- Schools must consider whether all students with disabilities could benefit from assistive technology, and they cannot deny tools and services due to costs, according to a new U.S. Department of Education resource aimed at quelling myths about assistive technology.
- The document and an accompanying Dear Colleague letter are targeted toward a wide audience, including parents, early intervention service providers, special and general educators, and school administrators. The Education Department also provided examples of how assistive technology can help students with disabilities access learning.
- Assistive technology can increase students' opportunities for learning, social interactions and career and college readiness, the Education Department and disability experts said. While often electronic and digital, the tools can also include low-tech items like pencil grips, squishy balls and visual calendars.
“It is imperative that we continue to embrace the transformative power of assistive technology," said Jacqueline Rodriguez, CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, a nonprofit that supports children and young adults with learning and attention challenges, in a statement to K-12 Dive.
Rodriguez said the key lies in considering tools and services when developing individualized services for infants, toddlers and schoolchildren, as well as providing vivid examples of how tools can break down barriers and contribute to a more equitable educational system.
"In embracing AT, we collectively contribute to dismantling obstacles and creating a learning environment that is truly inclusive,” Rodriguez said.
Determining whether a student needs assistive technology and services is done at the local level for every student with disabilities. The Education Department recommends that individualized family service plan teams for infants and toddlers and individualized education program teams for school-aged children understand how to procure, implement and evaluate the technology.
Additionally, the Education Department reminded districts they are responsible for ensuring students, families and educators know how assistive technology works. Students' IEP teams should consider how it will be integrated with other therapies and interventions. If teams determine that a student needs assistive technology services, those supports must be stated in their IEP so teachers and related service providers can comply.
In Virginia's Fairfax County Public Schools, for example, each school has an assistive technology coach who works with school teams to provide tools and supports to students, as well as ongoing help to students and teachers, according to the district's website.
But in many cases, "the AT consideration is either skimmed over or skipped entirely due to biases, assumptions or lack of knowledge about various AT devices and services that support and increase a child's access to the general curriculum in their classroom," said Denise Marshall, CEO of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, a nonprofit that works to protect the civil rights of children with disabilities, in a statement.
The Education Department's clarification that training must be provided to the child, their teacher and the family where needed is valuable, Marshall said.
The guidance also offered examples of types of assistive technology.
For infants and toddlers:
- Tactile books that can be felt and experienced for those with sensory issues.
- Helmets, cushions, adapted seating and standing aids to support children with reduced mobility.
- Augmentative and alternative communication devices, such as tablets or objects, that can help very young children express their wants and needs.
For school-aged children:
- "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 the functional capabilities of a child with a disability."
- Screen readers, adapted daily living devices like a toothbrush holder, communication boards, modified scissors, calculator, digital recorder and voice recognition software.
Additionally, the Education Department clarified that assistive technology is not the same as accessible technology. Accessible technology can be used to help many different users or have built-in features for individualized supports. Assistive technology is selected to help a student perform a specific task.