Assistive Technology And The IDEA
New Revisions Mean a Greater Role for Technology in IEPs
Although school districts have been required to provide assistive technology devices and services since 1990, in many cases assistive technology was treated as a "special area that was separate from the general delivery of services." In some cases assistive technology was only thought about for children with very severe disabilities or only for those with physical and speech disabilities. The 1997 revision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 97) included many new requirements for school districts.
One of those new requirements is the group of "special factors" which each IEP (Individual Education Plan) team must consider. Assistive technology is one of those special factors. The requirement states simply, "in developing each child's IEP, the IEP team shall consider whether the child requires assistive technology devices and services." Now each IEP team in every school district is specifically required to focus on the need for assistive technology. So what should be different in your IEP meeting now that your IEP team is required to consider your child's need for assistive technology? You can request that the IEP team consider assistive technology for your child.
What to Expect on Assistive Technology Consideration in the IEP Meeting Generally, the discussion about assistive technology should come after you have agreed upon the goals that your child will be expected to attain in the next 12 months. It is not possible to make a decision about assistive technology until you can talk about the specific tasks that you child will be trying to accomplish. According to IDEA 97, an assistive technology device is defined as "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." The functional capabilities of the child in any situation are directly related to the tasks that he or she is trying to accomplish. There is different assistive technology to be considered for your child in meeting a goal in arithmetic than in meeting a goal in writing.
"Considering" assistive technology should involve some discussion and examination of potential assistive technology. It should not be someone saying without discussion, "No, he doesn't need 'assistive technology.'" Consideration is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as "to think carefully about, to form an opinion about, or to look at thoughtfully." Congress did not choose that word by accident, but clearly intended that there would be some thought about whether assistive technology may be needed. Even though assistive technology may not have been discussed for your child in the past, it should be discussed from now on at each IEP meeting.
A brief discussion of which assistive technology might be useful and whether it is needed should be included in the consideration. In order to do that, someone on the IEP team will need to be sufficiently knowledgeable about assistive technology. This person may bring along specific resource information about assistive technology to help the team members focus on what assistive technology exists for the tasks that are challenging to your child. That information might be books, catalogs, printouts from a Web site, or actual hardware or software for you to see.
The discussion should be brief, lasting at least a minute or two, but no more than 15 to 20 minutes. Congress intended that we could do this within the confines of an IEP meeting, so it should not add appreciably to the length of that meeting. If understanding and agreement cannot be reached in 20 minutes, then it is possible that there are questions that need to be addressed in another forum such as an assistive technology evaluation.
After discussing the use of assistive technology itself, you should then talk about assistive technology services. School districts are required to provide both the devices and the services. Specific assistive technology services may include:
*An evaluation of your child's need for assistive technology; training of your child, members of your family, or staff on how to use the assistive technology;
*Technical assistance about its operation or use;
*Modification or customization of the assistive technology; and
*Other supports for the school personnel that might be necessary for the assistive technology to be appropriately used.
The requirement for every IEP team to consider the need for assistive technology is a step forward.
What those other supports might be is not specified in the law. It could include anything that is needed, for example, putting new vocabulary in an augmentative communication device, or scanning new materials into a software program that reads the text, or the planning of how and when these things will happen and who is responsible.
You should expect that someone on the IEP team will know how to access assistive technology services within your school district. In a small district it may be that the direct service providers who work with your child, (i.e. the teachers, therapist, and aides) will need to provide all of the services themselves. In a larger district, there may be individuals whose entire job is assistive technology and they need to be contacted through appropriate channels so they can help your child's service providers.
Indicators of Appropriate Assistive Technology Consideration In 1988, a multi-disciplinary group of assistive technology service providers came up with descriptions of the characteristics of appropriate AT services in schools. Called "Quality Indicators," these descriptions can be found on the Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology Web site: http://sac.uky.edu/~jszaba0/QIAT.html. As part of this work, the group developed specific quality indicators of appropriate assistive technology consideration. They are:
-The IEP Team has the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions about assistive technology.
-A continuum (continuous range of choices) of AT devices and services is explored (considered).
-The IEP Team uses a decision making process when deciding. -Decisions are made based on IEP (or IFSP) goals and objectives.
-Team decisions are made in compliance with federal and state statutes.
-Determination of the need is based on data about the student, his or her environment, and tasks.
-Decisions and supporting data are documented.
Using Quality Indicators in Your IEP Meetings Quality Indicators are somewhat general. However, they provide guidance for the IEP team as they reflect on their own processes and what they might do to improve those processes. They give you some idea of what your IEP team might need to do to appropriately consider your child's need for assistive technology. One of the most common results of consideration is the decision to try some things to see if they work. This trial period or extended assessment, is one of the key factors in successful and effective decision making about assistive technology. No IEP team should ever write down the name of any assistive technology as the specific item a school district will provide, unless that assistive technology has been tried first to determine that it performs as intended and has the desired effect for the child.
Using a Form to Guide Consideration of Assistive Technology Some school districts and state education agencies have developed specific forms to assist the IEP team as they consider each child's need for assistive technology. One example, the "AT Consideration Guide" can be downloaded from the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative's Web site: http://www.wati.org. This form was developed as a tool that IEP teams could use to guide them through the consideration process. It asks the team to answer these questions:
*What task(s) is it that we want this student to do, that s/he is unable to do at a level that reflects his/her skills and abilities?
*Is the student currently able to complete tasks with special strategies or accommodations?
If yes, describe them for each task.
* Is assistive technology currently being used? If yes, describe it.
*Would the use of assistive technology help the student perform this task more easily or efficiently, in the least restrictive environment, or perform successfully with less personal assistance? If yes, list that assistive technology. *Are there assistive technology services that this student needs? If yes, describe.
First Steps The requirement for every IEP team to consider the need for assistive technology is a step forward. In many cases this is a giant step forward, because it has caused school districts to "break out of the box" and begin to think about assistive technology for may children who had previously been overlooked in the provision of assistive technology. It is an opportunity for parents to encourage a thoughtful discussion of the potential use of assistive technology for their child. From these first steps, the road to success may be much more accessible.
Gayl Bowser is the Coordinator of the Oregon Technology Access Program and Penny Reed is the Coordinator for the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative. They are the authors of Assistive Technology Pointers for Parents: A Guide to Working with Schools (in press), Winchester, OR: Coalition for Assistive technology in Oregon (for more information, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org This article appeared in the IPAT Iinfotech Newsletter, Iowa Program for Assistive Technology with the statement, "This article appeared in the Exceptional Parent Magazine, Sept. 1999, Penny Reed and Gayl Bowser, pg. 54-58. Reprinted with the expressed consent and approval of Exceptional Parent, a monthly magazine for parents and families of children with disabilities and special health care needs. Subscription cost is $36 per year for 12 issues, Call 1-877-372-7368. Offices at 555 Kinderkamack Rd. Oradell, NJ 07649. "