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Legal Requirements for Assistive Technology Devices,
Services, and Evaluations

Many children with disabilities have difficulty with reading, writing, and math. Some children have problems with vision, hearing, listening and/or communicating. Others have physical, mobility, and motor problems.

girl with a cochlear implant in class

Assistive technology helps people with disabilities use their strengths to compensate or "work around" difficulties caused by their disability. "Assistive technology" includes "devices" and "services."

Although IDEA requires IEP teams to consider the assistive technology needs of all children with disabilities, the reality is that IEP teams often fail to assess children's needs for Assistive Technology.

On January 22, 2024, the U.S. Department of Education published new guidance about Assistive Technology. They issued a warning to schools -- stop overlooking Assistive Technology in children's IEPs.

The Department of Education also published a handy 24-page brochure, Myths and Facts About Assistive Technology Devices and Services to clarifies schools' responsibilities to provide these devices and services.

The AT Myths and Facts booklet is packed with useful info. If you are fighting a battle about AT, bring a copy of the booklet to the next IEP meeting. Use a highlighter for relevant facts.

Did you know that "Each time an IEP Team develops, reviews, or revises a child’s IEP, the IEP Team must consider whether the child requires AT devices and services"?

Did you know that the school "must provide and fully fund the AT devices and services if the IEP Team determines they are necessary to provide FAPE for the child"?

Assume your child has an A.T. device, but you don't know how to use it. You asked the teacher for help, but she didn't know how to use it either. This is ridiculous! If no one knows how to use it, the device is useless. What now?

The school district is responsible for ensuring that the child, the parents, and the educators know how the AT device works. What are a few of the benefits of AT?

  • AT can reduce persistent disparities in equity and accessibility
  • AT can adapt learning experiences to meet the needs of all learners
  • AT can improve outcomes for children, develop important skills and abilities
  • AT can prepare our kids for the workforce and life after high school.

IDEA defines an 'assistive technology device' as...

any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability. (20 U.S.C. 1401(1))

IDEA defines an 'assistive technology service' as...

any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. Such term includes -

(A) the evaluation...

(B) purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices...

(C) selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing...

(D) coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices...

(D) training or technical assistance for such child, or ...the family of such child...

(F) training or technical assistance for professionals... (20 U.S.C. 1401(2))

Assistive Technology Evaluations

If you think your child needs assistive technology, ask the IEP team to refer your child for an evaluation by an assistive technology specialist. If the IEP team refers your child for an AT evaluation, the evaluation is at no cost to you. An assistive technology evaluation may include a functional evaluation of your child in school or at home. Be sure to include the evaluation in your child's IEP, including the expected date to start and finish the evaluation.

Assistive technology evaluators have special knowledge and expertise. If your child's needs are complex or you anticipate that the IEP team will resist, ask the assistive technology specialist to join the IEP team.

Assistive Technology Training

IDEA requires schools to provide assistive technology training for the child, the child's teachers, and the child's family. (20 U.S.C. 1400(2)(E) & (F))

Teachers may need training so they know how to use an AT device. The child and family may need AT. services so they learn to use an A.T. device. Assistive technology services, including training, need to be written in your child's IEP.

Universal Design for Learning

The key concept in "Universal Design for Learning" is that new materials and learning technologies need to be designed to accommodate the learning styles of a range of individuals, including individuals with disabilities. Examples include accessible web sites; electronic versions of textbooks and other materials; captioned and/or narrated videos; word processors with word prediction; and voice recognition.

The legal definition of universal design is in the Assistive Technology Act at 29 U.S.C. 3002 (19).

Negotiating with the School about AT Devices and Services

If you are negotiating with the school for AT services, the school may say, "We can't afford that."

Your response may be: "Cost cannot be considered a factor in considering AT."

Or the school may say: "We are not authorized to make a decision about AT."

Your response might be "I am so disappointed to hear that. I guess we will need to adjourn the meeting until an appropriate administrator can be here.

For more Strategies to Negotiate Special Education Issues, please see Strategies for Assistive Technology Negotiations by Dave Edyburn, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee.

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