| School Funding
of Assistive Technology
In the U.S., the major law in this area is the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), first passed
in 1975. This federal law authorizes special education to all students
with disabilities ages 5 through 18, and to students with disabilities,
ages 19-21, if enrolled in a special education program prior to
the 19th birthday and if not yet graduated from a prescribed course
IDEA entitles students with disabilities to an
education which meets their individual needs in the least restrictive
environment and at no cost to the student or parents. (Need and
the concept of "least restrictive" must be determined
on a case-by-case basis.) Special education can include more than
academics: it also may include independent living skills and vocational
Children aged 3 to 5 years are eligible for early
childhood education programs under the same criteria as school-age
children if they are diagnosed with an "established medical
disability" (a condition or congenital syndrome whose existence
indicates the child is very likely to need special education services).
Infants and toddlers younger than 3 years of age
who have developmental delays, or are at-risk for such delays, or
who have low-incidence visual, hearing or orthopedic disabilities,
are eligible for early intervention programs.
IDEA also authorizes "related services,"
which are support services a student needs to benefit from his or
her special program. In 1990, the U.S. Dept. of Education interpreted
"related services" to include assistive technology services.
In 1990, amendments to IDEA incorporated the definition
of assistive technology used in the 1988 U.S. Tech Act. The definition
"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 children
IDEA also states:
"The term assistive technology service means any service that
directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition,
or use of an assistive technology device. The term includes: the
evaluation of the needs of a child with a disability, including
a functional evaluation of the child in the child's customary environment;
purchasing, leasing or otherwise providing for the acquisition of
assistive technology devices by children with disabilities; selecting,
designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining,
repairing, or replacing, assistive technology devices; coordinating
and using other therapies, interventions or services with assistive
technology devices, such as those associated with existing education
and rehabilitation plans and programs; training or technical assistance
for professionals (including individuals providing education or
rehabilitation services), employers or other individuals who provide
services to, employ, or otherwise are substantially involved in
the major life functions of individuals with disabilities."
All this means a school must make available assistive
technology devices and services if these are needed to help the
student meet IEP (individualized education plan) goals and objectives.
When an IEP is written, the need for an assistive device must be
justified by a specific goal or goals and objectives. It is also
important to remember that assistive technology services are considered
"related services", which also should be spelled out in
Obviously, the rules for writing the IEP, about
the right to an evaluation of student need, and the right of appeal
all have an impact on assistive technology. The U.S. Dept. of Education
also has policies about the role of assistive technology in the
IEP process. Parents should be familiar with these rules.
The parents or guardians of a student with a disability
play an important and influential role in the IEP process, so it
is very important to understand how the process, including the appeal
process, works. Parents are entitled to involve an advisor of their
choice, and many families do involve the services of an advocate.
Another important point: assistive technology
purchased by the school district belongs to the school district.
The district is responsible for maintenance and repairs and for
insuring the device. If a student moves or is graduated, the equipment
stays in the school district. However, a student does have the right
to take a device home, if the equipment is needed there or in the
community so that a student may benefit fully from its use.
Assistive Technology Act Programs
ATAP was established in 1997 to provide support to state AT Program
members to enhance the effectiveness of AT Programs on the state
and local level, and promote the national network of AT Programs.
ATAP facilitates the coordination of state AT Programs nationally
and provides technical assistance and support to its members. ATAP
represents the needs and interests of the state AT Programs and
is the national voice of the AT Programs.