A Dictionary of Common
Acronyms and Terms
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This acronym stands for "alternative augmentative communication"
or "alternative and augmentative communication." The terms 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 or electronic.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (PL 101-336), which
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 or to 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.
Americans with Disabilities Act
Assistive Technology Device
In the U.S. Tech Act, 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 IDEA an assistive technology
service is one which directly assists and individual with a
disability in the selection, acquisition or use of an assistive
technology device. 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 persona 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 28.8 bps (bits per second), or roughly
28.8 characters per second. This is equivalent to typing about
345 words per minute.
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
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. There are many browsers, the most popular
being Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Explorer. 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. Wandering around the Web, from site to site, is
Captions / Closed, Open Captioning
Subtitles to a videotape or film, or to a 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
a video monitor or TV is hooked up to a device which "translates"
the captions; the captions are thus invisible to viewers without
the closed caption box. In "open captioning" all viewers see
A keyboard layout helpful to people who type with one finger,
a headwand or a mouthstick. A computer adaptation for people
An example of a simple design modification which is becoming
universal and beneficial to all users, not just people with
disabilities. 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.
As we've learned, 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.
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
Electronic mail, which are messages sent from one computer to
another, 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. Most Web
browsers include an e-mail function which is used for sending
e-mail over the Internet; stand-alone
e-mail software also is available.
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.
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. A host is also called a server.
HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)
The computer language or code used to create hypertext documents.
Documents on the World Wide 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.
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 AACs
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, most recently re-authorized and amended
in June 1997. 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.
(For more on IDEA go to www.ed.gov/offices/OSERS/IDEA
on the Web.)
Individualized Education Plan: a legal document which sets goals
and objectives for students with disabilities and describes
the programs and services which will be offered to help the
student reach those goals. If a goal and/or objective in an
IEP requires the student to use an assistive technology device
and service, the school district must supply them. The need
and responsibility for assistive technology devices and services
should be specifically written into an IEP. The IEP is formulated
by a team of professionals employed by the school district and
the parents or guardians of the students. 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 network, accessible
by any computer user equipped with the necessary hardware, software,
transmission lines and skills.
A device which translate outgoing computer data into a form
suitable for transmission over a phone line and translates incoming
phone signals into a form readable by a computer. Modems are
rated by speed; currently, the speed of a modem is expressed
in "bps," or bits per second. The higher the bps 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.
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
Computer software that translates a graphical interface (information
is displayed as icons or small pictures as in the Windows or
Mac operating system) into text forms which can be read aloud
to the user via synthesized speech or read with Braille displays.
A computer equipped with the software it needs to make it responsive
to requests from other computers (clients). The Internet is
an enormous client-server network, in which clients access data
on servers which, in turn "serve up" the requested data to clients.
The U.S. Technology-Related Assistance Act (PL-100-407), originally
passed in 1988, which, among other things, authorizes 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 have sprung 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. For more information about this law, go to on the
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, and because 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.