Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Assistive Technology and the IDEA

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Assistive Technology and the IDEA

Article excerpt


Although school districts have been required to provide assistive technology devices and services since 1990, in many cases assistive technology was treated as a "special area that was separate from the general delivery of services." In some cases assistive technology was only thought about for children with very severe disabilities or only for those with physical and speech disabilities. The 1997 revision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA `97) included many new requirements for school districts.

One of those new requirements is the group of "special factors" which each IEP (Individual Education Plan) team must consider. Assistive technology is one of those special factors. The requirement states simply, "In developing each child's IEP, the IEP team shall consider whether the child requires assistive technology devices and services." Now each IEP team in every school district is specifically required to focus on the need for assistive technology. So what should be different in your IEP meeting now that your IEP team is required to consider your child's need for assistive technology? You can request that the IEP Team consider assistance technology for your child.


Generally the discussions about assistive technology should come after you have agreed upon the goals that your child will be expected to attain in the next 12 months. It is not possible to make a decision about assistive technology until you can talk about the specific tasks that your child will be trying to accomplish. According to IDEA `97, an assistive technology device is defined 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." The functional capabilities of the child in any situation are directly related to the tasks that he or she is trying to accomplish. There is different assistive technology to be considered for your child in meeting a goal in arithmetic than in meeting a goal in writing.

"Considering" assistive technology should involve some discussion and examination of potential assistive technology. It should not be someone saying, without discussion, "No, he doesn't need "assistive technology." Consideration is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as "to think carefully about, to form an opinion about, or to look at thoughtfully." Congress did not choose that word by accident, but clearly intended that there would be some thought about whether assistive technology may be needed. Even though assistive technology may not have been discussed for your child in the past, it should be discussed from now on at each IEP meeting.

A brief discussion of which assistive technology might be useful and whether it is needed should be included in the consideration. In order to do that, someone on the IEP team will need to be sufficiently knowledgeable about assistive technology. This person may bring along specific resource information about assistive technology to help the team members focus on what assistive technology exists for the tasks that are challenging to your child. That information might be books, catalogs, printouts from a Web site, or actual hardware or software for you to see.

This discussion should be brief, lasting at least a minute or two, but no more than 15 to 20 minutes. Congress intended that we could do this within the confines of an IEP meeting, so it should not add appreciably to the length of that meeting. If understanding and agreement cannot be reached in 20 minutes, then it is possible that there are questions that need to be addressed in another forum such as an assistive technology evaluation.

After discussing the use of assistive technology itself, you should then talk about assistive technology services. …

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