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Assistive Technology in Schools: Top Things Every Parent Should Know

How much do you know about your child’s right to use assistive technology (AT) in school? The U.S. Department of Education has recently issued new guidelines, published this January as Myths and Facts Surrounding Assistive Technology Devices and Services. Here are some key takeaways to remember at your next IEP meeting.

First off:

  • Assistive technology (AT) is any item used to maintain and improve daily functioning for people with disabilities.
  • “Technology” doesn’t always mean “high-tech” or “expensive”: AT can be as simple as a pencil grip or as complex as an eye-gaze-operated computer.
  • The best AT for any person is whatever best helps them live, work, and learn as independently as possible.
  • The school is legally responsible for providing whatever AT your child needs to perform effectively as a student.

Quotes in the following list are from the “Myths and Facts” document.

teacher helping two kids use ipad

Top 5 Facts About AT in Schools

  1. The school’s responsibility includes AT training for students, families, and teachers. “To ensure that the child can successfully use [an AT] device, the IEP Team needs to … provide AT services, including … training or technical assistance for a child with a disability or, if appropriate, that child’s family [and] for educational professionals or other individuals who are otherwise substantially involved.”
  2. Individualized AT needs should be considered at every IEP meeting, starting when the child transitions from Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) to preschool. “Each time an IEP Team develops, reviews, or revises a child’s IEP, the IEP Team must consider whether the child requires AT devices and services.”
  3. School-provided AT devices are for more than in-school use. “AT should be considered for inclusion in a child’s transition plan [from high school to college or paid employment], as AT devices and services create more opportunities for that child to be successful in their post-secondary plans. … The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) requires States to provide the appropriate accommodations … for students with disabilities as part of their State [academic] assessments. … A learner’s AT device should [also] be used across all environments [academic or otherwise] to both improve the child’s use of the AT as well as to ensure the child is provided their required support throughout the day.”
  4. Students have the right to bring their own AT devices, but specifics should be written into the IEP to avoid confusion. “If the [school] and the parent agree that a child’s [personal] AT device … should be used instead of an AT device provided by the [school], there are issues that should be addressed [such as acknowledging that personal-device use is voluntary and the family retains the right to switch to a school-provided device on request] to ensure that both the parent and the [school] understand their responsibilities.”
  5. Student AT use is known to improve both motivation and academic performance. “Research demonstrates that use of AT devices and services improves child outcomes in all settings [and] that AT increases a child’s motivation to complete assignments. … AT devices and services for children with specific learning disabilities keep them engaged in schoolwork.”
3 teens in a classroom using phone

Planning for AT: Suggested Questions for IEP Meetings

If your child is starting school or struggling in class, be prepared to ask about possible assistive technology at your next IEP meeting. Here are some sample questions involving various types of disabilities. (Note that as a parent, you are an equal member of the IEP committee; and no other committee member has the right to say “That won’t work” before “that” is carefully considered.)

  • Reading or vision disability: Could my child benefit from using text-to-speech technology with written curricula? (Share any examples of your child understanding content better after it was read aloud.)
  • Writing disability (e.g., dysgraphia or anything that affects hand grip or energy levels): Could my child benefit from using speech-to-text technology to compose assignments?
  • Verbal autism, or other disability that affects speech when one is frustrated or anxious: Could my child benefit from communications technology such as a social storyboard, tablet app, or AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) device?

You know best what your child understands and prefers, so try to bring some specific AT suggestions. (You can explore options at our BridgingApps AT labs.)

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