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Assistive Technology for the Struggling Notetaker

by Wrightslaw

My 9th grade son has been covered under a 504 plan since 4th grade. This year, he had an IEP.  He is a twice-gifted, far superior in perceptional reasoning and very low (20 pts below average) in short term memory. This affects his ability to take notes.

I am interested in having him use the livescribe pulse pen in the classroom so he does not miss information while trying to take notes.  Is this is legal?  I’m willing to purchase the pen myself.

If I understand your question, you want to ensure that your son can use the livescribe pulse pen in class – that’s it’s legal.

Using a recording pen is legal. The livescribe pen is similar to a digital recorder – it’s an Assistive Technology device. Since your son is eligible for special education services under IDEA, you could ask the school to provide an AT evaluation and appropriate AT devices and services.

Assistive Technology in the IEP

The law requires IEP teams to consider the assistive technology needs of all children with disabilities.  (20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(3)(B)(v))

The IEP team makes decisions about assistive technology devices and services based on your child’s unique needs so that he can be more confident and independent.

For more info about Assistive Technology, see chapter 8 in our book, Wrightslaw: All About IEPs at

Documentation for the IEP Team

It appears that you’ve decided not to ask the school to provide the pen, but prefer to purchase the pen yourself.

If a service or device is not mentioned in the IEP, someone who is ignorant of the law may object to its use.

To ensure that no one arbitrarily decides that your son CANNOT use the pen, write a short letter to your son’s school team. Describe your son’s disability and the impact it has on his ability to benefit from his education. Ask that the pen be included in your son’s IEP as an AT device that is an accommodation for his writing disability.

You can find additional information (a few examples below) about this AT device that supports using it as an accommodation.  You may want to copy  some of this information and have it on hand for members of the team.

Karen Janowski, Assistive and Educational Technology Consultant and Special Education Instructor, Simmons College, Boston, MA says,  “It can transform the life of almost any child with learning disabilities who struggles with notetaking” in the Family Center of Technology and Disability Newsletter at

From the Taalliance:  Technical Assitance for Parents Centers – “What Parents and Professionals Need to Know about Assistive Technology” at

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14 Comments on "Assistive Technology for the Struggling Notetaker"


I am a reading specialist who has been trying to get permission for my students to use the livescribe smartpen. My teachers and I use it when we go to conferences and share pencasts. However, the school administration thinks it is illegal to record classes according to Pennsylvania state law and refuse to grant permission for the students in our Learning Skills program to use the pen or record classes in any way. I have communicated with other schools that allow the pens and recording. Can anyone direct me to law or to sources with which I can convince my administration that LD students are entitled to this accommodation, even in Pennsylvania?


Tom, for students with disabilities who have difficulty with listening, note-taking, recording a class would be a reasonable accommodation. IDEA requires the IEP Team to consider the unique needs of these students, including the need for AT. If the Team determines a student needs AT to “maximize accessibility” and to receive FAPE, they must include these accommodations in the IEP and the school is required to provide it.

If you’re looking for the statute, turn in your law book to p. 47, 104, 250. If you don’t have a copy, you may want to get a copy of Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2d edition with analysis and commentary. It will provide valuable information for a reading specialist teaching kids with disabilities – you won’t have to rely on someone else to tell you about the law.

The benefits of using a smartpen for students with disabilities is well recognized by the The Office of Disability Services (ODS) at Penn State. They actually provide smartpens to students for recording in class.

Many post-secondary schools in PA allow the recording of class lectures. (just google) Makes you wonder how / why the “illegal to record” law doesn’t prevent them from allowing this.

These colleges appear to be able to protect privacy and intellectual property without discriminating against students with disabilities who need accommodations.

Thanks for caring about the kids.

Sharon L.

Andrea, Assistive technology has been added to the law books as accommodations when needed. You can request an AT eval just like any other evaluation. Put the request in writing. If you have any professional documentation from a physician,etc put that in the envelope with the request as well. After 5 days get together with the school to sign their eval consent form so that the need to get the eval done in 60 days. They will come back to you with the results of the testing & set up a meeting. If you can get a DRAFT copy of the results you have time to review with a professional. You do not have to sign if you do not agree & you can request an outside AT eval at public expense if you don’t agree with their results. If ti is determined that your son needs AT the school will provide it along with training & support.


My son has recently been diagnosed with a learning disability. We also recently attended his first IEP meeting. So I am VERY new to ALL of this. There is sooo much information to be read here on the internet. I feel a bit overwhelmed but am pushing on. My so has Dysgraphia. He has very poor reading and writing skills and is well below his fourth grade level. I know he would benifit greatly from AT devices such as an ereader and a personal computer at home. We are a low income household and canot afford such luxuries. I just don’t know where to start. Can anyone point me in the right direction? Is there any sort of financial assistance or grant available. We live in Michigan. I want nothig more than my child to succeed and be confident and independant in and out of the classroom. HELP Please.