Assistive Technology

Assistive technology (AT) can dramatically affect the success of your special needs family member.

AT can give students equal access to curriculum, the work environment, or any other environment that use government funding.  Assistive Technology includes devices that are used by individuals in order to perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible.

The AT can compensate for the impairments of the disability, increase classroom participation, foster independence, improve learning and working, assist in communication, and help the individual become successful in multiple aspect of life. In the school environment, assistive technology accomplishes these goals by allowing students with many types of disabilities to see, hear, read, write, and communicate.  In fact, assistive technology often provides the student with the only access to the general curriculum.

People who use AT products and services may have difficulty speaking, typing, writing, remembering, pointing, seeing, hearing, learning, walking, breathing, etc.  Everyone uses assistive technology.  We may not think that the things we use on a daily basis to make our life a little bit easier, like alarm clocks, planners, computers, talk to text software, canes, automatic windows and doors, lined paper, stools or chairs, the list could go on and on.  An individual with special needs may rely on AT devices to perform tasks and be more independent, enriching their life.

AT devices are protected under the law. This means that if there is need for an individual, then the use of the devices cannot be denied.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA is the federal special education law that addresses services for children with disabilities, set into law in 1975. IDEA requires that states provide a free appropriate public education for children with disabilities, including related services. This law requires schools to provide necessary assistive technology devices and services to help children with disabilities receive an appropriate education. To that end, every child with a disability must be considered for assistive technology.

Section 504 of the rehab act protects qualified individuals with a disability in the US from discrimination in any program or activity receiving FEDERAL FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE—for instance: government offices, banks, educational institutions, hospitals and clinics, etc. So, if money can be traced back to the federal government through grants, loans, tax breaks, and the like. then this law is applicable.

When selecting AT devices, evaluating the product or device is critical.  The goal is to help or improve function, access or ability, not hinder or impede it.  Following the steps below can help us narrow in on the selection process.

Consider: Look at what tools are available and how they may restrict or support skills by doing a skills assessment. With an assessment, we are looking at the easiest or simplest way to solve the problem without distracting others or causing more difficulty for the individual, teachers, or other students.

Consult: After the needs are figured out, ask other people about the AT devices they use. Don’t be afraid to seek out professionals for advice.  Check out websites, blogs, and forums for advice on different devices.  Ask for examples of how the device helps, the limitations one might encounter, and pros and cons of the device.

Conclude:  Once a decision has been made about what is appropriate and what will meet the needs, it then is necessary to purchase, make, or obtain the AT and begin using it.  When we make a decision on AT devices, we must keep in mind that the needs may change, a person’s ability may outgrow the device, or that we might need to reevaluate.

Building in some flexibility when selecting the device can save time and money in the future.  For instance, if a person struggles to turn pages of a book, then an e-reader would be more appropriate.  However, if the person is unable to use a mouse and keyboard as well, then selecting a device that is internet capable may be a better option.  Before you purchase the device, try it out.  Each state has a National Assistive Technology center. Often, families can try out devices or other AT items prior to purchasing.  Below are a few links:

History of Quality Indicators for Assistive Tehcnology

State Tech ACT Projects

Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center

National Center for Technology Innovation

Things to remember about Assistive Technology:

  • AT levels the playing field by providing access
  • Each person requires different types of AT
  • One size does not fit all
  • AT does not have to be expensive
  • AT can change based on the needs, development, and milestones reached by the individual
  • AT is protected by law

“Working Together with Military Families of Individuals with DisAbilities!”


Does my child qualify for Assistive Technology (AT) in school?

If your child is eligible for special education or Section 504 accommodations, then the answer is “yes” if the assistive technology (AT) is necessary to achieve a “free and appropriate public education”.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, (IDEA), states “The Individualized Education Program, (IEP), team shall consider whether the child requires assistive technology devices and services”.  The Washington State regulation (WAC 392-172A-02015) similarly states “each school district shall ensure that assistive technology devices or assistive technology services or both are made available to a student eligible for special education if required as part of the student’s: (a) Special education; (b) Related services; or (c) Supplementary aids and services.”  These are strong mandates to use in advocating for inclusion of assistive technology in your child’s IEP.

What Kinds of Devices Do Schools Have to Provide?   Both the State and Federal special education laws define assistive technology broadly to include a range of devices (from “off the shelf” to customize) and services.  The inclusion of “services” is very important. Such services can include evaluation and training for both school staff and family members.  Such training is often the key to successful use of the assistive technology.  Some examples of AT could be:  word processors, electronic communication devices, computers and printers, calculators, speech recognition software, print enlargement, text reading equipment, wheelchairs, electric scooters, etc.

How Do I Know What Kind of AT My Child Needs?  Get an evaluation from a competent professional.  If your school district does not have a staff person knowledgeable about AT, ask for an independent evaluation from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction at the Special Education Technical Center or from another experienced AT evaluator.  There are many devices available.  Be open-minded.  There may be more than one appropriate solution for your child’s needs.  The most expensive device may not be the best match for your child. Such devices could be complicated and frustrating for the child, resulting in a total turn-off from technology.  Try different types with the child to determine which meets the child’s needs appropriately. The device can be brought home if it is necessary to achieve a free and appropriate education as for example, when the child needs the device at home for homework and/or additional and supplementary training.

Does the School Have to Pay for Any Device – No Matter How Expensive?  Not necessarily, the school is not required to buy the most expensive assistive technology if a more moderately priced device will work to achieve a free and appropriate education.  The school’s obligation is to “provide” assistive technology from their own inventory or an outside source and it cannot ask you to contribute.  If the device is paid for by the school district, the district maintains ownership of it.

What Will Happen to the Child’s AT When the Child Graduates or Leaves the District for Another Reason?  Because the district owns the equipment, the district keeps it unless you can convince the district to sell it to you, or the next program, at its depreciated value.  Planning for your child’s transition to post-secondary education, training, or directly to work is also a critical part of the process. Deciding future AT needs prior to that transition is critical. To help ensure a successful transition after high school, planning must begin by at least 16 years of age.

This may include information on State or Federal laws regarding the rights of individuals with disabilities. While this is provided to inform or make one aware of these rights, legal definitions, or laws/regulations, it is not providing legal representation or legal advice. The participant understands that this is information to educate them not to provide them with legal representation