August 6, 2020: This article was first published. July 23, 2022: Article republished with additional information.
Both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 guarantee a Free Appropriate Education (FAPE).
This includes assistive technology devices and services. Examples include:
- A laptop that 1) scans worksheets, which the student can then type on (because typing might be easier than writing), and 2) can be used to take pictures of the front board or any other notes, directions, or anything else the child might need to have.
- A computer with a screen reader, to help with literacy
- Access to Learning Ally and other sources for audiobooks
- Noise-cancelling head-phones
- Voice-recognition software
If your child needs assistive technology devices or services, under both IDEA and Section 504, your child has the right to be provided them.
From Section 504:
An appropriate education may comprise education in regular classes, education in regular classes with the use of related aids and services, or special education and related services in separate classrooms for all or portions of the school day. Special education may include specially designed instruction in classrooms, at home, or in private or public institutions, and may be accompanied by related services such as speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy, psychological counseling, and medical diagnostic services necessary to the child’s education.
An appropriate education will include:
* education services designed to meet the individual education needs of students with disabilities as adequately as the needs of nondisabled students are met . . .
If your child has assistive technology listed as required in his or her IEP, §300.105 of IDEA guarantees the services and/or device:
(a) Each public agency must ensure that assistive technology devices or assistive technology services, or both, as those terms are defined in §§300.5 and 300.6, respectively, are made available to a child with a disability if required as a part of the child’s—
(1) Special education under §300.39;
(2) Related services under §300.34; or
(3) Supplementary aids and services under §§300.42 and 300.114(a)(2)(ii).
(b) On a case-by-case basis, the use of school-purchased assistive technology devices in a child’s home or in other settings is required if the child’s IEP Team determines that the child needs access to those devices in order to receive FAPE.
§300.5 of IDEA defines Assistive Technology Device:
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 the functional capabilities of a child with a disability. The term does not include a medical device that is surgically implanted, or the replacement of such device.
§300.6 of IDEA defines Assistive Technology Service:
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—
(a) The evaluation of the needs of a child with a disability, including a functional evaluation of the child in the child’s customary environment;
(b) Purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices by children with disabilities;
(c) Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing assistive technology devices;
(d) Coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices, such as those associated with existing education and rehabilitation plans and programs;
(e) Training or technical assistance for a child with a disability or, if appropriate, that child’s family; and
(f) Training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing education or rehabilitation services), employers, or other individuals who provide services to, employ, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of that child.
§300.39 (b) of IDEA states:
(1) At no cost means that all specially-designed instruction is provided without charge, but does not preclude incidental fees that are normally charged to nondisabled students or their parents as a part of the regular education program.
If the school has a tech fee to use computers, is the school charging everyone a tech free, from kindergarten on up to high school? If not, say they are only charging the high school students. If that’s the case, they aren’t ensuring equity for either special education or general education students. They can’t charge one group of students, but not another, the exception being special education. Say special education students in first grade use computers in the school and aren’t charged. The school can’t then go and charge high school students in special education.
Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in Virginia, is an example of how one county charged a computer fee and then had to return over $30,000 to special education families. You can read more about this example in the article “FCPS Charges Students Fee to Access Education“.
Bottom line: If your child has a need for a device or service, request it. If you receive push-back, point out the law quoted above and then ask again for the device or service.
COVID brought with it greater use of technology, to include online-only school for over a year, for students in counties like FCPS.
Unfortunately, the greater use of technology wasn’t paired with additional assessments to determine if students’ needs were being addressed in full during online learning—something that didn’t change after school doors reopened for all students. The reliance on computers has grown, with fewer districts investing and/or providing print books.
Questions to consider asking your school district:
Is the screen size a problem for you student? While the font can be sized-up on a computer, does that make it more difficult to manipulate documents on a small screen? Does your student need a larger computer?
Is computer-fatigue impacting your student? Does your student need computer-based assignments shortened in length and/or time?
Is lack of training causing frustration? Does you student or your student’s teacher/s need more training?
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