01 | Assistive Technology and the Law

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“If the technology revolution only happens for families that already have money and education, then it’s not really a revolution.”

Arne Duncan
U.S. Department of Education
National Education Technology Plan 2016

Assistive Technology and the Law

The federal regulations for implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) define assistive technology (AT) devices and services1, 2. AT is technology used by individuals with disabilities in order to perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. IDEA requires Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams to consider the AT needs of students during the development, review, and revision of an IEP 3. IDEA also requires schools to provide AT if it is needed for a student to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE)4.

FAPE enables students the opportunity to access standards on their grade level. FAPE can include a variety of services such as special education, related services, supplementary aids and services, program modifications or support for school personnel5. AT, just like all other components of FAPE, must be provided at no cost to parents. Local Education Agencies (LEAs) must provide or pay for any AT necessary to ensure FAPE, either directly or through contract or other arrangements. The schools may not unnecessarily delay the provision of AT devices and services due to funding issues if a child requires the devices and services to benefit from the IEP.

The Assistive Technology Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-364) (AT Act)

The AT Act was written to include technology advances to improve the lives of all Americans with disabilities of all ages and in all environments on a statewide-basis by providing increased access to and acquisition of AT. ABLE Tech is the AT Act program for the state of Oklahoma.  ABLE Tech provides many services to Oklahomans including demonstrations and short-term loans of AT (up to 6 weeks), free gently-used durable medical equipment (DME) and AT, as well as State Financing activities to help Oklahomans finance devices, apply for free specialized alert equipment, and also receive financial education.

Additionally, ABLE Tech provides training, public awareness, and consultations to help individuals with disabilities, their family members, and other care providers receive the support needed to find the appropriate AT to assist them.  ABLE Tech also provides statewide training to agencies on  Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Accessibility, which works to ensure that individuals with disabilities, including students, have equal access to all printed and digital materials.  As a result of the effort of the state AT Act programs, millions of Americans with disabilities are able to participate in work, school, recreation activities, and be contributing members of their communities.

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II)

In addition to IDEA, there are two other federal laws that specifically address the obligation of all public schools to meet the communication needs of students with disabilities: Title II, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504). Title II requires schools to ensure that students with disabilities receive communication that is as effective as communication with others through the provision of auxiliary aids and services 6, 7.

In many cases, but not all, an IEP will meet the requirements of Title II. The Title II term “communication” includes all kinds of information exchange – reading, writing, listening and speaking. In AT terms, effective communication can require a technology support instead of a human support because the technology support allows a student to perform tasks independently thus achieving “effective communication” as required by Title II. The important point to note is that “effective communication” can be a higher standard and require additional AT even when a student’s need for an “appropriate” education in FAPE has been met. For more information, please view the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Dear Colleague Letter, Frequently Asked Questions, and Fact Sheet regarding effective communications for students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities in public elementary and secondary schools.
The complete document can be found here.