What is Assistive Technology?
Assistive technology is defined as both a "device" and a "service." As outlined in IDEA 97 (see Appendix B Assistive Technology Concepts as Defined in IDEA 97):
Assistive Technology Device - 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."
Assistive Technology Service - The term "assistive technology service means any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. This term includes:
- the evaluation of the needs of such child, including a functional evaluation of the child in the child's customary environment;
- purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices by such child;
- selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing of assistive technology devices;
- coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices, such as those associated with existing education and rehabilitation plans and programs;
- training or technical assistance for such child, or, where appropriate, the family of such child; and
- training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing education and rehabilitation services), employers, or other individuals who provide services to, employ, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of such child." (34 C.F.R. §300.6)
As described above, a device refers to a specific type of "product" that is used to enhance the functional capabilities of students with disabilities, while service refers to the services necessary to assess needs and support use of the device (see Appendix A: Assistive Technology Glossary for a list of commonly used AT terms). Assistive technology devices range in spectrum from very "low tech" (e.g. a pencil with a grip) through a range including simple switches and simple control units to far more sophisticated technologies (e.g. voice activated computer and environmental control). Although such terms as "adaptive technology" or "access technology" appear extensively in the special education literature, the definition in the federal law is intended to cover the broad range of devices and services that can be used by students with disabilities. With an emphasis on enhancing functional capabilities of students as a key part of the definition, the requirements are clearly intended to provide students with increased access to general education programs, and with that, promote their participation in student assessment programs and standards-based reforms.
Although considered by some as a "new" requirement, references to the use of technology to support the needs of persons with disabilities extends back to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (i.e., "Section 504"). With the increasing sophistication of various mechanical and digital technologies since that time, along with a national advocacy movement on behalf of persons with disabilities, the federal government responded with PL 100-407, the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act (i.e., The Tech Act) and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). IDEA 97 currently represents the latest iteration in this evolutionary process (see Appendix B: Assistive Technology Concepts and Definitions as Defined in IDEA 97 for a more detailed information about concepts and definitions specific to the area of assistive technology.)
Why is Assistive Technology Important?
Even though the 1991 authorization of IDEA included a definition of "assistive technology" along with provisions regarding its application and the consideration of student needs, the IDEA 97 now requires student planning teams (e.g., IEP, IFSP, ITP) to consider whether assistive technology devices or services are needed for all students with disabilities and also stipulates that school districts are required to provide for such devices or services to ensure a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). Given this requirement, it is imperative that special educators develop skills and knowledge in this area.
In addition to the federal requirements, Minnesota Statute (see Appendix C: Minnesota Statutes) also requires that special educators address assistive technology needs in the planning process, including important information about school district obligations, purchasing guidelines, interagency agreements and the role of third-party payors. This information is essential for special educators who are actively engaged in evaluating, providing and supporting AT and who may be responsible for informing administrators and general education staff about their roles and obligations.
Frequently Asked Questions About Assistive Technology
The following address the most frequently asked questions about assistive technology. Additional information about critical issues involving AT devices and services can also be seen in the policy letters disseminated by the U.S Department of Education which are summarized in Appendix D. These policy letters provide important information about various issues and concerns brought before the department. A number of the questions included in this section were generated from information contained in these letters.
- Who must be considered for AT?
IDEA 97 (34 C.F.R. §300.346) mandates that all students with an IEP must be considered for assistive technology (AT). To provide a free, appropriate, public education, the IEP team must consider if AT is needed for the student to meet goals and objectives.
- Are there particular groups of students with disabilities who should be considered for AT?
The federal requirements are clear - AT consideration must occur for all students who have an IEP. It is not based on any preconceived ideas about disabilities. It is also possible that a student with a disability may need several types of AT to meet their educational needs, based on their IEP goals and objectives.
- What is meant by "consideration" when discussing AT?
"Consideration" is a process and it should not be confused with an "evaluation." Simply put, consideration is a relatively short process in which IEP team members use information analysis and critical decision making to determine student needs for AT. Although IDEA 97 does not have specific language regarding "consideration," the Minnesota Department of Children, Families & Learning (CFL) has adopted this term to conform with the SETT framework (see Appendix E: SETT Framework). This provides a research-based framework from which planning teams collect information about the:
- student's strengths, abilities and skills,
- environments in which the student functions,
- general education curriculum needs (tasks) to meet IEP goals, and
- information about possible assistive technology services and devices to achieve these goals (tools).
- Who provides consideration for AT?
The IEP team provides consideration for students with disabilities. In the event a team concludes they do not have enough information, they are still required to seek assistance to ensure that informed consideration had occurred.
- What are the conclusions an IEP team could make in regard to AT?
Penny Reed of the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (www.WATI.org) has stated that there are four possible decisions an IEP team can make. These are restated here:
- AT is not needed. The student is making adequate progress through task modification, skill remediation or other interventions. Nothing new is needed for this student.
- AT is needed, and is successfully being used. In this case, it is appropriate to state in the IEP that particular AT services and devices have been found to be effective to assure that they are available to the student.
- AT may be needed, but the IEP team is unsure what service or device would meet the student's needs. The team may decide that new AT should be tried and additional data be collected to determine what an appropriate service or product might be.
- The team is unsure what AT is, and so must find resources in order to make an informed decision regarding consideration. These resources can be from within the school district or, if there are no resources available, from an outside agency or resource.
- Must every student with a disability be evaluated for assistive technology?
No - but it must be considered for every student with a disability, hence the need to provide AT consideration. If the IEP team determines that there is a need for an assistive technology evaluation, that must occur as well.
- What is the school's responsibility for providing assistive technology?
"Each public agency shall ensure that assistive technology devices or assistive technology services, or both, as those terms are defined in §§300.5-300.6, are made available to a child with a disability if required as a part of the child's -
- Special education under 300.26;
- Related services under §300.24; or
- Supplementary aids and services under §§300.28 and 300.550(b)(2)." (34C.F.R.§300.308(a))
- Are schools required to pay for assistive technology services and products?
Not necessarily. Schools have the responsibility to provide the services and products that are included in the IEP. However, the school may utilize a variety of funding mechanisms to pay for them, including accessing medical assistance for items which are medically necessary.
- What are schools' responsibilities for customization, repair, maintenance, or replacement of assistive technology devices included in the IEP?
MINNESOTA ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY MANUAL 6 Schools are responsible to provide these services in order for a student to receive FAPE (34 C.F.R. §300.308). This can include the repair, maintenance or replacement of a privately owned device that is included in the IEP. (34 C.F.R. §300.306)
- Can students take school owned assistive technology devices home on school nights, over weekends, breaks of over the summer?
"On a case-by-case basis, the use of school-purchased assistive technology devices in a child's home or in other settings is required if the child's IEP team determines that the child needs access to those devices in order to receive FAPE." (34 C.F.R. §300.308.b)
- What is the school's responsibility for maintenance or replacement of an AT device that is damaged or stolen while in the child's possession?
The assistive technology devices that are necessary to ensure FAPE must be provided at no cost to the parents, and the parents cannot be charged for normal use and wear and tear. However, while ownership of the device in these circumstances would remain with the public agency, state law rather than Part B of IDEA 97 generally would govern whether parents are liable for loss, theft or damage due to negligence or misuse of publicly owned equipment used at home or in other settings in accordance with a child's IEP. Minnesota currently does not have state law that relates to this issue.
- How is an assistive technology tool documented on the IEP if it is available to other students who do not have a disability?
If the assistive technology is necessary for a student with a disability to complete educational goals, it should be included on his IEP. Even if it is available to other students as a useful tool, if it is an essential tool for that student, it should be documented as such on the IEP.
- Why do some students refuse to use technology after it is obtained for them?
Frequently, assistive technology products are obtained for an individual and not used. This is product abandonment. There are some reasons frequently given for abandonment listed below. These are not the only reasons, nor are they relevant just for students. However, it would be wise to take them into consideration and try to find ways to help limit the incidences of abandonment among our students.
- Student was not involved in decision-making.
- It didn't do what it was supposed to do.
- It worked, but it was inconvenient or impractical to use.
- It inhibited some other important function.
- It couldn't be modified or upgraded to meet changing needs.
- It was too cumbersome or unattractive.
- Functional needs of user changed.
- Medical intervention (surgery, medications) made it unusable.
- Use of the technology increased medical or safety risk.