What Assistive Technology Covers On The IEP

I am not a lawyer and I do not intend this article to provide legal advice. Please contact an education or disability lawyer if you need further interpretation. I have included references to read the law for yourself as well as the interpretations that I found helpful in writing this article.


Least Restrictive Learning

For some students, technology gives them the opportunity to participate in the curriculum when they would otherwise be unable to do so. This means students could remain in their classroom and keep specialized one-to-one instruction when it is needed.

Assistive Technology is equipment, software, or device that helps students to be independent and function within an environment that would otherwise be difficult or unattainable except a medical device meant to be surgically implanted or a device meant to replace a device meant for surgical implantation.

The legal definitions within IDEA can get confusing and the requirements for adding it to an IEP or when a child qualifies can be overwhelming. I have experience advocating for my child to receive Assistive Technology even when the school wanted to continue teaching him the skill instead of providing a device for support.

Assistive Technology On The IEP

I am not a lawyer and I do not intend this article to provide legal advice. Please contact an education or disability lawyer if you need further interpretation. I have included references to read the law for yourself as well as the interpretations that I found helpful in writing this article.


Least Restrictive Learning

The definition of Assistive Technology in IDEA is intentionally vague. With new technology being made available all the time, and a variety of needs from students, the written law cannot provide a definition that keeps a future technology from being included.

This can include everything from wheelchairs to closed captioning. What the student needs to be successful is as individual as the IEP. Find the list of examples below for some ideas that the school might supply to assist your student in school.

The qualification of whether a student needs an Assistive Technology Device is left up to the IEP team. Typically this means they will have an assessment to determine needs unless the assessment has already been done and the request is supporting the need that has already been assessed.

The school must take full financial responsibility to provide assistive technology to students. They may not charge families for accessing needs on the IEP as defined under FAPE all students are entitled to a “free and appropriate public education.”

Assistive technology is vital for students with disabilities to access their education and to receive a “free and appropriate public education.” This phrase should go into the IEP team’s planning for the student’s education above all others. The question of whether it is appropriate or not is left up to the team as a whole.

For these students, being denied access to this technology means they cannot communicate, participate, or be independent at school.

If you think your student might benefit from technology, you need to call for an IEP meeting with the team present and request that the specific technology is provided. The team will discuss whether further assessment is needed to determine if the Assistive Technology is appropriate or the team may agree the AT is needed based on the currently available assessments.

Schools usually like to spend as little money as possible and Assistive Technology can be expensive to provide. Expect to advocate for your student in proportion to the expense to the school district.

Assistive Technology For School Defined

I am not a lawyer and I do not intend this article to provide legal advice. Please contact an education or disability lawyer if you need further interpretation. I have included references to read the law for yourself as well as the interpretations that I found helpful in writing this article.


Least Restrictive Learning

The first place I like to look at when it comes to special education law is the law itself. There are innumerable explanations of the law, but having the original can be extremely helpful for the development of the IEP.

Here is what the law actually says:

The term “assistive technology device” means 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 USC Ch. 33 Sec. 1401 (1) (a)Opens in a new tab.

This definition is extremely vague and that isn’t an accident. According to the definition above it could be anything that supports the disabled student to function, maintain function, or moderately help function.

Examples Of Assistive Technology At School

Since the definition of what an “Assistive Technology Device” means is so vague, there is room to advocate anything that fits the definition in order to get the school to provide it at their expense.

Here is a list of some types of Assistive Technology Devices, examples of those devices, and an example of the service they may provide.

TypeDevice ExamplesService Provided
Mobility AidWheelchairs, Scooters, Walkers, Canes, Crutches, Prosthetics, OrthoticsThese devices help the student move around and may provide independence.
Hearing AidsHearing AidsSupports the deaf or hearing impaired student in communication services.
Cognitive AidsComputers, Tablets, Timers, Audio Books, Mobile Devices With Specialized AppsSupports memory, attention, and other difficulties with thought processes or who have learning disabilities such as dyslexia.
Software/HardwareVoice Recognition, Screen Readers, Screen EnlargementHelps those with Mobility and Sensory Impairments.
ToolsAutomatic Page Turners, Book Holders, Adapted Pencil GripsAssists those with motor disabilities.
Closed CaptioningClosed Captioning Helps students with hearing and attention disabilities.
Physical ModificationsRamps, Grab Bars, Wider DoorwaysAllow students with physical limitations access to facilities.
Mobility DevicesLightweight Performance DeviceFor students with physical disabilities to access sports and physical activity.
Adaptive Switches and UtensilsFork, Spoon, Plate, Adaptive SwitchesFor those with limited fine motor capabilities to accomplish activities like eating and playing games.
Life Skills DevicesSpecialized Handles, Grips, Devices To Extend Reach, Light on Telephone, Light on DoorbellAllow essential life tasks due to motor, hearing, or cognitive struggles.
ALDAssistive Listening Devices, Hearing Loop, Induction LoopAmplify sounds with the use of a hearing aid.
AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication)Picture Board, Text To Speech Device, Keyboards, Touch Screens, Speech Generating Devices, For those with communication disorders.
Alerting DevicesLights Added To Doorbell, Telephone, or AlarmFor deaf or hard-of-hearing students.
Vision AssistanceMagnifiers, Talking Devices, Braille Displays, Screen Readers, Text To Speech, Large PrintFor blind or low vision students to access the curriculum.
Speech CommunicationVoice Amplification, Fluency Assistance, Communication Boards, Speech Output, Symbol-Making SoftwareFor those who have low or no verbal abilities.
sourceOpens in a new tab.

Qualifications For School To Provide Assistive Technology

In order to approve assistive technology devices, the IEP team must decide together that these devices will help the student.

It is not on one person to approve these, but the IEP team may need to take a few steps. The first is an assessment of the student in the area that the Assistive Technology Device is for. Sometimes the assessment has already been done and the team needs to agree that the device is the right path to take.

This can be especially difficult in the early Elementary School years when students are learning basic skills in school. The distinction may be whether the student needs individualized instruction and therapy or whether it is a disadvantage that needs Assistive Technology.

An example of this is a student in Kindergarten learning how to write. They aren’t picking up on forming letters at the same rate and are struggling. At what point is it appropriate to provide Assistive Technology like an iPad for typing responses instead of specialized instruction in writing and Occupational Therapy? This is what the IEP team must decide together.

Using this example it is apparent that the line between needing Assistive Technology and needing other services may be blurred. As a parent, if you feel like your child is not progressing and missing more than they are gaining, advocate for the technology.

The detriment in the above situation is that if the student spends years learning to write letters instead of working at their grade level, they will not get the educational benefits that come with the rest of the writing class. Things like putting words into writing (or typing), how to compose a sentence, forming ideas, and communicating these ideas are learned in addition to physically write.

The team will look at the positive and negative along with the assessments that have been done in the area of concern to make the determination of if the device is needed. Parents are a major part of any IEP team and hold tremendous sway.

Can The School Charge The Family For Assistive Technology?

I am not a lawyer and I do not intend this article to provide legal advice. Please contact an education or disability lawyer if you need further interpretation. I have included references to read the law for yourself as well as the interpretations that I found helpful in writing this article.


Least Restrictive Learning

Public schools may not charge families for any special education services required and must provide what the student needs for equitable education. This is established in the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) which calls for free and appropriate education.

Here is the wording of the act:

(9) Free appropriate public education

The term “free appropriate public education” means special education and related services that—

(A) have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge;

(B) meet the standards of the State educational agency;

(C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education in the State involved; and

(D) are provided in conformity with the individualized education program required under section 1414(d) of this title.

Title 20 chapter 23 Sec 1401 (9)Opens in a new tab.

If you have been told by a public school that you must pay for services, I highly recommend consulting a disability lawyer who can assist with negotiating the proper services at school.

Importance Of Assistive Technology For Disabled Students

It is vital that disabled students have access to assistive technology in school and that families are not charged for these accommodations.

Every child should have access to education. If they need their information delivered in Braille due to a disability, this allows them to access their curriculum as required. Because this allows them to access their education that they would otherwise be unable to, it needs to be provided by the school.

This allows the student to have an equitable education – they are provided something other students are not, but only to a point where they may have the same curriculum and education as other students.

Without these services, the student cannot participate or learn.

Process For Getting Assistive Technology At School For Your Child

The process to have Assistive Technology Devices added to the IEP will be different for each student.

In general, this is the process:

  1. Request IEP testing.
  2. Wait for the testing to be done (the longest part of the process).
  3. Meet with the IEP team to see if the student met the qualifications to receive an IEP.
  4. Request Assistive Technology Device when the team makes the IEP.
  5. OR If IEP is already in place, call for a meeting in order to request Assistive Technology Device.
  6. Discuss with the team the reasons why you consider the Assistive Technology Device necessary.
  7. If there are reasons why not the school staff on the team will bring those forward. The team will discuss whether it is appropriate for the student to have the Assistive Technology Device on the IEP.
  8. If everyone agrees, add the specifics for the Assistive Technology Device onto the IEP and when it should be utilized.
  9. Other parts of the IEP may need to be adjusted to accommodate for the change. Look over the entire IEP to find these instances.
  10. Follow up to ensure the Assistive Technology Device has been acquired and is being utilized as described.

The most difficult part of the process may be step 7. Always go into an IEP meeting prepared to discuss the negatives of anything you are requesting and for the school to attempt to dissuade you. Before the meeting get the testing and read it over if you can; then think of all the reasons why the school may not want to provide the request.

Be prepared to discuss all the points against it and have alternative options offered. If the options are not sufficient you will need to advocate for your child to receive these services. The entire team needs to agree together on a course of action, if you do not agree with that course of action you do not need to sign the paperwork.

If you do not agree with the assessments that are done, there is a process to file a dispute and get further assessments done at the expense of the school.

Assistive Technology In School

What you need to remember about Assistive Technology is that the definition is broad and it could apply to many things as long as it helps the student get an equitable education.

Most students using Assistive Technology Devices are in a self-contained classroom or one where the students do not participate in mainstream classrooms. According to the study by NATRI (National Assistive Technology Research Institute), 40.7% of students were in self-contained classrooms and the most common disability these students had was listed as “Multiple Disabilities” which accounted for 27.71% of the sample.

When you advocate for your student to receive a device, keep in mind that it is rarely any of the members of the IEP team that doesn’t want to help. It is the lack of funds and instructions they are given to limit services for funding reasons as much as possible.

If you think that an Assistive Technology Device would help your student, work through the process above to have the school supply it to them and support their use of it.

Assistive Technology Devices provide equitable access to education and meet the requirements of FAPE. Students that would be helped by it should be getting it to give them the most chance of success.

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