Glossary of Common Acronyms and Terms

This acronym stands for "alternative and augmentative communication." The term describe both a method of communicating which does not depend on human speech and the communication devices used by people who have speech impairments to generate synthetic speech and/or visual displays. AAC devices may be non-electronic (low tech) or electronic. They may use digitized (recorded) speech or synthesized speech (compluter generated.) 


The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (PL 101-336) prohibits employers from discriminating against people with disabilities and makes such discrimination a civil rights violation. One feature of the ADA is that it requires an employer to make "reasonable accommodations" if these are needed to enable a person with a disability to do a job for which he or she is qualified. In some cases, assistive technology may fall under the heading of "reasonable accommodation." Providers of public services, schools, public buildings, and public transportation systems also may not discriminate; their facilities and services must be accessible to people with disabilities.


Adapted / Adaptation
An adaptation is a modification made to a device, a service or program which renders it usable by or appropriate for a person with a disability. At school, a standard curriculum or lesson may be adapted, for example, to better meet the needs of a special education student. A car may be adapted with hand controls, so a person whose legs are impaired may drive. A computer may be adapted, so a person who has no fine motor control can use the machine. A toy may be adapted so a child with a disability can enjoy and learn from its use. A device, program or service which has been modified is referred to as "adapted." Thus, we have adapted computers, adapted cars, adapted kitchens, adapted toys and games, etc.


Assistive Technology Device
In the Assistive Technology Act of 2004, (officially called The Improving Access to Assistive Technology for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004) an assistive technology device is defined as any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Such a device can be as simple as a modified drawer pull or as complex as a programmable speech synthesizer. Wheelchairs, grab bars, crutches, adapted drinking cups, and adapted computers all are assistive technology devices.


Assistive Technology Service
According to the Assistive Technology Act of 2004, an assistive technology service is one which directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition or use of an assistive technology device. This language was adopted by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of  1997 and its updates in 2004. Such services include evaluation of individual technology needs; purchasing, leasing or otherwise acquiring a device; selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing or replacing a device; and coordinating and using other therapies, interventions or services with assistive technology devices training and technical assistance for the person with a disability and his/her family; and training or technical assistance for professionals, employers and others who serve or employ or are substantially involved with a person with a disability.


Bit / Byte
Units of electronic data. One bit is roughly equal to one character of text. There are eight bits in a byte. Computer files and computer capacity have become so large that users have moved rapidly from talking about "bytes" of data, to "kilobytes" (1,024 bytes), "megabytes" (1,024 kilobytes), and "gigabytes" (1,024 megabytes, a very large number). Both a computer's random access memory (RAM) size or capacity and its hard drive's (or other storage device) data storage capacity are described in megabytes or gigabytes. Bits and bytes also are used to describe the transmission rate of data over phone lines and cables. For example, a modem may be said to transmit at 2400 bps (bits per second), or roughly 2400 characters per second. 


A way of displaying text and graphics on a screen, especially a computer monitor or other computer-driven display device. The data's structure corresponds, bit-for-bit, with the image on the screen. That is, each screen pixel will display from one to eight bits of data. A bitmap image is described by its width and height in screen pixels and by the number of bits per pixel.


A tactile code developed by Louis Braille to represent letters of the alphabet. Each Braille cell contains six to eight raised dots, depending on the style of writing used. Characters are formed by one or more dots. People with visual disabilities often learn to read Braille and also use Braille writers, machines which generate text in Braille. Many common machines and devices (elevator buttons, ATM buttons) now carry Braille codes.


A computer program which enables the computer user to access the world wide web or internet. There are many browsers.  The most commonly used ones are Microsoft Explorer, Chrome, Safari, Bing, and Mozilla Firefox.. Browsers generally interpret both text and graphics found on the Web, and display them to the user. However, text-only browsers, such as Lynx, still are in use. Browsers can be adapted with add-on software that "reads" a Web site aloud to accommodate people with visual disabilities. Exploring the web, from site to site, is called "browsing."


Captions / Closed, Open Captioning
Captions are subtitles displayed on a film, online video or television show, which convey dialogue and sounds in writing. Captioning gives people with hearing impairments access to information and entertainment. "Closed captioning" is captioning that can not be seen unless activated by the viewer via a remote control or menu option. In "open captioning" all viewers see the captions.


A keyboard layout helpful to people who type with one finger, a headwand or a mouthstick. A computer adaptation for people with disabilities. See this description for setting up a Chubon keyboard on an iPhone.


Curb Cuts
Curb cuts are slightly ramped cuts into curbs that enable wheelchair users and others with mobility limitations to move smoothly from sidewalk to street and back to the sidewalk. Curb cuts are an example of a universal design modification which is beneficial to all users, not just people with disabilities. Curb cuts also benefit bicyclists, roller-skaters, people pushing strollers, people using luggage and grocery carts, and many others. The term "curb cuts" now often is used to describe an assistive device or design which benefits many users, not only people with disabilities.


Descriptive video
The Descriptive Video Service (DVS) provides narrated descriptions of key items in a video without interfering with the dialogue and other audio in a program or movie. The narration describes actions, settings, body language and graphics. Descriptive video enables people with visual impairments to enjoy videotaped programs and movies.


Electronic mail, which are messages sent from a computer or smart phone to another computer or smart phone,generally over phone lines. E-mail is used for one-on-one communication between computer users, and by newsgroups (online discussion groups) and online mailing lists. Frequently used email services such as hotmail or gmail are free.  There is also stand-alone e-mail software such as Microsoft Outlook..


Environmental Control
An area in which assistive technology is used to enable a person with a disability to control his/her environment. Devices such as adapted thermostats, adapted light and appliance switches, switches to control the movement of drapes and blinds, adapted door intercoms, adapted keys and locks, and so on, all fall under this heading. Environmental control assistive technology is a key to independent living.


Punctuation used to indicate emotion in e-mail. Although originally intended as joking, emoticons truly are helpful in high-volume, text-only communication, such as newsgroups. Since the receiver of e-mail can not see the sender's face or body language and can not hear the sender's tone of voice, emoticons help prevent misinterpretation of remarks intended to be humorous, sarcastic, ironic, etc. The most common emoticon is : ), a colon and parenthesis intended to represent a smiling face. Emoticons obviously can be helpful communication aids to people who communicate primarily by typing text.cheeky


Format (data)
Different methods of arranging and storing data (text or graphics) in a computer file. These include TIFF, PICT, JPEG, PDF, GIF, RTF, etc. When transmitting files from one computer to another, it often is important to know in which the format the file has been created and/or saved. 


A computer on which documents which are accessed by other computers are stored.


HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)
The computer language or code used to create hypertext documents. Documents on the web are written in HTML. Web browsers are computer programs which interpret HTML for display on a computer monitor. The unique feature of hypertext documents is the "links" embedded in them, which enable a web user to "jump" from one site on the web to another or "surf" the web as it is commonly called.


The format of computer documents written in HTML. This is the format used to create documents for the World Wide Web. Hypertext includes embedded links, which enable the user to jump from one link to another, at another location on the Web.


In an assistive technology context, pictures used to represent a concept. Icons often are used on the keyboards of AAC devices and in computer graphical user interfaces (GUIs), as in the familiar Windows and Macintosh interfaces. Because of their application, icons usually are small and simple.


The U.S. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (PL 101-476), first passed in 1975, re-authorized and amended in June 1997 and again in 2004. This landmark legislation authorizes special education programs and services to students in the U.S. In 1990, IDEA was amended to include language relating to the provision of assistive technology devices and services to students with disabilities.


IEP or Individualized Education Plan is a legal document which describes a student's current level of performance, sets goals and objectives for students with disabilities and identifies the programs and services, modifications and adaptations which will be offered to help the student reach those goals. At each IEP meeting the team which consists of professionals employed by the school district and the parents or guardians of the student, must consider the need for assistive technology. If AT is needed, it must be written into the IEP and the school district must supply it. Parents must consent to an IEP and may appeal an IEP if they find it unacceptable.


Individualized Family Service Plan: a legal document, much like an IEP, which guides the programs and services provided to children and their families in an early intervention program. The need and responsibility for assistive technology should be specifically written into the IFSP.


The Internet, or 'Net', is a worldwide network of computer networks linked together by phone lines, cables, satellites and other methods. The Internet links millions of computer users with each other for the purposes of communication and information-sharing. Originally created by the U.S. Dept. of Defense to link government agencies and research sites, the Internet has grown far beyond its original purpose. It is now a multifaceted international network, accessible by any computer user equipped with the necessary hardware, software, transmission lines and skills.


A device which translates outgoing computer data into a form suitable for transmission over a phone line, or fiber optic cable, and translates incoming phone or cable signals into a form readable by a computer. Modems are rated by speed; previously, the speed of a modem was expressed in "bps," or bits per second. Speeds have increased so that now mbps (megabits per second) is seen.  The higher the rating, the faster the modem transmits data.


An area in which assistive devices are used to properly position a person with a disability in a wheelchair, automobile, office chair, etc. Correct positioning is important to health, safety, comfort and task performance.


Rehabilitation Act
The U.S. Vocational Rehabilitation and Other Rehabilitation Act of 1973, amended 1992. Among other things, this law established the National Council on Disability and the National Council on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. The law has an impact on assistive technology. For example, Section 794d says that people with disabilities who participate in federally-funded programs or jobs must have equal access to and an equal chance to produce information and data through electronic and information technology.


Screen Reader
Computer software that provides information for blind and visually impaired about a very visual interface - a computer screen.  A screen reader will speak aloud text on a screen, links or menu items, and alternative descriptions of images and icons if programmed.  Alternatively, this information can be read with a Braille display.   


Tech Act
The U.S. Technology-Related Assistance Act (PL-100-407), originally passed in 1988,and reauthorized in 1994, 1998 and 2004.  It expired in 2010. This Act, among other things, authorized grants to states for the purpose of creating assistive technology assistance centers to serve people with disabilities and their families all around the U.S. and its territories and possessions. Tech Act programs sprang up in almost every state and territory. This law also created the legal definition of assistive technology devices and services, which was added to IDEA in 1990. 


World Wide Web
The World Wide Web -- Web for short -- is the most popular, fastest-growing part of the Internet, because, thanks to hypertext, it is very "browsable" and easy to use.  The Web can easily accommodate graphics of all types, and sound and video files as well as text, making the Web a multimedia experience for users with adequate computer equipment. The Web has become an information, communication, commercial and entertainment medium of genuine significance.


Special Education Dictionary
Gives additional acronyms often found in the special education world.