Welcome to a new series here on the blog-The ABCs of IEPs. Each day we will be picking a new topic in special education to go with the letter of the alphabet, and explaining it further to help you better advocate at IEP time. Even better is that I have some really great guest contributors lined up to do some guest posting on these topics. We are starting with A is for Assistive Technology.
U.S.C. 2011§1401(1)(A) 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. (B) The term does not include a medical device that is surgically implanted, or the replacement of such device.
That being said, what assistive technology is at it’s heart, is another tool to enable a disabled child to access the world in a more equal way than they would otherwise. I would like to concentrate on hand held devices as that is where the changes are happening with exponential speed. There are a many ways that today’s hand held devices can help a child with a disability, to mention a few; text to speech, speech to text, AAC devices, note taking, scheduling, typing instead of writing. The list grows everyday.
How do you know whether an Assistive Technology device will be appropriate for a child? Which device? Which app? The best most comprehensive way that I have found to determine the answers to these questions is the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative’s “WATI-Assessing Students’ Needs for Assistive Technology” Do not be intimidated by the size of this document (337 pages), It is full of questionnaires and forms which will help you not only decide if a child is in need of assistive technology, but will in doing so provide you with the data you will need to present the need to your school district. The first section is a series of questionnaires that will help you determine what type of assistive technology would be appropriate. Once you that know you need i.e. (AAC) you can skip to that section. Lending libraries that lend Assistive technology devices can also be a great help in choosing the correct device.
Will a school district pay for assistive technology? The short answer is if it is necessary for FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) the school district will pay for the Assistive Technology device. The pragmatic answer can be much more complicated. If the school purchases equipment and the app to run on the equipment then they own both and when the student is no longer in the school district, the student will no longer have access to either the equipment or the app. Also, it does happen that school districts will not pay for a tablet computer because they argue that the tablet can be used for things other than a single use. This does not happen as often as it has in the past due to tablets being much more inexpensive than many single use devices. If the SD continues with this argument, devices can be set so they only perform one function.
Assistive technology need not be the end of other therapy for your child. As an example, just because your child has an AAC device does not mean articulation therapy so they can eventually learn to speak should be stopped. The assistive technology in this case allows the child to develop skills in using language before the child has learned to speak. When the child begins to speak, the child will have already developed the ability to form sentences. When to make the decision to rely wholly on the Assistive technology or when to discontinue the Assistive technology is child based and should be made by the IEP team.
If you are considering using assistive technology or even if you are not, I encourage you to look at the Wati document that I have supplied the link for earlier. I found it not only helps me describe why a child would be in need of assistive technology, but also helped me understand that child’s needs and strengths in total.
Ron Steen, BCEA
Ron Steen lives in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, is a Board Certified Educational Advocate, has served on the Advisory Board of the National Special Education Advocacy Institute, and has been a guest instructor on Assistive technology during NSEAI training.
Yes, I do know that A is also for Advocate. Here is my post on how to find or become an special education advocate.