This month's Special EDition provides information on how assistive technology (AT) may be helpful when planning your child's education.
What is assistive technology (AT)?
The Family Center on Technology and Disability (FCTD) defines assistive technology as "any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functioning of individuals with disabilities." Within the context of your child's education, AT can be used to assist your child in a variety of tasks, including writing, speaking, sitting, reading, and participating in classroom activities. AT devices range from low-tech objects like pencil grips, Velcro and magnifying glasses to high-tech screen readers, online textbooks, and vocal communication devices.
New and innovative technologies are becoming available almost all the time—from Chrome books, to electronic planners and Google classroom (technologies that are increasingly available for all students) to highly specialized voice to text or text to speech devices, communication tools, and organizational software specialized to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities.
It is important to understand the difference between AT DEVICES and AT SERVICES. A DEVICE 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 functional capabilities of a child with a disability. (20 U.S.C. 1401(1)), while an ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY SERVICE is any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. (20 U.S.C. 1401(2))
Students with disabilities often need both devices and services to access and achieve their educational goals.
Including AT in an IEP
As part of the IEP process, a school district is required to assess all areas of suspected disability. A comprehensive assessment should include consideration of how assistive technology might be used to support your child's education. Think about your child's daily activities and his/her strengths and challenges in school. From here, imagine which activities your child could perform more easily with the aid of an assistive device. Throughout the process, it is important to factor in your child's preferences, keeping in mind things like style and size. The team should work to find AT devices that your child is comfortable using day-to-day.
When a student needs assistive technology, one approach is for staff to try commonly used devices and programs to see if they meet the need. But sometimes a student requires more specialized support. In those cases, parents can ask the district to do an Assistive Technology Assessment. This can happen during the initial evaluation or later when the student's academic needs change over time.
This kind of assessment is usually done by a person specially trained in this area—they are often called an "Assistive Technologist." You can always ask questions about the qualifications of anyone conducting an assessment, so that you feel confident they have enough knowledge and experience to properly evaluate your child. Ask for this in writing, and expect a response in writing within the required legal timeframes in your state. Contact your local Parent Center if you need help. A sample letter requesting an Accessible Technology AT Assessment is available on the Sample Letters & Forms page on our website.
The IEP document has an area indicating whether a student requires Assistive Technology for their education. Sometimes, this box is automatically checked "NO" (indicating that the student does not need AT support) as a default. Be sure to look for this. In California, this section is typically found at the top of the page called "SPECIAL FACTORS."
This section generally asks:
"Does the student require assistive technology devices and/or services?" No box should be checked ahead of time, unless the IEP team has previously determined the answer. Notice that the question asks whether the student needs EITHER devices AND/OR services. This is important. Many students need a device like a computer or software program, along with support and teaching to learn how to use that device. In these instances, consultation with teachers and other staff is often needed to ensure everyone supporting the student also knows how to use the equipment. These are necessary questions for the entire IEP team to consider, and you are part of that team!
Providing your child with an AT device is only the first step. If the IEP includes a device that is new to your child, make sure you build in a trial period following the IEP meeting. During this time, you and the team should collect data about how often your child uses the device, when it is used, and whether the device is supporting your child in achieving his/her educational goals. Talk with the IEP team about what additional support and training is needed to ensure your child gets the most out of the new equipment. For more high-tech devices, consider including a plan for training your child, teachers, school staff, family members, and even your child's classmates on how to use the technology. IEP goals should also reflect the use of AT devices. For example, a goal might be that your child will use a computer to complete all written assignments and will be able to type 50 words a minute by the end of the school year.
- Alliance for Technology Access website, where you can search for organizations and AT services by location and type.
- Center for Accessible Technology
- Center for Implementing Technology in Education (CITEd)
- Assistive Technology Assessment: More Than the Device, LDOnline
- iTech: Assistive Technology Services at Parents Helping Parents