Assistive Technology: It's the Law

It's the Law!  

As school is ending all across the country, this is a good time to take stock of what we accomplished this school year and what we want to start to plan for next school year.  One thing I hear sometimes from other teachers of the visually impaired at the end of the school year is that they feel frustrated they were not able to make progress with getting their student the assistive technology they needed.  They want to make sure this happens next school year and want to start laying the groundwork but aren’t always sure how to take the next step with a school team that has seemed lackluster about assistive technology evaluation for their student.  At this point I like to remind teachers this isn’t a choice for school teams when students are on an IEP.  IT’S THE LAW!  Below I discuss some of the elements of AT and the law so teachers can feel comfortable articulating to their school teams what this means. 

What is “Assistive Technology?” 

According to IDEA, assistive technology is “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 the functional capabilities of children with disabilities.” [(20 U.S.C.1401(1)]. My definition of assistive technology is any tool that reduces or eliminates a barrier for a student. 

AT and the Law

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides central guidance around assistive technology in the schools.  In IDEA, the definition of assistive technology is left purposefully broad to allow discretion to the IEP team.  The only devices or tools specifically excluded under IDEA are surgically implanted ones.  IEP teams are REQUIRED to consider assistive technology for every student on an IEP.  This includes consideration of tools for the general education setting, the special education setting, related services (think orientation and mobility) and extra-curricular activities. 

What About Home? 

On a case by case basis, IEP teams must consider assistive technology for the home setting if it is necessary for the child to receive a free and appropriate public education.  One example of this I see commonly is the team deciding the student will not do homework because they don’t want to send a device home.  This is not a free and appropriate public education!  If homework is expected of peers and the student is capable of independent practice with the right technology and adapted materials, then technology MUST be provided in the home environment. 

So That Means We Just Talk About Devices Right? 

WRONG!  Teams get caught up in the “device talk” when talking about assistive technology but IDEA clarifies that assistive technology services are critical to the IEP assistive technology process. 

What is an AT Service? 

  • Evaluation of the needs of the child in their customary environment
  • Acquiring the AT solution
  • Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, retaining, repairing or replacing AT devices
  • Training and technical service to the child, the child’s family, and the educational team

Conclusion

It is important as teachers of the visually impaired we understand the IEP team’s legal obligations around providing assistive technology devices and services to students with visual impairments.  This is not up to the discretion of the team, it must be considered!  For additional information on this topic I highly recommend checking out Appendix A of Access Technology for Blind and Low Vision Accessibility