Assistive Technology Resources

What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology (AT) can be a device or service which will help a student gain independence in his or her school environment. AT devices can be low-tech, like a pencil grip or high tech, like a speech generating device. An AT service is a service that assists in the selection and use of a device. An AT service can range from an evaluation to training and technical assistance of the device.

IDEA 2004 and assistive technology

The Individual's with Disabilities Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) makes a legal connection between AT and public schools because it mandates that all students with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) must be considered for assistive technology devices or services.

IDEA 2004 defines two categories of assistive technology: devices and services

A device is any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability. A device can be acquired commercially (off the shelf) or can me modified and customized to fit its recipient. The term does not include a medical device that is surgically implanted, or the replacement of such device.

A service is any service that directly assists a student with a disability in the selection, acquisition or use of an assistive technology device. This includes:

  • Evaluation of the student in the student's customary environment
  • Purchasing, leasing or otherwise providing for the acquisition of AT devices
  • Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing or replacing AT devices
  • Coordinating and using other therapies, interventions or services with AT devices
  • Training and technical assistance for the student and student's family
  • Training and technical assistance for the professionals, employers and other individuals who are involved with the student

Examples of assistive technology in action

AT can have a positive impact on a student's life. It can increase independence and access to the environment and education. Some examples of AT in action includes devices to assist with:

  • Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) - adapted utensils, adapted devices for hygiene, dressing aids
  • Communication - symbol systems, communication boards, simple voice output devices, voice output with dynamic display, speech synthesizers
  • Computer access - keyguards, alternate keyboards, adapted mouse, trackball, touch window, switch with scanning, voice recognition software
  • Environmental control - remote controls, switches that can activate electronic devices such as a blender, fan, radio or lamp
  • Hearing - Hearing aids, closed captioning, flash alert on computer, FM system
  • Learning/Studying - picture schedule, electronic organizers, digital recorders, software for concept development, handheld computers
  • Math - money calculator, talking watches/clocks, talking calculator, scanning calculator, math software
  • Mobility - walkers, wheelchairs (manual and powered), bikes, mobile standers
  • Motor aspects of writing - pencil grips, adapted papers, slantboard, portable word processor, computer with word processor
  • Positioning/Seating - non-slip surfaces, floor sitters, straps, trays, custom fit wheelchair
  • Reading - changes in text size or background color, symbols with text, scan and read programs, electronic books
  • Recreation - adapted toys, adapted sporting equipment, arm supports for drawing, computer games
  • Vision - magnifiers, large print books, screen magnifier, books on CD/DVD, text reader, screen reader, Braille
  • Writing - Talking spell checker or dictionary, word prediction software, talking word processor

Considering a student for AT services?

What does it mean to be considered for an AT device?

Consideration is a short process and should not be confused with assessment. During the consideration phase, the IEP team members collect and discuss information regarding a student's strengths, abilities and skills. This is tied in with discussion regarding the student's environment, general education, curriculum needs for meeting the IEP goals and possible AT services and devices to achieve these goals.

Who is involved in considering a student for AT?

When considering the AT needs of a student, the team process is crucial. Each member of the IEP team brings his or her skills and knowledge to the group. Combining these skills and this knowledge creates a collaborative effort that benefits the student by choosing the best AT device or service for his or her needs.

Members of the IEP team may include:

  • The Student: The most important person in the group, the student will be the person using the device or service. It is critical that the student is motivated to use the AT device or service and this can best be accomplished if the student is involved in the planning process for the AT device or service.
  • Parents: Provide invaluable knowledge of the student's every day life. Parents can also provide insight regarding accomplishing tasks in various environments. Like the student, it is critical that parents are involved in the planning process for an AT device or service.
  • Special Education and Regular Education Teacher: Has knowledge of a student's abilities and can facilitate active participation of the AT device or service within the everyday curriculum of the classroom.
  • Paraprofessional: Provides knowledge of the student's activities and abilities in the school setting.
  • Physical Health Disabilities Teacher: Can make recommendations regarding modifications and adaptations as they relate to physical access to curriculum.
  • Teacher for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing: Can make important recommendations regarding modification and adaptations as they relate to the student's auditory needs.
  • Teacher for the Visually Impaired: Can make important recommendations regarding modifications and adaptations as they relate to the student's visual needs and modalities.
  • Speech Language Pathologist: Provides knowledge regarding ways to improve a student's speech, language and communication throughout the day.
  • Psychologist: Provides information regarding cognitive levels of functioning and suggestions regarding learning style and intellectual ability.
  • Occupational Therapist: Provides information regarding fine motor, visual and perceptual motor skills. The occupational therapist can also give recommendations regarding seating and mobility.
  • Physical Therapist: Recommends and implements a variety of techniques, devices and strategies for positioning and mobility of the student.
  • Building Administrator: May allocate staff time, support and other responsibilities for acquisition and implementation of AT devices.
  • Special Education Administrator: Is responsible for ensuring procedural compliance with the IEP development process.

What happens next?

Once the IEP team has completed the consideration phase and has come to the conclusion that AT may benefit a student, a formal assessment must be completed.

Assessment, implementation and the importance of the Individual Educational Plan (IEP)

How does the IEP team complete an assistive technology assessment?

First the team does a thorough review of the Student, the Environment, the Tasks and the Tools (SETT).

  • Student: What are the student's current abilities? What are the needs of the student?
  • Environment: Where is help needed (classes, situations, etc.)? What is the physical arrangement of room? What supports does the student currently have?
  • Tasks: What are the tasks the student needs to complete to meet IEP goals? How might the tasks be modified to accommodate the student's need?
  • Tools: What AT tools or services will help meet the task requirements? Would low-tech, mid-tech or high tech work best for the student? What strategies might be used to increase student performance?

Should assistive technology be described in a student's Individual Education Plan?

Yes! In order to assure that a device is utilized to its fullest potential, and that all members of the IEP team are in agreement about the hows, whens and wheres of using the device, it is critical that the device is described in detail in the student's IEP.

How is assistive technology written into the Individual Education Plan?

Assistive technology can be documented anywhere within the IEP, however there are three places where AT most often appears: in the annual goals and short-term objectives; in the list of supplementary aids and services necessary to maintain the student in the least-restrictive environment; and in the statement of related services necessary for the student to benefit from his or her special education program. Some IEP programs also have a special section for AT.

Okay, so we've completed an AT assessment and included the IEP team's recommendations in the IEP. Who makes sure the AT device really gets used?

The IEP team is responsible for making sure that the student, school staff, family members and other interested parties are knowledgeable about how an AT device works. For instance, if a student has a communication device, it is important that the school staff as well as family members at home know how to operate the device with the student. This may require ongoing training or instruction.

Payment for assistive technology

Payment for assistive technology

According to policies of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) schools must provide AT services and products necessary for a student to receive a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). These services and products should be described in the student's IEP in one of four ways: as special education, a related service, a supplementary aid or a service accommodation to testing.

Are school required to pay for assistive technology services and products?

Not necessarily. Schools are responsible for providing the services and products described in a student's IEP. However, a school may utilize a variety of funding mechanisms to pay for them. Special education personnel are encouraged to learn about Minnesota's STAR Program (System of Technology to Achieve Results) and its range of information regarding funding options for AT (http://www.starprogram.state.mn.us/).

While schools are allowed to utilize alternative funding sources for AT, these alternative sources cannot be used if they will cause a reduction in medical or other assistance received by the student. Schools may request, but cannot require, parents to pay for a student's AT service or device. Under current Minnesota law school districts can use Medical Assistance funds to pay for AT devices with parent permission. If MA is billed for a device, it belongs to the child. MA billing for school services/devices does not impact the student's medical MA benefits. Documentation is required in the Evaluation Report and IEP for MA reimbursable items.

Whether funding for a student's AT is acquired through the school itself or some outside community funding agency, the bottom line is: the school is responsible for providing for the AT needs of the student.

What about customization, repair, maintenance and replacement of the assistive technology devices that are included in the IEP?

Schools are responsible for all these services as long as it is specified in the IEP that they are needed for the student to receive a free and appropriate public education. This includes the repair, maintenance and replacement of a privately owned device that is included in the IEP. School districts can bill Medical Assistance for these repair/maintenance costs for eligible students, with parent permission.

Assistive Technology versus Universal Design for Learning

AT and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) are related concepts but have different approaches to access. Both increase access and involve technology, but AT solves accessibility problems as they arise, whereas UDL looks at accessibility options for all as the curriculum is developed.

AT uses tools or services to make inaccessible learning tasks accessible. It is used after the curriculum is in place and an individual student encounters accessibility problems. For example, a student who has illegible handwriting might use a portable word processor to complete assignments.

UDL solves accessibility problems before a student even encounters them. As the curriculum is developed, alternatives such as digitized text and interactive software are built in so changes are not needed later to accommodate student needs. So with UDL, scanning in books for a student with a learning disability to hear it read back isn't necessary when the entire curriculum is available in a digital format.

Do I need AT with UDL?

Even with UDL curriculum, the need for AT can remain. For example, a student using a speech generating device for communication would still need this device with UDL. UDL just reduces add-ons or "fixes" to inaccessible curriculum.

Examples of UDL techniques in the classroom to help all students learn:

  • Present information in a variety of ways, such as group work, hands-on activities, storytelling and multimedia presentations
  • Classrooms and equipment should by physically accessible to all students
  • Content should accommodate a wide variety of language skills
  • Multimedia should be captioned and audio-described
  • Computer software and websites should be accessible to all students, including those that use AT
  • Flexible digital curricula should include such things as student questions, chapter outlines, vocabulary lists and background information

UDL offers access options for all, not just individual students. By providing flexibility in the curriculum, students are able to learn and show their knowledge in a variety of formats that show their unique learning styles.

For More Information

If you have questions regarding any aspect of the assistive technology process, please call your child's case manager or the Northern Lights Special Education Cooperative at (218) 879-1283.

This information was developed by the Northern Lights Special Education Cooperative in April of 2010. For more AT resources, visit our website: http://www.nlsec.org  and click on Resources. Our address: 302 14th Street; Cloquet, MN 55720

Materials contributing to development include:

Minnesota Department of Education (2003), Minnesota Assistive Technology Manual, 2003 Edition, Roseville, MN

PACER Center, Inc. (2006), A Parents' Guide to Universal Design for Learning (UDL), Minneapolis, MN

Regulations: Part 300 / Subpart A - General (n.d.). U.S. Department of Education, Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004. Retrieved 2/2/2009, from http://idea.ed.gov/

Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (2004), The WATI Assessment Package

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