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Policy Development in Assistive Technology and IDEA

by Susan Goodman, Esq.
ca. 1994

The Education for all Handicapped Children Act (or EHA, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA)) was passed by Congress twenty years ago. The law requires Free (at no cost to the child of family) Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for children identified as disabled. It requires school districts to provide special education and related services without charge based on an Individual Education Plan (IEP) designed to meet the child's unique needs. Special education is defined as "specifically designed instruction, at no cost to the parent, to meet the unique needs of a child with disabilities with the necessary supplementary aids and related services needed for the child to benefit from his educational program in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). The legal presumption favors education for children with disabilities in regular schools, with supplemental aids and services and removal only when the cost is so great it is not practicable to do so.

DEFINITIONS The term "related services (as defined in IDEA) means transportation, and such developmental corrective and other supportive services as required to benefit the handicapped child to benefit from special education. These services were defined as transportation, audiology, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, early identification and assessment of disabilities in children, counseling services, and medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes. 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.13. According to C.F.R. Sec. 300.13 comment, this list is not exhaustive and may include other developmental, corrective or other supportive services . . . if they are required to assist a handicapped child to benefit from special education."

While the terms assistive technology devices and services were not specifically used in the original act, they clearly would be a functional part of the services defined (e.g., a communication device to implement a goal as part of speech pathology services) as well as other developmental, corrective or supportive services. In spite of this, assistive technology was often not considered when assessing a child's needs, writing and implementing a child's IEP.

The awareness of assistive technology was heightened with the passage of The Technology Related Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities of 1988. This act, which created statewide systems of technology assistance, defined assistive technology devices and services. Assistive technology device was defined as:

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.

Assistive technology service was described as: any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in selection, acquisition or use of an assistive technology service.

A policy letter is a written, public response to a member of the general public who writes a letter to the Department asking for clarification on a section of the law. Courts pay great deference to agencies interpretations of the laws they administer. This makes policy letters a powerful tool for parents, advocates and others in gaining access to assistive technology.

The Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education referred to the Tech Act definitions (listed above) of assistive technology devices and services in a 1990 policy letter clarifying the right of students to technology in IEPs . This policy letter gave families a new tool in advocacy for their sons/daughters and promoted the development of new technology policy in the states. It helped lay the groundwork for inclusion of specific language on assistive technology devices and services in the 1992 Amendments to IDEA. The amendments state that assistive technology devices and services must be considered on an individualized basis and become a part of the IEP if the child needs it to benefit from his educational program.

Since that time, a number of policy letters have been issued. These policy letters have repeatedly reinforced the right of the child to assistive technology devices and services if they are needed to enable a child to benefit from his/her IEP. They have served as effective tools for gaining inclusion of assistive technology in IEPs.

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The National Assistive Technology Technical Assistance Partnership is a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of Education and RESNA. The grant (Grant #H224B050003; CFDA 84.224B) is funded under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998, as amended and administered by the Rehabilitation Services Administration, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.

This website is developed with grant funds. The information contained on these pages does not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education or the Grantee and no official endorsement of the information should be inferred.