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Assistive Technology Glossary

Family Center on Technology and Disability

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Environmental Control Unit (ECU):
Environmental control units (ECUs) are systems that enable individuals to control various electronic devices in their environment through a variety of alternative access methods, such as switch or voice access. ECUs can control lights, televisions, telephones, music players, door openers, security systems, and kitchen appliances. These systems can also be referred to as Electronic Aids to Daily Living (EADL).

Eye Gaze Board:
An Eye Gaze Board is a clear Plexiglas board that is used as a simple communication device. Pictures are mounted at strategic areas on the board and the user is asked to look at the picture they want to choose.


This abbreviation stands for “free and appropriate education”. It is the term used in the IDEA law, which states that school systems must provide children with disabilities with special education services and accommodations (including AT) at no cost to the parents. The law does not say what is considered an “appropriate” education, but other references within the law imply that children should be taught in the most typical classroom setting possible.


Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Amendments of 1997):
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was initially passed in 1975 as P.L. 94-142. That Law, known as the Education for All Handicapped children Act, or the EHA, guaranteed that eligible children and youth with disabilities would have a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) available to them, designed to meet their unique educational needs. P.L. 94-142 has been amended many times since passing in 1975, most recently in 2004.

For more information about IDEA, you can visit the following website:http://idea.ed.gov/

Individualized Education Program (IEP):
Each public school child who receives special education and related services must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Each IEP must be designed for one student and must be a truly individualized document. The IEP includes such information as present levels of functioning, future goals, and services to be provided. The IEP creates an opportunity for teachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel, and students (when appropriate) to work together to improve educational results for children with disabilities.

Information Technology:
Information technology includes any product used to acquire, store, manipulate, or transmit information, such as computers, multimedia, telecommunications, copy machines, and the Internet.

Infrared Sender/Receiver:
An Infrared Sender/Receiver is a device commonly found in an environmental control unit (ECU). An infrared signal is sent to the control unit, which in turn sends an infrared signal to the appliance. These are usually small and portable and vary in size and shape. They can be used in different areas of the same room, but the remote must be aimed directly at the control box, with nothing in its path, for the signal to be received.


A joystick may be used as an alternate input device. Joysticks that can be plugged into the computer’s mouse port can control the cursor on the screen. Other joysticks plug into game ports and depend on software that is designed to accept joystick control.

See also: Alternative Access/Input Device


Keyboard Additions:
A variety of accessories have been designed to make keyboards more accessible. Keyguards are hard plastic covers with holes for each key. Someone with an unsteady finger or using a pointing device can avoid striking unwanted keys by using a keyguard. Moisture guards are thin sheets of plastic that protect keyboards from spills and saliva. Alternative labels add visual clarity or tactile information to the keys.

Example: When John, a young man with muscular dystrophy, doesn’t use the keyguard, he often clicks letters that he doesn’t want. The clearly defined spaces between keys, provided by the keyguards, helps him select the keys he wants.

Keyboard Emulator:
A keyboard emulator is a device that is connected to or resides in a computer and imitates the computer’s keyboard in function and performance.


The abbreviation LRE stands for “least restrictive environment.” This means that to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities are educated with children who are not disabled. Removal from the regular educational environment occurs only when a student cannot be successfully educated in that setting even with supplementary aids and services.


In the context of AT, mediation is a process to resolve disagreements between parents and school personnel. It is provided at no cost to you or the school district. Both parties must agree to mediation. A neutral trained mediator will facilitate the meeting to help both parties resolve their disagreements. Mediation is more structured than conciliation but less formal than a due process hearing.

Mobility and Transportation Aids
Mobility and transportation aids include products that help mobility-impaired persons move within their environment, and give them independence in personal transportation. These products include standing or walking aids, transfer aids, stair lifts, walkers, scooters, wheelchairs and three-wheeled chairs, adapted bikes and tricycles, car seats or beds, stretchers, patient chairs, ramps, recliners, strollers, travel chairs, wheelchair trays, driving controls, seat belts, vehicle conversions, patient and wheelchair lifts, wheelchair loaders/carriers and wheelchair restraint systems.


Onscreen Keyboard:
On-screen keyboards are software images of a standard or modified keyboard placed on the computer screen by software. The keys are selected by a mouse, touch screen, trackball, joystick, switch, or electronic pointing device.

Example: Brad, a young boy with limited mobility and severe verbal impairments, uses onscreen keyboards to communicate with those around him. Through these keyboards (both pre-formatted keyboards and those designed by his parents to meet his specific needs) and selecting options on the screen, he is able to relay concepts, needs and thoughts more easily.

From the Family Center on Technology and Disability. Used with permission. www.fctd.info.


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