talks, joysticks, Go Talks, keyguards, toys, switches, Read & Write, etc. 


Tier 3: IEP Referral for Assistive Technology Assessment 

More complex AT devices and/or systems are considered when a referral for assessment is made by the IEP team and documented in the IEP.  


  • Examples:  dynamic display augmentative communication devices, communication apps, scanning access systems, iDevices, etc. 

Whichever tier is accessed, the IEP drives the consideration process.  Professional learning and technical support opportunities are available for all IEP Team members.  


AT Services also addresses the global needs of students through an emphasis on the following initiatives: 


Bookshare is an online repository of text including academic and recreational reading materials for students with print disabilities.    


Access for Students with Physical Challenges fosters peer relationships, promotes a culture of acceptance, and provides consultation on modifications to the environment, assignments, and curriculum.  


Functional Communication 

What is the difference between a functional and nonfunctional communicator?  

A functional communicator:

  • everyone can understand 
  • initiates communication 
  • expresses basic wants and needs


A nonfunctional communicator:

  • uses gestures, signs, pointing, or behavior 
  • Is only understood by people in the student’s immediate environment 
  • may have unintelligible speech, echolalia, or speech with little or no spontaneous initiation of communication


Optimum communication:

  • a student is able to hold a conversational exchange
  • the student’s communication is commensurate with their receptive knowledge


The Functional Communication initiative is composed of three sub groups whose mutual goal is to provide strategies that ensure every student has a system of communication, including appropriate services, all day, across all environments.  


Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a protocol used to teach students to communicate.  It is utilized with students who need additional instruction to develop a system of communication and is often-times combined with light-tech AT.  


Speech Generating Devices (SGD) focuses on students with an established system of communication who express themselves using a combination of dynamic-display devices and apps.  


Eye Gaze is used when a student does not have the ability to use their hands, and sometimes their voice as well.  Through the use of a computer, adapted with a camera which recognizes the movements of the eye, students are able to communicate written and/or expressive communication.  


Adapted Curriculum provides the Unique Learning System (ULS) to self-contained programs for students with intellectual challenges and self-contained programs for students with autism.  


Written Expression supports provide IEP-driven accommodations and modifications to support diverse learners in the least restrictive environment.  These supports provide access to circumvent barriers to literacy and promote independence.

Contact Information and Further Guidance:

The AT website offers more in-depth information on the three-tiered model of service provision, guidelines, answers to frequently asked questions, staff contact information, a number of resources for parents and instructors,  professional learning opportunities for instructors, and technical support for parents.  


If you need guidance to determine which Tier of AT access is appropriate for your students or if the support of an initiative will be beneficial, please contact Assistive Technology Services at (702) 855-8440 or contact your school’s AT Itinerant Instructor: