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Indiana Protection & Advocacy Services

IPAS > Assistive and Information Technology > Assistive Technology and Education Assistive Technology and Education

For children with disabilities, school can be particularly challenging, especially with regard to activities or tasks that they are prevented from completing due to their physical or cognitive impairments.

If your child is struggling with a disability, there may be technology services or devices available through the school that could benefit him or her.

Assistive Technology (AT) Can Play an Important Role in Meeting the Needs of Students with Disabilities in School, http://www.nls.org/files/Disability%20Law%20Hotlines/National%20AT%20Advocacy/special-ed-booklet-03.pdf.

To determine whether or not your child qualifies for IT or AT, certain procedures must be followed. The information below can be used as a starting point. It is important that you discuss your specific situation and your child’s needs with the school and medical professionals to identify additional procedures, paperwork or proceedings that may be required.

AT Referral

You can ask for an Assistive Technology evaluation for your child at any time. Your request for an evaluation is called a “referral.” The school needs to do an Assistive Technology evaluation to see if AT devices or services can help your child at school. You can ask for an AT evaluation at the same time you ask for a special education evaluation. If your child is already getting special education, you can ask for an AT evaluation.

AT Evaluation

A special education evaluation includes eight areas: Health, Vision, Hearing, Social/Emotional, General Intelligence, Academic Performance, Communication and Motor. Assistive Technology can help in each of those eight areas. The evaluation assesses whether or not the Assistive Technology can help your child. They should be conducted in places that your child is familiar with such as a classroom, a playground and at home.

Rights under §504

If the school notifies you that your child does not need special education, but you think your child does, request that the school provide your child help under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 requires that schools provide AT devices to your child:

  • If the device or service is a needed aid.
  • If the device or service allows your child to go to a regular classroom with other students who do not have disabilities.
  • If the device or service allows your child to play with children without disabilities for sports and other activities outside the classroom.

AT in Your Child’s IEP

The school should include Assistive Technology in all parts of your child’s IEP, including under:

  • Present levels of performance
  • Goals and objectives
  • Special education services and related-services
  • Supplementary aids and services
  • Modifications
  • Specialized equipment

The IEP must also explain where your child can or should use the AT device(s).

Writing AT into Your Child’s IEP

Goals and Objectives
Anytime your child needs to use a new AT device, the IEP should include goals for your child in addition to explaining how and why your child will use the AT device or service to reach his or her goals and objectives.

The IEP should have specific objectives that make sure your child learns how to use the AT device. These objectives may include: what tasks your child will use the AT device to do; how the school will train your child to use the AT device; how many times the school will train your child to use the AT device; who will train your child to use the AT device; and when and where your child will use the AT device.

Goals that include AT should explain how the device(s) or service(s) will help your child learn the task or skill.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
The law requires that schools educate your child along with students that do not have disabilities as much as possible in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). The school must use whatever aids and services, such as AT, that your child needs in order to benefit from special education. These aids and services are to be listed in the IEP.

Related Services
The IEP must have a list of related support services that your child needs as part of special education services. The selected AT device(s) and service(s) that best fits your child can be part of the IEP’s “Related Services” section.

Transition Plan
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004 requires that a student’s IEP at the time the child turns 16 must contain a Transition Plan, which should be a planning tool that states transition goals the student needs in high school in order to move from school to post-school activities, which includes work, vocational school and/or college.

The Transition Plan is part of the IEP document and should contain statements of measurable goals for life after school. When your child is 16 years of age, the IEP Transition Plan must provide the transition services your child will need to make a successful transition from school to the community. Examples of such services could include transportation to vocational activities, vocational counseling or testing. The IEP must include names of service providers outside the school that may be needed to help your child before leaving school.

Transition plans should also explain what AT your child needs to live in the community and how the AT will be provided.

Training and Technical Assistance
Assistive Technology training consists of information being provided to your child, the child’s family, the child’s teachers or other professionals on how to use or operate the device.

Technical assistance consists of help from experts to better aid children with disabilities, including assistance from an AT coordinator, the manufacturer or distributor of an AT device, or others that understand how to properly operate the equipment.

Who should receive training and technical assistance:

  • Your child
  • You
  • Your child’s teachers and teacher aides
  • Other service providers
  • Anyone who works with or helps your child

The school district pays the cost of training you, your child, appropriate family members and the people involved in your child’s education.

Equipment
When the school buys equipment for your child, the equipment belongs to the school district. If you buy equipment for your child to use, it belongs to you. However, it does not matter who owns the equipment. If your child uses it in school, then it is the school’s responsibility to make sure that the equipment works well in the school.

Your child can use the AT device wherever the IEP says it can be used. If you want your child to be able to use the device at lunch, at home, on the playground or for after-school activities, make sure that the IEP states this. The IEP should explain why your child needs the AT device during those times and places, and how it helps your child achieve the goals and objectives listed in your child’s IEP.

Your child should be able to use the AT device as he or she advances through each grade. When your child changes school districts, the new school district has the option of buying a new AT device or the old one from the former school. The change of school districts can happen when your child transitions from elementary to middle school or from middle school to high school.

Maintenance and Repairs
The school is responsible for buying, repairing and maintaining AT devices. The school district also needs to train parents on how to maintain AT devices. This can include charging or changing batteries, keeping the devices clean and making sure that the devices are working. The school district must repair and replace AT devices that are broken or damaged at school. However, if an AT device is brought home by the student and it breaks at home, then the parents may have to pay for the repair of the AT device if it was not used properly.

To avoid this situation, make sure that the IEP explains what needs to be done when a device is broken or needs to be fixed, where the child will get another device until the broken one is fixed and what alternative AT device(s) your child could use until the broken one is fixed.

Does the AT Device Meet Your Child’s Needs?
If your child utilizes an AT device or service, the school must ensure that your child is learning properly. This does not mean that the school district is required to give your child the best AT device or service; rather, it must provide whatever AT device or service your child needs to learn or function in school.

If a new device is found, then the school needs to decide if that new device is better in helping your child be with students who do not have disabilities than the old device.

Common Assistive Technology Applications in the Classroom

Positioning

  • In the classroom, individuals with physical disabilities may need assistance with their positions for seating so that they can participate effectively in school work. Generally, therapists try to achieve an upright, forward facing position by using padding, structured chairs, straps, supports or restraints to hold the body in a stable and comfortable manner. Also considered is the student's position in relation to peers and the teacher. Often, it is necessary to design positioning systems for a variety of settings so that the student can participate in multiple activities at school.
  • Examples of equipment used for positioning include: side lying frames, walkers, crawling assists, floor sitters, chair inserts, wheelchairs, straps, trays, standing aids, bean bag chairs, sand bags and so forth.

Access

  • In order to participate in school tasks, some students require special devices that provide access to computers or environmental controls. The first step in providing access is to determine which body parts can be used to indicate the student's intentions. Controllable, anatomical sites like eye blinks, head or neck movements and mouth movements may be used to operate equipment that provides access to the computer. Once a controllable, anatomical site has been determined, decisions can be made about input devices, selection techniques (direct, scanning) and acceleration strategies (coding, prediction).
  • Input devices include such things as switches, alternative keyboards, mouse, trackball, touch window, speech recognition and head pointers. Once computer access has been established, it should be coordinated with other systems that the student is using including: powered mobility, communication or listening devices, and environmental control systems.
  • Access can also refer to the physical entrance and exit of buildings or facilities. This kind of Assistive Technology includes modifications to buildings, rooms and other facilities. People with physical impairments are able to use ramps and door openers to enter. People with visual disabilities may be able to follow Braille directions to move more freely within a facility. Improved access may also help people of short stature or people who use wheelchairs to reach pay phones or operate elevators.

Environmental Control

  • Independent use of equipment in the classroom can be achieved for students with physical disabilities through various types of environmental controls, including remote control switches and special adaptations of on/off switches to make them accessible (e.g., Velcro attachments or pointer sticks).
  • Robotic arms and other environmental control systems allow individuals to turn lights on and off, open doors and operate appliances.
  • Locational and orientation systems give people with vision impairments information about where they are, what the ground nearby is like and whether or not there is a curb close by.

Augmentative Communication

  • Every student in school needs some method of communication in order to interact with others and learn from social contact. Students who are nonverbal or whose speech is not fluent or understandable enough to communicate effectively may benefit from using some type of communication device or devices.
  • Communication devices include such things as symbol systems, communication boards and wallets, programmable switches, electronic communication devices, speech synthesizers, recorded speech devices, communication enhancement software and voiced word processing.

Assistive Listening

  • Much of the time in school, students are expected to learn through listening. Students who have hearing impairments or auditory processing problems can be at a distinct disadvantage unless they learn to use the hearing they have or develop alternative means for getting information. Hearing problems may be progressive, permanent or intermittent. Any of these impairments may interfere significantly with learning to speak, read and follow directions.
  • Assistive devices to help with hearing and auditory processing problems include: hearing aids, personal FM units, sound field FM systems, Phonic Ear, TDDs and closed caption TV.

Visual Aids

  • Vision is also a major learning mode. General methods for assisting with vision problems include increasing contrast, enlarging stimuli and making use of tactile and auditory models. Devices that assist with vision include screen readers, screen enlargers, magnifiers, large-type books, taped books, Braillers, light boxes, high contrast materials, thermoform graphics, synthesizers and scanners.

Mobility

  • Individuals whose physical impairments limit their mobility may need a number of devices to help them get around in the school building and participate in student activities. Mobility devices include such things as self-propelled walkers, manual or powered wheelchairs and powered recreational vehicles like bikes and scooters.

Computer-Based Instruction

  • Computer-based instruction can make independent participation possible in activities related to the curriculum. Software can be selected that mirrors the conceptual framework of the regular curriculum but offers an alternative way of responding to exercises and learning activities. Software can provide the tools for written expression, spelling, calculation, reading, basic reasoning and higher level thinking skills. The computer can also be used to access a wide variety of databases.

Social Interaction and Recreation

  • Students with disabilities want to have fun and interact socially with their peers. Assistive technology can help them participate in all sorts of recreational activities, which can be interactive with friends. Some adapted recreational activities include drawing software, computer games, computer simulations, painting with a head or mouth wand, interactive laser disks and adapted puzzles.

Self Care

  • In order to benefit from education, some students require assistance with self care activities like feeding, dressing and toileting. Assistive devices that assist with self care include such things as robotics, electric feeders, adapted utensils, specially designed toilet seats and aids for tooth brushing, washing, dressing and grooming.

Source: Family Guide to Assistive Technology