30 Years of Assistive Technology in Pennsylvania

History of Assistive Technology in Pennsylvania


A TechOWL Community Space will open!

Sign that says "Next Big Thin"

The TechOWL Community Space will be a disability-friendly space. We will expand AT fabrication, education, and reuse activities. 

Stay tuned!


Congress passes the 21st Century Assistive Technology Act

united state seal of congress

Senator Casey sponsored the 21st Century Assistive Technology Act. Eighteen years after the last reauthorization, Congress reauthorized this AT Act. Read the legislation here. (Opens in a new tab.)

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. 

“Connect with Tech” launches

Man loading a tablet and putting his glasses on to see the tablet

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 ATLL Lending Library expands with many iPads and Chromebooks

A chromebook and an iPad

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.

AT Lending Library moves to UCP of Central PA

drawing of a moving truck with boxes in the back

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.


@TechOWLpa goes viral on social media


@techowlpa You probably use something that’s considered assistive tech and don’t even realize! #AssistiveTech #Disability #UniversalDesign #InclusiveDesign #OT ♬ Steven Universe – L.Dre

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.


TechOWL launches CreATe Together – a program to make AT with 3D printers.

A 3D printer in action

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. 


PIAT becomes TechOWL – Technology for Our Whole Lives.

PIAT becomes TechOWL – Technology for Our Whole Lives.

PIAT becomes TechOWL to improve user engagement and update the program.


PIAT adds mobile phones to TDDP

iPhone 8

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 starts administration of PA’s iCanConnect program.

PIAT becomes Pennsylvania’s Certifying Entity for National Deafblind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP.) The was a 5-year Pilot. Eventually, this program became permanent and continues today. 


The ACES program begins.

An ACES participant in a power wheelchair smiling broadly and hold a book "The Magic of Thinking Big"

ACES (Augmentative Communication Empowerment and Support is an on-campus, intensive program for AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) users started by Diane Bryen, Ph.D. at the Institute on Disabilities. PIAT took the lead several years later and continues to develop and update this legacy program.


PIAT starts to administer PA’s TDDP

TTY phone

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 started the AT@Work project

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


PIAT joins the national effort to get equipment to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

many people in an arena shelter sitting on cots

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.


Congress reauthorizes the Assistive Technology Act

united state seal of congress

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.


PATF branches off from PIAT and becomes its own entity

Cover page of annual report 2002

The infrastructure of PATF developed to the point that it had adequate staff and other resources to operate independently of the resources of PIAT. Click to read page 30 of the report.


PIAT launches a web-based data collection system

old pc computer with keyboard, speakers and tower

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


Congress Reauthorizes the Tech Act

united state seal of congress

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

PIAT establishes the Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation (PATF)

Cover Sheet of the PIAT 1998-1999

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.” Click to read page 40 of the report.


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 on Aging, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, and the Hiram G. Andrews Center (HGA).

ATLL continues today and serves all Pennsylvanians.


First full year of PIAT programming

Logo of Pennsylvania's Inititative on Assistive Technology

…and we are “off to the races” – doing great work across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.


PIAT planning starts including nine AT regional resource centers

a map of pennsylvania with the outline of all the regional AT centers of TechOWL

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.

Governor designates the Institute on Disabilities as PA’s AT Act program

IOD logo vertical

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  (opens in a new tab)


Congress passes the first “Tech Act”

united state seal of congress

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

Find a detailed history of the AT Act here. (opens in a new tab)