History of Assistive Technology in Pennsylvania


Congress passes the first “Tech Act.”
Congress passed the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (Tech Act.)

A detailed history of the AT Act (PDF)


The ACES program begins.
ACES (Augmentative Communication Empowerment and Supports) is an on-campus, intensive program for AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) users started by Diane Nelson Bryen, Ph.D. at the Institute on Disabilities. Pennsylvania’s Initiative on Assistive Technology (PIAT) took the lead several years later and continues to develop and update this legacy program.


Governor designates the Institute on Disabilities as PA’s AT Act program.
Governor Robert Casey designated the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University as Pennsylvania’s “AT Act Project.” It is named Pennsylvania’s Initiative on Assistive Technology (PIAT).

Documentation of designation


PIAT planning starts including nine AT regional resource centers.
We need to start planning now that we received the Governor’s designation. From the beginning, we used a regional center model to serve the entire Commonwealth. These assistive technology (AT) regional centers (ATRCs) will provide local AT services for everyone across Pennsylvania. The ATRCs operate by PIAT contracting with other disability organizations.  These centers continue today.


First full year of PIAT programming.
...and we are “off to the races” – doing great work across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.


Planning starts for the Assistive Technology Lending Library (ATLL).
The statewide ATLL is the outcome of collaborating with several state entities, including PIAT, the PA Department of Aging, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, and the Hiram G. Andrews Center (HGA). ATLL continues today and serves all Pennsylvanians.


PIAT establishes the Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation (PATF).
PIAT saw a need for an alternative funding program separate from Temple University. A group of PIAT staff worked to find funding and create an independent non-profit organization. PATF is the Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation. The purpose of PATF is to provide cash loans for assistive technology. PATF is to provide consumer choice by offering alternative financing programs to Pennsylvanians with disabilities who “need assistive technology but cannot pay for it ‘out of pocket’ and cannot – or choose not to – use public resources.”

Read page 40 of the report.


Congress Reauthorizes the Tech Act.
After ten years, this act was reauthorized as the “Assistive Technology Act of 1998.”


PIAT launches a web-based data collection system.
With a move from local documentation to web-based data collection, PIAT streamlines access to information.


PATF branches off from PIAT and becomes its own entity.
The infrastructure of PATF developed to the point that it had adequate staff and other resources to operate independently of the resources of PIAT.

Read page 30 of the report.


Congress reauthorizes the Assistive Technology Act.
After six years, Congress reauthorized the AT Act. In this reauthorization, the law mandated that all AT Act programs operate the four activities required by the AT Act. These activities include device demonstrations, device loans, device reutilization, and state financing of devices for Pennsylvanians. Each state program has the flexibility to perform these activities best for its particular state.


PIAT joins the national effort to get equipment to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Hurricane Katrina caused many people to evacuate and leave their assistive devices and durable medical equipment behind. This was the start of our emergency preparedness work.


PIAT started the AT@Work project.
The Mid-Atlantic ADA Center funded this train-the-trainer curriculum and training about AT and Employment. This was a two-year project.


PIAT starts to administer PA’s TDDP.
The Telecommunication Device Distribution Program (TDDP) is a state financing activity. TDDP gets specialized telephones and other equipment for people who can’t use a regular phone. TDDP continues today and is known as the “Free Special Phone Program.”


PIAT starts administration of PA’s iCanConnect program.
PIAT becomes Pennsylvania’s Certifying Entity for National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP). This was a 5-year pilot. Eventually, this program became permanent and continues today.


PIAT adds mobile phones to TDDP.
PIAT petitions to conduct a two-year wireless pilot to explore adding smart mobile devices to TDDP. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) approves the pilot. In 2018, with the PUC’s blessing, TechOWL adds smart mobile devices to the Free Special Phone Program (TDDP) for a three-year trial period. In 2022, the PUC declared that smart mobile devices are a permanent part of the program. Pennsylvanians with disabilities who meet program qualifications can now receive landline and wireless equipment and signalers.


PIAT becomes TechOWL – Technology for Our Whole Lives.
PIAT becomes TechOWL to improve user engagement and update the program.


TechOWL launches CreATe Together – a program to make AT with 3D printers.
CreATe Together is now an umbrella for all AT fabrication activities at TechOWL. Pennsylvanians can request a variety of fabricated tools from TechOWL for free. We also hold an annual accessible switch-making event to adapt toys.


@TechOWLpa goes viral on social media.
Social media has become a more significant part of public awareness and outreach. @TechOWLpa focuses on assistive technology and disability activism. Our social media reach grows on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. We recently started a Discord channel about assistive technology.


AT Lending Library moves to UCP of Central PA.
The ATLL moves the statewide ATLL devices and operations to UCP (United Cerebral Palsy) of Central PA. This move saves money and allows TechOWL to modernize devices and operations.


The ATLL Lending Library expands with many iPads and Chromebooks.
With funding from the PA Department of Aging, these devices helped combat social isolation, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the funding ended, the equipment is still in circulation.


“Connect with Tech” launches.
With funding from the PA Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control, this program provides tablets and accessories to people who don’t have a tablet or computer and experience health inequity.


The “Wheeled Repair Alliance” is born.
This project unites wheelchair users, local bike repair folks, therapists, etc. Everyone learns about basic wheelchair repairs and maintenance.


Congress passes the 21st Century Assistive Technology Act.
Senator Casey sponsored the 21st Century Assistive Technology Act. Eighteen years after the last reauthorization, Congress reauthorized this AT Act.

Read the legislation.


TechOWL Expands Space and Services
TechOWL expands AT fabrication, education, and reuse activities in its dedicated, disability-friendly space within the Institute on Disabilities office. Stay tuned for more!

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