In the late 70's and early 80's, personal computers became available for general use. Within a comparatively short period of time, programmers began exploring how to make the software of the personal computer available to individuals with visual impairments as well as the deafblind community. The first assistive technology (AT) programs were self-voicing, or dedicated speech, refreshable braille devices and/or large print display.
Soon, professionals in the field recognized the potential of assistive technology for securing a wider range of employment opportunities, methods of increasing levels of independence and avocational activities for individuals with visual impairments. As a result, the need to teach the emerging AT solutions also grew. Government, educational institutions, and private agencies serving individuals with visual impairments began offering training in the use of AT. Initially, these trainers were "homegrown" staff who became interested in this emerging technology. These self-taught trainers recognized the potential of the new technologies for the individuals they served.
These same agencies faced an ever-increasing need to hire trainers in the area of AT. However, the over-arching question for administrators and supervisors was "how do we know who is qualified?" This began the discussion amongst the self-taught AT specialists to "develop a certification process."
Many of these discussions took place at the various AT conferences during the 90's, including Closing the Gap, Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA), and California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Though very well intentioned, these discussions became bogged down. Some of the outstanding questions and concerns included (a) determining if one is certified as a trainer who conducts assessments instruction, configuration, etc., (b) whether the certification for speech output should be separate from AT solutions geared toward individuals with low vision, (c) rapid changes and advances in technology and how certification could keep pace.
In the early 2000's, the American Foundation for the Blind gathered a group of AT Specialists to revisit the concept of creating a certification in the area of AT. This effort looked to the traditional certifying bodies (CompTIA for certifications, A Plus-network management). The stumbling blocks at that time were some of the same concerns stated earlier, as well as high cost for the process.
By 2013 both mainstream technology and third party assistive technology solutions revolutionized the way in which individuals with visual impairments functioned in their personal and professional lives. Because of the critical role that assistive technology devices and training have on the independence and dignity of individuals who are visually impaired, a growing need existed for qualified Assistive Technology Instructional Specialists.
At that time a vacuum also existed between vision impairment professionals who were very skilled at providing services to individuals with visual impairments, but who may have lacked the specific technical skills and conversely, professionals and paraprofessionals who were well versed in the latest assistive technology solutions, but lacked the formal education and training required to work effectively with individuals with visual impairments. It was not uncommon for blindness professionals in other areas of expertise such as CVRTs, CLVTs and COMS to also take on additional responsibilities in the area of assistive technology instruction. The disparate skillset of individuals providing assistive technology instruction resulted in providing instruction to individuals with visual impairments that may not have met their needs.
Professionals and paraprofessionals in this field have been given various titles, some of which include: Assistive Technology Instructor; AT Specialist; Computer Assistive Technology Instructor; Computer Access Training Specialist. There was no national criteria in place that determined the training, experience and competency required of Assistive Technology Instructional Specialists who were qualified to provide services for individuals with visual impairments.
The catalyst behind the decision by ACVREP to develop the CATIS certification was to create a national standard to meet the specialized needs of individuals with visual impairments in the area of assistive technology instruction and to establish a clear roadmap to certification that includes the necessary training, experience and coursework required to meet the diverse needs of people with visual impairments in order to provide them with the highest quality of instruction possible.
Thus, in 2013 ACVREP, as the certifying body for vision impairment professionals, qualified and selected subject matter experts from across the country based on their educational and technical background, as well as their professional accomplishments in the field of assistive technology for individuals who are visually impaired. In the same year, these subject matter experts began the process of developing the criteria for Certified Assistive Technology Instructional Specialist ("CATIS"). The CATIS certification launched May 1, 2016.