Assistive Technology and Protecting Rights in Education
Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid
Many children with disabilities use assistive technology (AT) to help them learn or function at school. The need for some AT devices or services may be easy to see. For example, if a child requires a wheelchair to get around, the need is clear. If a child has a reading disability, it may not be as clear that AT is needed. Thousands of AT devices are on the market to help with learning. Some of them could help children who cannot learn to spell or do not have readable handwriting. Other devices may help impulsive children pay attention to the part of the page they are supposed to work on.
Several federal laws provide rights to students with disabilities. These laws can help students with disabilities get access to AT devices and services that they need to help them succeed in school.
Including Assistive Technology Devices and Services in a Child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP)
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that schools give children with disabilities a free appropriate public education. This includes three things:
- Specialized education to meet the child's needs;
- Related services (such as transportation, speech therapy, physical therapy or counseling, etc.); and
- Supplementary aids and services which will help the child function better in regular classrooms, which can include AT.
The possible use of AT for a child needs to be considered and written in the child's Individualized Education Program, usually called an “IEP.” This is the plan the school will use to educate the child. The IEP is reviewed at least once per year. The parents (and if appropriate, the student) are supposed to be full partners in developing the IEP.
While those at the IEP meeting may not think of asking about AT, parents should bring it up at the meeting. Parents who want to know about AT for their child may want to make a written request for an AT evaluation. The parents can do this at any time. In Iowa, schools can get help from the Area Education Agency, or AEA. Each AEA has an assistive technology team that can do an AT assessment. If the school for some reason does not follow through with an assessment, the parents could call the AEA directly. The family does not have to pay for the assessment. Parents who do not agree with the AT evaluation by the school can request an independent evaluation at school expense.
If your child needs the AT to succeed in school, either in special education or regular education, the school will probably pay for it. However, the school doesn't have to do everything possible to compensate for the student’s disability. The school does have to ensure that your child benefits from instruction. Also, the school must put your child in the “least restrictive environment” that is appropriate for your child. This means your child will be in regular education classes, and with students who do not have disabilities, as much as possible.
Assistive Technology for Students with Disabilities Who Do Not Need Special Education
Some children with disabilities do not need special education. They may still need AT to help them succeed in school. They may need other changes to school rules or policies to accommodate their disability. For example, a child with a hearing impairment may need a device that blocks out background noise and makes the teacher’s voice louder. A high school student who uses a wheelchair may need extra time to get from classroom to classroom in a large school. These students are protected by another law: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law protects people with disabilities from discrimination in federally-funded programs. Nearly all schools get federal funds, so Section 504 would apply to them. Section 504 also requires “reasonable accommodation” of a disability. If your child does not need special education, but does need some accommodations, you may want to ask for a 504 plan. A 504 plan can outline the types of accommodations your child needs in order to succeed in school. The reasonable accommodation requirement of this law may be used to get AT for your child in some cases. Both Section 504 and the IDEA have an appeal process.
Other Ways to Get Assistive Technology Devices for Children
Other means such as Medicaid or private insurance may help a family pay for the AT device a child will use in school. Schools cannot require parents to use these other resources to pay for AT that the school should provide, but parents may choose to do so. AT that the school pays for belongs to the school. So parents may prefer to use Medicaid or private insurance to pay for AT if they want to own the device. Keep in mind that Medicaid and private insurance only pay for AT that is medically necessary. So they may not pay for some types of AT that children need for school.
If you have problems with your child’s school not providing AT devices or services that your child needs, you may want to contact the Easterseals Assistive Technology Program (1-866-866-8782) or Iowa Legal Aid.
- Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans.
- To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:
- Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or
- apply online at iowalegalaid.org