Bill summaries are authored by CRS.

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Passed House amended (10/09/1998)

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Title I: State Grant Programs

Title II: National Activities

Subtitle A: Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Subtitle B: Other National Activities

Title III: Alternative Financing Mechanisms

Title IV: Repeal and Conforming Amendments

Assistive Technology Act of 1998 - Title I: State Grant Programs - Directs the Secretary of Education to provide continuity grants, for assistive technology (AT) for individuals with disabilities, to States that have received less than ten years of funding under the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988.

(Sec. 101) Sets forth the following mandatory activities for any State receiving such a continuity grant: (1) a public awareness program to provide information on availability and benefits of AT devices and services, with an electronic link to the National Public Internet Site; (2) interagency coordination to improve access to AT devices and services; (3) technical assistance and training to promote access to AT devices and services; and (4) outreach activities that support statewide and community-based organizations to assist individuals with disabilities, especially the elderly and rural populations, use AT devices and services.

Sets forth the following discretionary activities that such States may undertake with such continuity grants: (1) alternative State-financed systems that increase access to, and funding for, AT; (2) demonstrations of AT devices; (3) assistance to individuals with disabilities related to securing AT devices and services; (4) a system for public access to information concerning any such discretionary activity; (5) partnerships and cooperative initiatives between public and private sectors to promote greater participation by business and industry in development, demonstration, and dissemination of AT devices and ongoing provision of information about new products to assist individuals with disabilities; and (7) advocacy services.

Authorizes States to enter cooperative agreements with other States to expand their capacity to assist individuals with disabilities of all ages to learn about, acquire, use, maintain, adapt, and upgrade AT devices and services.

Authorizes States to operate or participate in a computer system through which the State may communicate electronically with other States to gain timely technical assistance and avoid duplication of efforts.

Authorizes a State to pay for expenses (including travel expenses) and services (including services of qualified interpreters, readers, and personal care assistants) necessary for access to the comprehensive statewide program of technology-related assistance by individuals with disabilities in financial need who are ineligible for such services through another public agency or private entity.

Provides for such payments to States according to a formula based on the number of years or portions of amounts that would have been provided by extension grants under the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act. Provides for payments to additional States under specified conditions. Limits the annual amount of any continuation grant to an outlying area.

Sets forth continuation grant requirements for: (1) State designation of a lead agency; (2) State application supplements, including State goals, performance measures, involvement of individuals with disabilities and their families, and continuing obligations; and (3) options relating to funding for FY 1999 through 2004, under which a State may choose whether to receive a continuation grant or a challenge grant, but not both.

(Sec. 102) Directs the Secretary to make a six-year grant to an entity in each State to support protection and advocacy services through systems established under the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act to assist in acquiring, utilizing, or maintaining AT or AT services for individuals with disabilities. Requires such grants, in the case of certain States, to be made to a designated lead agency or the State Assistive Technology Office.

(Sec. 103) Sets forth administrative requirements, for grant programs under this title, for: (1) review of participating entities; (2) corrective action and sanctions; and (3) annual reports of the Secretary to the President and the Congress.

Declares that this title may not be construed as authorizing a Federal or a State agency to reduce medical or other assistance available, or to alter eligibility for a benefit or service, under any other Federal law.

(Sec. 104) Authorizes the Secretary to fund a program to provide AT technical assistance to entities, principally those funded under any grant program under this title. Requires, in designing such program, consideration of input from the directors of comprehensive statewide programs of technology-related assistance and other appropriate individuals, especially: (1) individuals with disabilities who use AT and understand the barriers to the acquisition of AT and AT services; (2) family members, guardians, advocates, and authorized representatives of such individuals; and (3) individuals employed by protection and advocacy systems funded by grants under this title.

Directs the Secretary, as part of such technical assistance program, to fund the establishment and maintenance of a National Public Internet Site to provide individuals with disabilities and the general public technical assistance and information on increased access to AT devices and services and to other disability-related resources. Requires that an entity eligible to maintain such Internet site be an institution of higher education that emphasizes research and engineering, has a multidisciplinary research center, and has demonstrated expertise in specified matters. Sets forth required features and minimum library components of such Internet site.

Sets forth eligibility, application, and program requirements for entities to receive grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements under the technical assistance program.

(Sec. 105) Authorizes appropriations for grants and other programs under this title.

Title II: National Activities - Subtitle A: Rehabilitation Act of 1973 - Amends the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (RA, as amended by the Workforce Investment Act of 1988) to require increased coordination on disability, AT, and universal design research among Federal departments and agencies that are members of the Interagency Committee on Disability Research and other Federal departments and agencies. Authorizes the Committee to recommend funding for research projects that are jointly undertaken or administered by at least two departments or agencies with representatives on the Committee.

(Sec. 202) Directs the National Council on Disability to report to specified congressional committees on the barriers in Federal AT policy to increasing availability of and access to AT devices and services for individuals with disabilities. Requires the Council to obtain input for such report from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, the Association of Tech Act Projects, and targeted individuals.

(Sec. 203) Directs the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the Access Board) to provide training to Federal and State employees concerning their responsibilities under RA to make their electronic and information technology accessible.

Subtitle B: Other National Activities - Authorizes the Secretary to: (1) enter into contracts with small businesses to assist them with design, development, and marketing of AT devices and services, giving preference to such businesses owned or operated by individuals with disabilities; and (2) make grants to small businesses to work with entities funded by the Secretary to evaluate and disseminate information on the effects of technology transfer on the lives of individuals with disabilities, and to utilize such technology transfer and market research services to bring new AT devices and services to commerce.

(Sec. 212) Authorizes the Director of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to collaborate in specified ways with the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer (the Consortium) to promote technology transfer that will further development of AT and products that incorporate universal design principles.

Authorizes the Secretary to make grants to or contracts or cooperative agreements with commercial, nonprofit, or other organizations, including institutions of higher education, to facilitate interaction with the Consortium to promote such technology transfer related to AT and universal design.

Amends the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980 to require the Consortium to work with the NIDRR Director to compile a compendium of current and projected Federal Laboratory technologies and projects that have or will have an intended or recognized impact on the available range of AT for individuals with disabilities, including technologies and projects that incorporate universal design principles.

(Sec. 213) Authorizes the Secretary to make grants to commercial or other enterprises and institutions of higher education for research and development of universal design concepts for products (including information technology) and the built environment. Requires preference to be given to enterprises and institutions owned or operated by individuals with disabilities.

(Sec. 214) Authorizes the Secretary to make grants, enter into cooperative agreements, or provide financial assistance through other mechanisms, for specified AT outreach activities: (1) in rural or impoverished urban areas; and (2) for children and older individuals.

(Sec. 215) Directs the Secretary to make grants, or enter into contracts, with public and private agencies and organizations, including institutions of higher education, for specified types of training of rehabilitation engineers and technicians in careers related to providing AT devices and services.

(Sec. 216) Authorizes the President's Committee on Employment of People With Disabilities to design, develop, and implement programs to increase the voluntary participation of the private sector in making information technology accessible to individuals with disabilities, including increasing the involvement of such individuals in the design, development, and manufacturing of information technology. Includes a task force, outreach, and technical assistance among program activities. Requires the Committee to coordinate program activities with those of NIDRR and the Department of Labor.

(Sec. 217) Authorizes appropriations.

Title III: Alternative Financing Mechanisms - Directs the Secretary to make grants to States for the Federal share of alternative financing programs to allow individuals with disabilities and their family members, guardians, advocates, and authorized representatives to purchase AT devices and services. Requires such program to feature one or more alternative financing mechanisms, which may include: (1) a low-interest loan fund; (2) an interest buy-down program; (3) a revolving loan fund; (4) a loan guarantee or insurance program; (5) a program operated by a partnership among private entities for purchase, lease, or other acquisition of AT devices or services; or (6) another mechanism that meets the requirements of this title and is approved by the Secretary.

(Sec. 301) Allows such a grant to be awarded for a one-year period. Limits each State to not more than one such grant. Limits the Federal share of program costs to not more than 50 percent.

(Sec. 302) Limits the amount of such a grant to an outlying area. Sets minimum State grant allotments. Bases remaining State allotments on population and population density.

(Sec. 303) Makes States eligible to compete for grants under this title if they are receiving or have received continuity grants or challenge grants under title I and comply with application requirements. Requires State assurances that the alternative financing program will: (1) continue on a permanent basis; (2) emphasize consumer choice and control; (3) have a permanent separate account; (4) only invest funds in low-risk securities in which a regulated insurance company may invest under the State law; and (5) not use more than ten percent of grant funds for indirect costs. Provides that interest and income from the program's investments shall not be taken into account in determining eligibility for any Federal program.

(Sec. 304) Requires a State that receives a grant under this title to contract with a community-based organization (including a group of such organizations) that has individuals with disabilities involved in organizational decision making at all organizational levels to administer the alternative financing program. Requires the community-based organization to contract with commercial lending institutions or organizations or State financing agencies to expand opportunities under this title and facilitate administration of the alternative financing program.

(Sec. 305) Requires States that receive grants, and community-based organizations that contract with States, under this title to submit specified policies and procedures for administration of the alternative financing program, including ones to: (1) review and process in a timely manner requests for financial assistance for immediate and potential technology needs; (2) give program access to consumers regardless of type of disability, age, income level, location of residence in the State, or type of AT device or service requested; and (3) assure consumer-controlled oversight.

(Sec. 306) Directs the Secretary to provide information and technical assistance (through grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements with public or private agencies and organizations, including institutions of higher education) to States to develop and implement alternative financing programs under this title.

(Sec. 307) Directs the Secretary to report annually to specified congressional committees on the progress of each alternative financing program funded under this title.

(Sec. 308) Authorizes appropriations.

Title IV: Repeal and Conforming Amendments - Repeals the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals With Disabilities Act of 1988.

(Sec. 402) Makes conforming amendments to RA.