RSA Issues New Policy Directive On Assistive Technology

By Michael W. Morris

This article is reprinted from the A.T. Quarterly, Volume 1, Number 4, (1990)

On November 16, 1990, Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) Commissioner Nell Carney, issues a policy directive and a technical assistance circular to state vocational rehabilitation agencies. This directive and circular, for the first time since the Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act were passed by Congress in 1986, set a clear direction for expanded access and availability of rehabilitation technology services and devices.

The 1986 Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act placed a new emphasis on the provision of rehabilitation technology services.

The intent of the Amendments was to recognize the critical role assistive technology could play in determining initial eligibility for rehabilitation services and expanding job placement possibilities.

United Cerebral Palsy Associations, Inc. (UCPA), working closely with Commissioner Nell Carney and her staff, reached an agreement that a policy memo to the field would provide needed leadership and new emphasis on the application of assistive technology to expand employment and independent living opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

The publication of these policy memos from Commissioner Carney is a major victory for individuals with disabilities nationwide. Commissioner Carney's leadership in authoring this policy directive will place new critical pressure on each state's rehabilitation agency to take seriously the mandate of access to assistive technology. Advocacy in individual states will be necessary to ensure more effective implementation of these technology amendments.


a) Defines rehabilitation technology as including "a range of services and devices which can supplement and enhance individual functions." It also includes "services which impact the environment through environmental changes such as job redesign or worksite modifications;"

b) States the importance of applying rehabilitation technology services when making determinations of eligibility and indicates that "This is particularly important for those individuals whose disability conditions are of a severity that otherwise might lead to a finding of ineligibility;"

c) Makes clear that the application of assistive technology is equally important for those individuals who are: i) in extended evaluation to determine rehabilitation potential; ii) receiving services under an Individualized Written Rehabilitation Program (IWRP) if such services are appropriate; iii) undergoing annual review when the case was closed as being "too severe;" iv) undergoing annual review and re-evaluation when their case is in extended employment in rehabilitation facilities; or v) receiving post-employment services;

d) Mandates that the provision of rehabilitation technology services is not conditioned on a determination that comparable services and benefits are not available under any other programs. This means that state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies are payor of first resort rather than payor of last resort. This exemption from the comparable benefits test should minimize waiting or delays in accessing assistive technology services or devices; and

e) Requires each state VR agency to provide, as an attachment to their three year state plan a description of how rehabilitation technology services will be provided to assist an increasing number of individuals with disabilities.

According to RSA, this written policy must address the need at any time in the rehabilitation process, including during:

In order for Commissioner Carney's actions to make a difference, individuals with disabilities, advocates, and professionals must work together at the federal, state and local levels with their vocational rehabilitation agencies. Efforts must be undertaken to see that new policies are established regarding determination of eligibility to the rehabilitation process and VR practices must also change to fully incorporate AT services.

For a copy of the policy directive and technical assistance circular, please feel free to contact the RESNA TA office.

The issuance of the new RSA policy directives closely follows the release of an August 10th policy letter from Dr. Judy Schrag, Director, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) that clarifies the right of a child with a disability to assistive technology devices and services under P.L. 94-142, the federal mandate for a free appropriate public education. For further details see the fall issue of A.T. Quarterly.

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.

RESNA TA Project
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