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Assistive Technology in Schools

What is an Assistive Technology (AT) Device?

An assistive technology device is “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.” These can include classroom modifications, picture cards, a TTY, software, adapted clothing, hearing aids, wheelchairs, etc. 

What is an Assistive Technology (AT) Service?

An assistive technology service is “any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an AT device.” These can include leases, repairs, training, etc. 

Examples of AT services 

  • The evaluation of the needs of an individual with a disability, including a functional evaluation of the individual in the individual’s customary environment. 
  • Purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of AT devices by individuals with disabilities. 
  • Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing of AT devices. 
  • Coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with AT devices, such as those associated with existing education and rehabilitation plans and programs. 
  • Training or technical assistance for an individual with disabilities, or where appropriate, the family members, guardians, advocates, or authorized representatives of such an individual. 
  • Training or technical assistance for professionals, employers, or other individuals who provide services to, employ, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of individuals with disabilities. 

General standards and basic eligibility criteria

  • The need for AT must be determined on a case by case basis, considering the unique needs of each child. 
  • The basic standard to be met is the student’s need of the AT to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). 
  • AT may be considered as either special education and related services, or supplementary aids and services “which maintain a student in the least restrictive environment (LRE).” 

Evaluations 

An AT evaluation determines access to the student’s functional capabilities and whether they may be increased, maintained, or improved through the use of AT devices or services. If the parent disagrees with the evaluation obtained by the District, the parent has the right to an independent AT evaluation. The local education agency (LEA) and, in particular, the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team for each particular student determines the manner in which assistive technology evaluations and decisions are made. Many LEAs have resources for providing in-house assistive technology evaluations.  

Using an AT device at home

AT devices must be provided for your child’s use at home if the IEP Team determines that the child needs that AT to continue making progress on IEP goals. 

Private insurance and Medicaid

IDEA authorizes the use of the public insurance, such as Medicaid or parent’s private insurance. However, this use must be voluntary. Services cannot be denied if parents refuse to authorize the use of Medicaid or private insurance. A school may use parent’s private insurance only with the parents’ informed consent, each time the school seeks to use their insurance. 

Requesting AT devices/services guidance and practical tips

If you feel your child needs AT, make a request for an AT evaluation in writing. The IEP Team must consider whether your student needs AT. The school must provide AT if your child needs AT in order to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The IEP Team, including the parents, must be involved in determining what kind of AT is needed.

You can request an independent evaluation to determine AT needs. The school cannot refuse to provide AT because of the cost or because it does not have that device. The school can refuse to provide AT that is medical, such as a cochlear implant.  

More information 

The North Carolina Assistive Technology Program (NCATP) can help you make informed decision about AT. They can also help school staff with their AT questions. The NCATP provides free services, including device demonstration, short-term loans of AT devices, information about funding, and access to previously-owned AT devices. You can reach the NCATP at (919) 850-2787 or online at www.ncatp.org. 

The Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center (ECAC) may also be able to help you request an AT evaluation and answer additional questions you have. They can be reached 1-800-962-6817

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