ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY ACT OF 1998
On Friday, November 13, 1998, President Clinton signed into law the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-394). This new law builds on its predecessor, the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (Tech Act), and affirms that technology is a valuable tool that can be used to improve the lives of Americans with disabilities. It also affirms the federal role of promoting access to assistive technology devices and services for individuals with disabilities.
The Assistive Technology Act of 1998 (ATA) is the result of a bipartisan effort in Congress. It extends funding to the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and outlying areas (Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) that receive support under the Tech Act. The law provides flexibility to states in responding to the assistive technology needs of their citizens with disabilities and builds on the accomplishments achieved by states over the past decade through assistive technology programs funded under the Tech Act. Under the new ATA, all states and outlying areas are eligible to receive 10 years of federal funding for their state assistive technology program. States that have completed 10 years may receive 3 additional years of federal funding.
The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-407) was passed by Congress to increase access to, availability of, and funding for assistive technology through state efforts and national initiatives. The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act Amendments of 1994 (P.L. 103-218) reauthorized the Act through September 30, 1998. With the end of the Tech Act in sight, efforts were launched to continue and expand federal support for assistive technology for individuals with disabilities, with the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources taking the lead.
On April 29, 1998, Senator Jim M. Jeffords of Vermont, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, held a hearing on assistive technology. At this hearing, the Committee heard testimony from more than a dozen witnesses. A Technology Expo, coordinated by the RESNA Technical Assistance Project, was held in conjunction with the hearing. More than 20 exhibitors showcased assistive technology devices that could be used across the life span of an individual with a disability.
On September 2, 1998, a bill (S. 2432) was introduced in the Senate that would support programs of grants to states to address the assistive technology needs of individuals with disabilities. Senator Jim M. Jeffords sponsored the bill. Co-sponsors included Senators Tom Harkin of Iowa, Kit Bond of Missouri, J. Robert Kerrey of Nebraska, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Susan M. Collins of Maine, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, and Bill Frist of Tennessee. The bill was reported out of committee favorably by unanimous vote on September 9, 1998.
On September 15, 1998, the Committee Report (105-334) was filed and the bill was placed on the legislative calendar under general orders. On October 5, 1998, the Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent. The bill then went to the House and on October 9, 1998, the House passed an amended version of the Senate bill. On October 14, the Senate agreed to the changes made by the House, and thereafter the bill was sent to the President for his signature.
Overview of the Assistive Technology Act of 1998
The purposes of the ATA are the following:
* Support states in sustaining and strengthening their capacity to address the assistive technology needs of individuals with disabilities.
* Support the investment in technology across federal agencies and departments that could benefit individuals with disabilities.
* Support micro-loan programs to individuals wishing to purchase assistive technology devices or services.
Title I - State Grant Programs
Section 101 provides continuity grants to states for a limited period. The purpose is to support capacity building and advocacy activities designed to assist the states in maintaining permanent, comprehensive, consumer responsive, statewide programs of technology-related assistance.
The Assistive Technology Act of 1998 requires states and outlying areas to do the following:
* Support a public awareness program that is designed to provide information related to the availability and benefits of assistive technology devices and services and that is linked to a proposed national public internet site.
* Promote interagency coordination that improves access to assistive technology devices and services for individuals of all ages who have disabilities.
* Provide technical assistance and training including the development and implementation of laws, regulations, policies, practices, procedures, or organizational structures that promote access to assistive technology devices and services.
* Provide outreach support to statewide community-based organizations that provide assistive technology devices and services to individuals with disabilities or that assist individuals in using assistive technology, including focusing on individuals from underrepresented and rural populations.
States and outlying areas funded under the ATA may also perform optional activities such as establishing an alternative state-financed system for assistive technology devices and services, providing technology demonstrations, distributing information about how to finance assistive technology devices and services, operating a technology-related information system, participating in interstate activities, and creating public-private partnerships pertaining to assistive technology.
This statute expires September 30, 2004. The ATA treats 1999 as a transition year for current grantees. The Act provides the Secretary of Education with discretion to continue funding states that have received 10 years of federal funding. Those states will submit applications for new 3-year grants.
Section 102 of Title I authorizes funding for state protection and advocacy systems to assist individuals with disabilities in accessing assistive technology devices and services. A grant shall be made from the U. S. Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) directly to the entity in each state to support protection and advocacy services through the systems established under the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act. Federal assistance shall be provided for 6 years.
Section 103 authorizes a technical assistance program. The scope of technical assistance will include a national public internet site and
other technical assistance efforts that are targeted primarily at entities funded under the Act.
The legislation authorized $36 million for all grants and activities under Title I for fiscal year 1999.
Title II - National Activities
Title II provides for increased coordination of federal efforts related to assistive technology and universal design. It authorizes funding for multiple grant programs from fiscal years 1999 through 2004.
Title II strengthens the mandate of the Interagency Committee on Disability Research (ICDR) to include assistive technology and universal design research, and it authorizes funding for joint research projects by ICDR members. It also provides for increased cooperation between NIDRR, which administers the assistive technology program, and the Federal Laboratory Consortium. Title II also authorizes funding to support the following:
* Small Business Innovative Research grants related to assistive technology.
* Grants to commercial or other organizations for research and development related to universal design concepts.
* Grants or other mechanisms to address the unique assistive technology needs of urban and rural areas, of children and of the elderly.
* Grants or other mechanisms to improve training of rehabilitation engineers and technicians.
* The President's Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities to work with the private sector to promote the development of accessible information technologies.
The legislation authorized $10 million to carry out activities under Title II for fiscal year 1999.
Title III - Alternative Financing Mechanisms
Title III requires the Secretary of Education to award grants to states and outlying areas to pay for the federal share of the cost of the establishment and administration of, or the expansion and administration of, specified types of alternative financing systems for assistive technology for people with disabilities. The alternative funding
mechanisms may include the following:
* A low-interest loan fund.
* An interest buy-down program.
* A revolving loan fund.
* A loan guarantee or insurance program.
* A program operated by a partnership among private entities for the purchase, lease, or other acquisition of assistive technology devices or services.
* Another mechanism that meets the requirements of this title and is approved by the Secretary.
The legislation authorized $10 million to carry out activities under Title III for fiscal year 1999.
For fiscal year 1999, $30 million has been appropriated to carry out activities under Title I of the ATA. No money was appropriated for Titles II or III.
The RESNA Technical Assistance Project, Grant #H224A50006, is an activity funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education (ED), under the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988, as amended. The information contained herein does not necessarily reflect the position or policy of NIDRR/ED or RESNA and no official endorsement of the materials should be inferred.