Assistive Technology for Special Education Students
This publication provides a definition of assistive technology, a brief overview of basic special education requirements related to assistive technology and answers commonly asked questions regarding assistive technology for students in special education programs. Assistive technology is also known as AT.
What is assistive technology?
Assistive technology consists of devices and services. An assistive technology device is an item or piece of equipment that helps a person with a disability increase, maintain, or improve a student’s functional capabilities. Assistive technology devices can be high-tech or low-tech. Examples of assistive technology devices are:
- Wheelchair or wheelchair ramp;
- Voice-activated computer;
- Telecommunication device;
- Electronic note takers and cassette recorders;
- An auditory FM trainer and closed circuit TV;
- Large-print books;
- Word prediction, voice recognition and synthesis, and word processing software;
- Switches and controls for access to equipment;
- Tactile materials for visually impaired students, such as Braille flashcards, pegboards for teaching shapes or spatial relations, manual and electronic Braillewriters, and adaptive paper that provides extra visual or tactile feedback such as raised-line paper;
- Pencil grips;
- Hearing aids.
Medical devices that are surgically implanted are not considered assistive technology devices.
An assistive technology service is any direct assistance to the student with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of the assistive technology device. Assistive technology services include, but are not limited to:
- an evaluation of a student’s need, including a functional evaluation in the student’s customary environment;
- the purchasing, leasing, or acquiring of an assistive technology device;
- the selection, design, fitting, adapting, repairing, and replacing of an assistive technology device; and
- the training or technical assistance for a student, the student’s family, or other professionals who provide services to or are otherwise substantially involved in the student’s major life functions.
Brief overview of special education requirements and terms
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal special education law that requires public schools to provide all children with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). To provide FAPE to a student with a disability, schools must provide special education and related services. Special education is defined as “specially designed instruction . . . to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability….” Related services means “transportation, and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services… as may be required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education….” Related services include, but are not limited to, speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpreting services, psychological services, and physical and occupational therapy.
Schools must provide FAPE in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). LRE means that:
To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities… are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.
Supplementary aids and services are “aids, services, and other supports that are provided in regular education classes or other education-related settings to enable children with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate….”
If, after an appropriate evaluation, a student qualifies for special education services under the IDEA, the student’s Individual Education Program (IEP) team must create and implement an IEP for that student. An IEP is a written statement that contains a detailed description of the individualized instruction and services a student with disabilities needs to receive FAPE.
How can a student obtain assistive technology devices and services?
The IEP team always should consider a student’s need for assistive technology. If a student, parent, teacher, or other member of the IEP team notices that assistive technology is not being considered and believes it should be, the person should raise the concern at the annual IEP meeting or request a meeting to discuss the assistive technology. At the meeting, the IEP team will determine whether the assistive technology would allow the student to benefit from educational instruction or meet IEP goals and objectives.
Assistive technology devices and services can be included in an IEP for two reasons: 1) as special education or a related service; and/or 2) as a supplementary aid and service. First, if the individual needs an assistive technology service or device as special education or a related service necessary to receive FAPE, then that service or device should be made available. Examples of an assistive technology device and service provided as special education designed to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability includes a voice-activated computer and training for the student and teacher to use the computer. An example of an assistive technology service provided as a related service to assist a child in benefiting from special education includes speech-language services related to use of a voice-activated computer.
Second, under the LRE requirement, a school must provide supplementary aids and services to ensure children are educated in a regular education environment to the maximum extent possible. Therefore, assistive technology can be necessary to ensure that the LRE is maintained, even if it does not directly affect the receipt of FAPE. In this instance, assistive technology is considered a supplementary aid or service and should be included in the IEP and provided to the individual. An example of an assistive technology device and an assistive technology service provided as a supplementary aid and service is a wheelchair that allows a child to access classrooms and physical therapy to use the wheelchair.
Regardless of which category the assistive technology need falls into, it should be included in the individual’s IEP. Specifically, the IEP should include a statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services to be provided to the student. The special education and related services and supplementary aids and services contained in the IEP statement should allow the student to advance appropriately toward annual goals, to be involved in and make progress toward the general curriculum, and to be educated and participate with other students with and without disabilities.
Can a student take his/her assistive technology home?
The school should provide assistive technology in the home if the student requires the use of the assistive technology in the home to receive FAPE. For example, if the student needs an assistive technology device to complete homework assignments, then the student should be allowed to take the assistive technology device home. The IEP team, of which the parent and the child are a part, should make this determination on a case-by-case basis.
How can a student obtain funding for assistive technology?
The student or parent should discuss possible funding with both the school and other funding source representatives, including Medicaid-funded services case managers. Possible sources of funding for students in need of assistive technology include:
• The school district;
• Private insurance, with parental consent;
• Medicaid or other public benefits, with parental consent; and
• Division of Vocational Rehabilitation services.
The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is responsible for creating agreements between it and the above non-educational public agencies to ensure that students receive any special education or related services, supplementary aids and services, and transition services that are necessary to provide the student with FAPE, including assistive technology devices and services. If a non-educational public agency fails to provide or pay for these services, the school district developing the student’s IEP must provide or pay for the service in a timely manner, but the school district can seek repayment from the other agency.
What if the IEP team does not approve the request for assistive technology?
If the IEP team determines that assistive technology is not necessary, the student’s parent or teacher may request a reevaluation of the student. Other members of the team also may determine that a reevaluation is necessary before making a determination, and may request a reevaluation.
Students, parents, and school officials may disagree about a student’s assistive technology needs. If there is still disagreement about assistive technology needs after a reevaluation and the student’s parents believe that the school’s evaluation was inadequate or failed to address the student’s assistive technology needs, the parents have the right to request an independent evaluation of the student. Parents also can submit a citizen complaint with OSPI or request a due process hearing to challenge the denial.
What if the student’s assistive technology device is in need of repair?
Maintenance and repair of assistive technology devices are included in the definition of assistive technology service.
What can a student or parent do if they are having trouble obtaining assistive technology at school?
DRW’s publication “Special Education Resources” lists many organizations that may assist parents and students with special education issues. Along with contacting DRW for technical assistance about assistive technology issues, a few particularly relevant resources are:
Northwest Access Fund, formerly known as Washington Access Fund, provides loans for assistive technology and home and vehicle accessibility modifications. It also provides tips on what to think about when purchasing assistive technology to make sure the assistive technology is appropriate. Northwest Access Fund helps callers identify other sources of funding and resources to help with money management issues.
WATAP offers information and referrals to family members, employers, employment service providers, educators, health care providers, social service providers, and others seeking assistive technology services and knowledge. WATAP is part of the University of Washington Center for Technology & Disability Studies. It provides assistive technology resources and expertise to help people make decisions and obtain the technology and related services needed for work, education, and independent living.
Washington State Governor’s Office of the Education Ombuds
155 N.E. 100th St., #210
Seattle, WA 98125
The Office of the Education Ombuds (OEO) helps resolve disputes and conflicts between families and elementary and secondary public schools in all areas that affect student learning. OEO is part of the Governor’s Office and functions independently from the public school system. OEO's intake and services are conducted primarily by telephone and are free and confidential. Ombuds can answer questions and provide information about what a parent’s and student's rights are, facilitate meetings to find resolution to problems and concerns, and assist parents with navigating the public school system.
The following federal funding partner shared in the cost of producing this material: the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, AIDD (1501WAPADD). These contents are the sole responsibility of Disability Rights Washington and do not necessarily represent the official views of AIDD.
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