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Technology: Some Common Questions Answered

By: John Copenhaven (1998)

Q: Are schools required to pay for assistive technology devices and services?

A: It is the responsibility of the school district to provide the equipment, services, or programs identified in the IEP. The school district may pay for, the equipment, service, or programs itself, utilize other resources to provide and/or pay for the device and/or services, or cooperatively fund the device(s) and or services. Other resources may include, but are not limited to, Medicaid, foundations, fraternal organizations, church or social groups, charitable organizations, businesses and individuals.

Q: Can schools require the parents to pay for assistive technology devices or services identified in their student's IEP or require the parents to use their own private health insurance to pay for the devices and/or services?

A: The "free" in "free appropriate public education" is extremely significant regarding students with disabilities who may require assistive technology devices or services. As stated in IDEA and its regulations, all special education and related services identified in the student's IEP must be provided "at no cost to the parent."

Q: Who owns the assistive technology that is purchased for the student?

A: If the school district purchases the equipment, the equipment belongs to the school. If the device is purchased using private insurance, then the device belongs to the parent and is meant for the exclusive use of the student. If the device was donated to the school, the IEP team decides ownership.

Q: Can the student take the assistive technology device owned by the school to their home?

A: Yes, if the IEP team determines that the student needs access to an assistive technology device at home to implement the educational program, the student may take it home. For example, a student with a physical disability may not be able to complete homework assignments without access to a calculator at home.

Q: When the student moves from one level of schooling to another, such as from elementary school to middle school, does the device follow the student?

A: If an assistive device is necessary to fulfill the requirements of the student's IEP, such a device must be provided in the school the student attends. The same device may not necessarily follow the student from one school to another, but a comparable device that fulfills the IEP requirements will be needed in the new school.

Q: If a device is broken and beyond repair, who replaces the broken device?

A: If an assistive device is necessary for the student's IEP to be implemented, the school district will have to replace the broken device. If the device is broken at home through negligence, the parents could be held responsible for the repair costs.

Q: Does the student have access to assistive technology aids and services if they are eligible for extended school year services?

A: Yes, if the IEP team determines that the assistive technology is needed as part of the extended school year services, then the student needs access to the assistive technology.

Q: Is a school district responsible for providing "state of the art" equipment for the student?

A: No. However the school must provide appropriate technology for the student's needs to ensure a free appropriate education. The decision regarding what type of assistive technology is appropriate should be based on the assistive technology evaluation recommendations and IEP team decision. If a less expensive device would accomplish the same goals, the IEP team is under no obligation to choose a more expensive option.

Q: Can the school require the student to bring a personally owned assistive device, such as a laptop computer to school to do schoolwork?

A: No. However the family may wish the student to use his/her own equipment in school since he/she may be most familiar or comfortable with it. The IEP team should decide who is responsible for repair and maintenance of family-owned devices.

Q: How can school districts use Medicaid funds to purchase assistive technology devices?

A: A parent's private insurance must be accessed before Medicaid can be used for assistive technology devices. However, the parent must give permission to access private insurance. Medicaid funds can be used according to Medicaid regulations.

Q: If a piece of assistive technology is no longer needed or relevant to a student, and the device was paid for by private insurance, can it be donated for another student's benefit?

A: Yes, it is a parental decision. The parent(s) could donate the device to the school for use by other students with disabilities.

Q: Are schools responsible for customization, maintenance, repair and replacement of assistive technology devices?

A: Assistive technology services such as customization, maintenance, repair, and replacement are included as considerations in the acquisition of equipment or devices purchased/provided by the school. An exception to repair would be made if the student were negligent with the assistive technology device.

If family owned assistive technology is used by the school and is listed in the IEP as necessary for providing free appropriate public education, the school might also be responsible for maintenance, repair and replacement. Responsibilities for these services should be discussed at the IEP meeting and identified in the IEP notes or the IEP document.

Q: Should assistive devices be insured?

A: It is in the school district's best interest to have insurance, however, cost of insurance versus the item(s)' expense should be considered.

Q: If a school district decides to develop a team of professionals to review assistive technology needs, who should be included?

A: A school district assistive technology team may include some or all of the following: parents, student, special education teacher, occupational therapist, speech/language pathologist, physical therapist, administrator/principal , general education teacher, school nurse, and maintenance worker. These individuals should periodically receive training regarding the effective use of assistive technology.

Q: Under what circumstances may assistive technology be considered a related service?

A: Assistive technology can be a related service if the service is necessary for the student to benefit from his or her education. Training of staff, parents and the student would be an example of a related service benefiting the student.

Q: Can the IEP Team refuse to consider assistive technology devices on the IEP?

A: IEP teams have the responsibility to determine a student's need for assistive technology devices and services, and for specifying those devices and services. Therefore, it is important that IEP teams are informed of this requirement to determine if a student needs a device and the need for an assistive technology evaluation to assist in making the determination.

Q: How is assistive technology integrated into the curriculum?

A: The IEP team needs to discuss how the device will be used by the student and how it wil be integrated into the curriculum. The IEP team should identify, in the IEP document, how the device will be used by the student in the classroom. This information should be shared with the general classroom teachers, who are members of the IEP team, so that they are aware of how it is to be used. Assistive technology should be used to help the student be involved in and progress from the general education curriculum.

Q: How can continuity be achieved in the student's program with regard to assistive technology devices and services from classroom to classroom, teacher to teacher, school to school, year to year?

A: Each student's IEP must be reviewed no less than annually. At the review, the IEP team should discuss and identify personnel training needs as they relate to the student's movement through the school program. This will help to provide continuity. For example, schools may assign case managers to oversee this process, or IEPs may describe the processes as they relate to individual students.

Q: How can one distinguish between assistive technology and personal items (e.g. wheelchairs, hearing aids, crutches)?

A: Currently, IDEA does not make a distinction between assistive technology devices and personal items. This stems in large part to IDEA's broad definition of assistive technology. If a student with a disability needs a hearing aid to ensure FAPE, then the school district and parents need to work together to find fiscal resources to purchase the item.

Q: If a student needs a computer, can a school-owned computer be used in the lab or classroom?

A: Yes, if the student has access to the equipment as needed. If the student does not have the necessary access, then the appropriate equipment should be purchased for the student's use. The IEP team will decide as a group the need and use of computers on a case-by-case basis.

Q: Can an independent evaluation be requested to address assistive technology?

A: Yes. The school district is required to evaluate a student in all areas of suspected disability including, if appropriate, evaluating the student's need for assistive technology. A parent has the right to an independent educational evaluation at public expense if the parent disagrees with an evaluation obtained by the school. However, the school may initiate a hearing to show that its evaluation is appropriate. If the evaluation is appropriate, the parent still has the right to an independent educational evaluation, but not at public expense. individuals conducting the evaluation must be knowledgeable and have experience in conducting these assessments. If the parent obtains an independent educational evaluation at private expense, the results of the evaluation (1)must be considered by the public agency in any decision made with respect to the provision of FAPE to the student; and (2)may be presented as evidence at a hearing under this subpart regarding the student.

John Copenhaver is the director of the Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center.

This article is reprinted with permission from Counterpoint, the national newspaper for special education. Counterpoint is published quarterly during the school year by LRP Publications for the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. To order an annual subscription ($35), call (800) 341-7874, ext. 224, or write to LRP at 747 Dresher Rd., Ste. 500, Horsham, PA 19044-0980. For additional cutting-edge stories regarding assistive technology and other special education issues see "Education Administration Online," LRP's online education information service.

Counterpoint, Newsletter of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) Summer 1998