Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), all local educational agencies (LEAs) are expected to provide assistive technology (AT) to students who need it in order to receive a free appropriate public education. Students with learning disabilities are included under the special education umbrella, and have the right to be provided with appropriate assistive devices to help them succeed in school.
The range of assistive technology is wide, and could take the form of a simple tilted surface to ease handwriting, or a sophisticated word processing application to help with writing. There is rarely one solution that will meet all of a child’s needs as he or she progresses through school. Think of assistive technology as a process running parallel to your student’s educational pathway. It addresses the immediate needs of students when they are assessed, but may need to be replaced or updated with time.
Once your student’s specific LD issues have been identified and an assessment has yielded specific recommendations for classroom and/or home-based assistive technology, the LEA has an obligation to provide it. But there is no specific source of federal or state funds for assistive technology, so an LEA must either re-direct their IDEA monies or dip into general operating funds to purchase or lease such equipment. What if your LEA’s AT budget is exhausted, or was never there to begin with? What if the LEA provides AT for the classroom, but not for use at home, even though it’s supposed to?
First, parents should express their child’s needs, in writing, to the LEA. This correspondence should include the child’s specific LD issue(s), a list of specific recommendations for AT identified in the child’s IEP that have not been provided, and a request for a timeframe for when you can expect your request to be addressed. The correspondence should also ask that the LEA explore alternative sources of funding to provide the AT needed by your child to learn. For additional guidance expressing your child’s needs in writing, visit the LD Online Info Brief, Communicating with Your Child’s School Through Letter Writing. Sharing this correspondence with your child’s local education providers (i.e., teachers, administrators) will help facilitate communication for all parties involved.
It is important to make sure your child’s AT needs are written into the IEP, and be prepared to obtain a “letter of medical necessity” or a prescription for assistive technology from your child’s physician. It may seem odd to apply these things in the LD context, but it will save time and aggravation later. Next, parents and school personnel should serve as advocates for students by searching for alternative ways to secure AT. A resource list for doing so is provided below. This is by no means an exhaustive resource list, but it should get you thinking about how widely you can cast your net to secure the tools your student’s need.
Resources for parents and education professionals
- ADA Technical Assistance Programs. Each state has one, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and they provide an array of services, including funding, training, and support. Look on your state government’s website for contact information or check the state by state list published by the Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America (RESNA), a professional association of AT specialists and engineers.
- Private Funding Sources. Seek out private funding sources by researching charitable foundations or other 501(c)(3) organizations, especially if they are affiliated with major industries in your state. Local civic organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, Rotary, and Lions Clubs often respond to requests from the community to help provide assistive devices for children. Visit the Foundation Center to get started.
- Used Equipment. One creative way schools are stretching AT funds is through the Used Equipment Marketplace, where assistive technology valued at more than $25 can be sought, sold, or given away. Classified ads are free, and items are periodically listed in newsletters or websites. Contact the Marketplace directly to obtain donations. Here are 3 examples of Internet-based Marketplaces:
Furthermore, the US Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) offers guidance for recycling equipment with its, “Recycle Your AT” brochure .
- Loaners. Loan closets, lending libraries and demonstration programs are ideal resources to “try before you buy.” Many disability-related agencies and organizations operate services which enable schools to borrow assistive equipment. Regional Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC) provides links to regional centers that can offer additional information on these resources. For example, information on loaners for the Mid-Atlantic region can be found at Mid-Atlantic Accessible Education-Based Information Technology Consortium’s website. The Assistive Technology Network also has loaner information available by state.
- Health Care Programs. Many school systems will ask families to apply through their own health care plans for AT, which is fine as long as it does not bring a separate burden on the family such as a cap on services or hefty co-pays. Medicaid may also cover some devices if they can be justified as helping the child with basic life functions.
Resources for education professionals
- Bulk Purchases. Some projects are helping make computer technology more available to schools by arranging bulk purchases of software programs that are especially beneficial for students with disabilities. Maryland Assistive Technology Cooperative and Infinitec in Illinois are examples to check out.
- EdTechOnline.org . This website serves as a grant directory for State and Local Education Agencies to identify U.S. Department of Education technology grants for states, districts and local schools. EdTech Online puts U.S. Department of Education technology grants in one place and includes strategic objectives, appropriations, contact names and telephone numbers, as well as direct links to the government agencies offering specific grants.
- TechMatrix.org . This online database of assistive and learning technology tools and research supporting their use may be a place to start looking for the types of tools a student may need. You can compare products side by side and find additional information through links provided to the manufacturers’ Web sites.
Some specialized federal legislation may provide funding options as well. In some cases, Title I (economically disadvantaged), Title III (limited English proficiency), and vocational education programs may yield grant funds for assistive technology.
Securing AT may involve time and effort, but don’t give up. The right AT just might be the academic boost that your child needs to be more successful in school.