The Rehabilitation Act Amendments Of 1992 And Assistive Technology

This article is reprinted from the A.T. Quarterly, Volume 4, Number 1(1993)

"Our task is to think and act anew." - Abraham Lincoln.

Much of this issue of the A.T. Quarterly is devoted to a discussion and exploration of the recently reauthorized Rehabilitation Act of 1973. While far from perfect, the newly reauthorized law represents a clear break from many past practices and requires state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies to practice the kind of thinking and acting anew that Lincoln would have admired. The newly revamped law is premised on the following five simple but critical principles that:

  1. Individuals with disabilities make up one of the most disadvantaged groups in society and still encounter daily discrimination in every facet of life.
  2. Disability is a natural part of life and, in no way diminishes the right of individuals to live independently; make choices; contribute to society; and, pursue meaningful careers.
  3. Increased employment of individuals with disabilities begins with increased access to needed training, supports and reasonable accommodations.
  4. Individuals with disabilities should be afforded the tools to make informed choices and decisions; and, to achieve equality of opportunity, full inclusion and integration in society.
  5. Individuals with even the most significant disabilities should be presumed capable of gainful employment and provided the needed supports to do so.

It is this fifth principle, of course, that is meant to transform the way state V.R. agencies operate in our country. Up to now, an individual with a significant disability could be and often was found or presumed to be unemployable and, thus, ineligible for V.R. services solely on the basis of the severity of his/her disability.

Now, this assumption has taken a 180 degree nose dive and has been stood on its head. For now the law tells people with disabilities and rehabilitation professionals alike, don't focus on the severity of the disability. Don't focus on the problem. Focus instead on the solutions.

Focus on getting people the tools that they need: Assistive technology, personal assistance, literacy training, job supports and other reasonable accommodations, not just to get and stay employed but to pursue careers of their own choosing and design as well.

Right now individuals with disabilities who have needed access to personal assistance, assistive technology and other essential job supports, are relatively few and far between. We are more the exception than we are the rule. Our task in the next few years is not to try to come up with a dozen or so more exceptions but rather, it is to change the rules of the game entirely! That's the intent behind the reauthorized Rehabilitation Act Of 1973. But a law's intent is only as good as we make it.

The A.T. Quarterly was a newsletter developed by the RESNA TA Project under a contract with the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education (ED). The content, however, does not necessarily reflect the position or policy of NIDRR/ED and no official endorsement of the material should be inferred.

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