Big Ideas – Common AT Related Terminology

Accessible Educational Material (AEM)

Accessible educational materials are specialized formats of curricular content that can be used by and with print-disabled learners and include Braille, audio, large print and electronic text.

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Assistive Technology (AT)

The Individual with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) of 2004 defines Assistive Technology 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 the functional capabilities of children with disabilities.” (20 U.S.C. 1401(1)).

Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC)

The term AAC is used to define communication methods (other than speech) ranging from use of gestures, sign languages, and facial expressions, to the use of alphabet or picture symbol boards, and even sophisticated computer systems with synthesized speech.

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Illinois Learning Standards & Instruction

The Illinois Learning Standards establish expectations for what all students should know and be able to do in each subject at each grade. The standards emphasize depth over breadth, building upon key concepts as students advance. The standards promote student-driven learning and the application of knowledge to real world situations to help students develop deep conceptual understanding. Intentionally rigorous, the Illinois Learning Standards prepare students for the challenges of college and career.

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Differentiated Instruction (DI)

Differentiated instruction and assessment, also known as differentiated learning or, in education, simply, differentiation, founded by Carol Ann Tomlinson, is a framework or philosophy for effective teaching that involves providing all students within their diverse classroom community of learners a range of different avenues for understanding new information (often in the same classroom) in terms of: acquiring content; processing, constructing, or making sense of ideas; and developing teaching materials and assessment measures so that all students within a classroom can learn effectively, regardless of differences in their ability.

Digital Text or Electronic Text

Digital text is any text that is in a form that a computer or tablet can store or display on a computer screen.


Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing, which requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills. Dysgraphia makes the act of writing difficult. It can lead to problems with spelling, poor handwriting, and putting thoughts on paper. People with dysgraphia can have trouble organizing letters, numbers, and words on a line or page.

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Dyslexia, simply put, means trouble with written language, with reading (decoding and comprehension), spelling, and writing. Dyslexia may also mean trouble with any, or a combination of several of the following:

      * grasping and remembering what one hears (receptive language)

      * using words to say what one wants to say (expressive language)

      * difficulty with abstract words and ideas

      * difficulty with memory and recall

      * poor memory for basic arithmetic facts

      * handwriting may be poor, chiefly from poor instruction

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Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

An educational right of children with disabilities in the United States that is guaranteed by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973[1] and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under Section 504, FAPE is defined as “the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet individual needs of handicapped persons as well as the needs of non-handicapped persons are met and based on adherence to procedural safeguards outlined in the law.” Under the IDEA, FAPE is defined as an educational program that is individualized to a specific child, designed to meet that child’s unique needs, provides access to the general curriculum, meets the grade-level standards established by the state, and from which the child receives educational benefit. The United States Department of Education issues regulations that define and govern the provision of FAPE.

To provide FAPE to a child with a disability, schools must provide students with an education, including specialized instruction and related services that prepare the child for further education, employment, and independent living.

A FAPE is expected to meet the unique educational needs of the student to address both academic needs and functional needs of the student.  The school must provide “…access to the general curriculum to meet the challenging expectations established for all children”. 

Individual Educational Program (IEP)

An IEP is the legal document that defines a child’s special education program. An IEP includes the disability under which the child qualifies for Special Education Services (also known as his classification), the services the team has determined the school will provide his yearly goals and objectives and any accommodations that must be made to assist his learning.

Learn More about Evaluations, Eligibility Determinations, Individualized Education Programs, and Educational Placements Here:

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEIA 2004, IDEA or IDEA 2004)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.

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Learning Disability, Learning Difference, Learning Disorder or Learning Difficulty (LD)

A learning disability results from a difference in the way a person’s brain is “wired.” Children with learning disabilities are as smart as or smarter than their peers. But they may have difficulty reading, writing, spelling, reasoning, recalling and/or organizing information if left to figure things out by themselves or if taught in conventional ways.

A learning disability can’t be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong issue. With the right support and intervention, however, children with learning disabilities can succeed in school and go on to successful, often distinguished careers later in life.

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Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

This provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that, to the maximum extent appropriate, students with disabilities, aged 3 through 21, in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with their typically developing peers.

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Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS)

A Multi-Tiered System of Supports is a framework for continuous improvement that is systemic, prevention-focused, and data-informed, providing a coherent continuum of supports responsive to meet the needs of ALL learners.

More information on Illinois MTSS can be found at:

SETT Framework or SETT

A framework for considering assistive technology for students.  This four part model is intended to promote collaborative decision-making in all phases of assistive technology service design and delivery from consideration through implementation and evaluation of effectiveness.

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Text to Speech

Text-to-speech (TTS) is a type of speech synthesis application that is used to create a spoken sound version of the text in a computer document.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

UDL is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn by providing multiple means of representation, expression and engagement.

UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.

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Visual Supports

A visual support refers to a picture or other visual item used to communicate a message with a child who has difficulty understanding or using language. Visual supports can be photographs, drawings, objects, written words, or lists. Research has shown that visual supports work well as a way to communicate.

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