Assistive Technology: What Can It Do for You?


The answer is: probably a lot, and more than you thought, because these days technology development seems to travel at the speed of light. It used to be that a truly significant technology development occurred about every 20 years; now it happens about every 20 minutes.

What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any device, piece of equipment, or service that enables a person with a disability to maintain or improve the basic functions of life. They run the gamut from hand controls to operate brake and gas pedals in vehicles, to the ubiquitous TV remote, to highly sophisticated motorized wheelchairs, hearing aids, screen reading software, and much more.

Assistive technology is generally categorized by (1) those pertaining to the activities of daily living, and (2) those that pertain to a specific disability.

How to obtain assistive technology?

The key to the full utilization of required or needed assistive technology is to start early.

For children, one of the first resources that parents or guardians should consider in obtaining assistive technology is Child Find, the process of identifying children with potentialspecial education needs. Child Find screenings are provided by the Fairfax County Public Schools Department of Special Services and are free for children ages 20 months to 5 years old who are residents of Fairfax County or Fairfax City.

For school-age children receiving special education services, an assistive technology assessment can be done to determine what or what kind of assistive technology device or service exists for any particular disability. A team approach (the child, his/her parents, and a skilled professional) assesses the needs and determines a recommended solution, with a focus on function and options. An assistive technology assessment can be requested at a student’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP).  

For adults, assistive technology assessments are routinely performed at rehabilitation centers, universities, centers of independent living, and disability advocacy organizations.

Directory of Local Resources

(The TTY number for all resources is 711, unless otherwise noted.)

Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind: 202-454-6400
Has a state of the art assistive technology center which provides assistive technology assessments and evaluations, sales of assistive technology devices, and training.

Department of the Blind and Visually Impaired: Low Vision Services: 800-622-2155 (Voice/TTY)
Low vision examinations, intended to improve useful vision to persons of all ages who cannot see with conventional glasses, are available by appointment. Preliminary assessment, and follow-up counseling and training programs in the home or school setting are aimed at ensuring that maximum benefit is gained from the low vision optical aids prescribed. Examiners are strategically located throughout Virginia. Referrals are made by various programs of the agency and other interested sources.

Department of the Blind and Visually Impaired: Rehabilitation Engineering Services: 800-622-2155 (Voice/TTY)
Specialists perform comprehensive client and work site evaluations and consult with employers to design user accessible work environments. Engineering staff remain current with the latest trends in technology, developing "Best Practice" standards and guidelines.Engineers beta test developing adaptive technologies in co-operation with producers and manufacturers. Where off-the-shelf products fail to serve, our engineers create specialized databases and software, modify off-the-shelf products and integrate specially adapted products into the work environment, using the least intrusive methods.Through our presentations on the effective use of adaptive technology, the public and prospective employers are informed of ways in which our customers remain competitive in the workplace.Our technology resource specialist provides our customers free telephone support - offering timely access to technical advice that is essential for success on the job.

Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center at Gallaudet University: 202-651-5855 (V/TTY); 866-204-0504 (Video Phone)
The Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center at Gallaudet University provides information, training, and technical assistance for parents and professionals to meet the needs of children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Fairfax County Public Library Access Services Branch: 703-324-8380; TTY 703-324-8365
The Access Services Branch of the Fairfax County Public Library provides computer use for those who do not have a computer and who wish to pursue information on the internet, as well as providing various assistive technology services for those who are blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, homebound, or have a physical disability. Each branch library has an assistive workstation equipped with 21 inch screens and large print software, and meeting rooms that contain assistive listening systems which amplify sound for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Northern Virginia Resource Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 703-352-9055, TTY 703-352-9056
Northern Virginia Resource Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (NVRC) has& an Assistive Technology Demonstration Center featuring devices on display that are designed to enhance quality of life for persons with hearing loss. This gives individuals an opportunity for “hands on” experience with the equipment before purchasing it. A Resource and Technology Specialist can explain and demonstrate different devices, approximate costs, and provide options regarding vendors available. Devices include assistive listening devices, flashing lights, variety of phones, and other alerting devices.

TAP Program: 800-552-7917
The Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing’s Technology Assistance Program (TAP) distributes equipment that assists Virginia residents to become more independent. NVRC is part of a network of loan sites across the Commonwealth that can loan certain equipment that is available through the TAP Loan Program for up to 30 days to qualified people and organizations considering the purchase of equipment or whose equipment is being repaired.

Eligibility is based on verification of disability and residence. The level of the individual's financial participation is determined by a sliding fee scale. Devices include:

  • Text Telephones (TTYs)
  • Amplified Telephones
  • Voice Carry Over (VCO) Phones
  • Captioned Telephones
  • Hearing Carry Over (HCO) phones
  • Visual Signalers
  • Audible Signalers

Virginia Assistive Technology System (VATS) Northern Regional Site: 703-993-3670
The Virginia Assistive Technology System (VATS) is a statewide program authorized and funded by the Assistive Technology Act of 2004, as amended and administered by the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services. VATS was established in 1990 with a commitment to increasing awareness, accessibility and acquisition of assistive technology. At the VATS North site, there are assistive technology demonstrations, screening, technical assistance, and trainings.

Virginia Relay: 866-894-4116 (V); 866-246-9300 (TTY)
A free public service, Virginia Relay connects people who are deaf, hard of hearing, DeafBlind, or have a disability impacting their speech with standard telephone users, relaying the conversation between both parties. Relay services are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with no limit on the number or length of calls a user may make. Calls can be initiated by dialing 7-1-1 (from a Virginia location).


Directory of Assistive Technology Vendors

(The TTY number for all vendors is 711, unless otherwise noted.)

Area Access: 800-333-2732
AreaAccess specializes in accessibility and mobility through our wide range of home elevators, stairlifts, LULA elevators and vertical wheelchair lifts for your home and public buildings. There are also offices in Manassas and Norfolk, VA as well as Wake Forest, NC.

East Coast Rehab, LLC: 703-370-5790
Provider of mobility-related assistive technology.

Drake Hearing Aid Center: 703-521-1404
Drake Hearing Aid Centers offer all types and programs and manufacturers of digital hearing aids as well as assistive listening devices and hearing evaluations.

Frank Mobility Systems, Inc.: 888-426-8581
Manufacturer of mobility-related assistive technology.

Harris Communication:800-825-6758 (V); 800-825-9187 (TTY); 866-384-3147 (Video Phone)
Harris Communications is a source for sign language books, TTYs, amplified telephones, signalers and vibrating clocks and other products for people who are deaf and hard of hearing, as well as for children, parents, teachers, students, interpreters and others interested in American Sign Language and the Deaf Culture.

National Federation for the Blind Independence Market: 410-659-9314
The National Federation of the Blind Independence Market offers blindness-related literature, resources, and products as a service to individuals who are blind or experiencing vision loss, to their friends and families, and to the general public.

Rehab Equipment Professionals Inc.: 703-370-2100
Specializing in pediatric wheelchairs, but also selling and servicing a full line of custom wheelchairs for all ages, sizes, and needs with a large supply of wheelchair parts.

Roberts Home Medical: 703-385-8018
Roberts Home Medical serves Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia as a supplier of home medical equipment and assistive technology.

Sunrise Medical: 800-333-4000
Sunrise Medical is one of the world's largest manufacturers of homecare and extended care products.

Funding for Assistive Technology

Funding support for assistive technology devices and services is available for eligible individuals from Medicare and Medicaid on a limited basis. vocational rehabilitation programs (e.g. Virginia Department of Rehabilitation Services), the Fairfax County Public Schools system, SSI/SSDI work incentive programs, and private health insurance.  

Assistive Technology Loan Fund Authority: 804-662-9000 (V/Relay)
Facilitates low-interes loans to finance of assistive technology for Virginians with disabilities.

Washington Area Wheelchair Society: 301-495-0277

The Washington Area Wheelchair Society collects, refurbishes and distributes used durable medical equipment free of charge to the medically and financially needy of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Inventory is subject to whatever is donated each week, so it is always best to call and check availability for any particular item.


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