Throughout the years Assistive Technology (AT) has evolved in the classroom. In Chapter 1 of Assistive technology: Access for all students by Beard, Carpenter, & Johnston, and in Chapter 1 of Introduction to Assistive Technology Devices and Services by Bryant & Bryant the evolution of AT is documented. The progression is grouped into 3 periods, the Foundation Period (Pre- 1900), the Establishment Period 1900-1972, and the Empowerment Period 1973- Present. The advancements made within each of these periods has resulted in the use of AT in the classroom.
During the Foundation Period, innovations and inventions emerge that assist individuals with disabilities. The wheelchair is patented to assist soldiers who have lost mobility as a result of the American Civil War. Schools to assist individuals with disabilities are built. The American Asylum for Education of the Deaf and Dumb later renamed as the American School for the Deaf is established. During this period Braille code is perfected.
During the Establishment Period, government enacts laws aimed at helping individuals with disabilities. These laws are in response to the growing percentage of the U.S. population with disabilities sustained either through war (WW I, WW II, Korean War, Vietnam War) or as a result of illness. There is growing pressure by organizations on government to pass legislation to assist individuals with disability in the areas of education and the workforce. The Social Security Act of 1935 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1943 are passed. Innovations and technological advancements continue during this period. They include the use of the guide dog and the laser cane to assist the blind.
During the Empowerment Period, ATs appear in the classroom as a result of laws that mandate the education of students with disabilities. Throughout the years, the laws enacted have evolved to create equal opportunity and access to instructional materials for students with disabilities. Lawsuits filed in the 1990s against Medicaid highlight the importance of AT to individuals with disabilities. The use of computer technology emerges and provides accessibility to information for individuals with disabilities.
The following laws led to AT use in the classroom:
- In 1973, the Rehabilitation Act is revised to include Section 504 stating that anyone receiving federal money cannot discriminate against people with disabilities. Section 504, Title II, specifically calls for all public entities to provide auxiliary aids to individuals with disabilities in order to provide equal opportunity to programs and services.
- The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) of 1975, protected the right to education for students with disabilities. Prior to EHA, many children with disabilities were not permitted to attend school. This was the beginning of special education services for students with special needs.
- In 1985, the law was modified to mandate the consideration of AT for all students with disabilities.
- 1988 Tech Act provided funding for states to develop training programs to meet the needs of AT of individuals with disabilities
- In 1990 EHA was changed to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA required that students with disabilities be included in general education classrooms.
- In 1997, IDEA was further refined to specifically call for students with disabilities to have access to the general educational curriculum.
- In 1998, the Assistive Technology Act was passed to support programs and grants to states to help them meet the technology needs of individuals with disabilities.
- In 2004, the Assistive Technology Act was modified to provide aid directly to individuals with disabilities. An educational mandate for access to instructional materials.
Innovations and technological advancements made throughout history, and the series of laws passed requiring equal access to education for children with disabilities have led to the evolution of AT in the classroom. Individuals with disabilities have the desire and right to live life to the fullest. Individuals and organizations will continue to research, invent, organize, and rally for laws that will further equal opportunity and access for those with disabilities. As a result of these efforts, classrooms are using AT, low and high, to support and further the education of students with disabilities.