Assistive Technology in the Classroom

This was originally written by Ron Steen, who is a Special Education Advocate in suburban Philadelphia. Questions about Assistive Technology are some of the most common ones that we receive as advocates. How do I get an AT device? How do I know which AAC or Assistive Technology device to choose? Who pays for assistive technology?

Here’s a funny story, funny to nerds like me anyway. Assistive is not a word. Seriously, every time I type it out, I get the red line. Not in the dictionary. However, when IDEA was revised, it was put in there as Assistive Technology. So there you go. IDEA actually created a new word.

assistive technology classroom

What is 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.

The Assistive Technology Act of 2004

The Improving Access to Assistive Technology for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004, signed into law by President Bush on October 25, 2004, ensures the continued existence of a major source of funding for assistive technology. This is a reauthorization of the Assistive Technology Act that has been on the books since 1998, but its purpose and the related services have not always been apparent or well publicized to the intended recipients.

The goal of the act is to provide assistive technology to persons with disabilities, so they can more fully participate in education, employment, and daily activities on a level playing field with other members of their communities. Under the law, each U.S. state and territory receives a grant to fund an Assistive Technology Act Project (ATAP). These projects provide services to persons with disabilities for their entire life span, as well as to their families or guardians, service providers, and agencies and other entities that are involved in providing services such as education and employment to persons with disabilities.

President Barrack Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 on July 22, 2014. In doing so, he reauthorized certain assistive technology programs first established under the Technology-Related Assistance Act (Tech Act) of 1988 (Public Law 100-407) signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. That Tech Act was a forerunner to the Assistive Technology (AT) Act of 2004, referenced above.

Assistive Technology for Autism

A common myth about AT is that it is only for autism. It’s for any child or person with a disability. However, your IEP team may only picture the autistic child with the talking device. So you’ll need to nudge them past those mental roadblocks.

What assistive technology is at its heart, is another tool to enable a disabled child to access the world in a more equal way than they would otherwise. It is one of the Special Factors to consider in the IEP process.

In other words, the team must at least consider the question: Does this child need AAC/AT?

Types of Assistive Technology

I would like to concentrate on handheld devices as that is where the changes are happening with exponential speed. There are many ways that today’s handheld devices can help a child with a disability. The list grows every day.

Low Tech Assistive Technology.

A device can be a pencil grip which is very low tech. A very high tech example would be a communication system such as the one Stephen Hawking used.

And everything in between.

Examples of Assistive Technology

  • text to speech software
  • speech to text software
  • canes, walkers
  • zipper pulls, therapeutic handles on things like utensils
  • AAC devices
  • note taking
  • scheduling
  • typing instead of writing
  • automatic page-turners
  • book holders
  • adapted pencil grips

How to get AT/AAC in your IEP.

Like anything else, you have to demonstrate need. And that starts with IEP evaluations. Submit a letter of request asking that your child receive an Assistive Technology evaluation.

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

It is full of questionnaires and forms which will help you decide if a child is in need of assistive technology. It will also provide you with the data you will need to present the need to your school district. The WATI is the gold standard as far as AT assessments or evaluations.

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.

You can read about more types of Assistive Technology on the PBS website.

Who pays for assistive technology?

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.

Do I have to give up Speech Therapy if we use an AT device?

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.

Where do I start?

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 the 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.

Thanks so much Ron!

Similar Posts