Early Intervention (Part H) Final Regulations Include Assistive Technology

By Michael Morris

This article is reprinted from the A.T. Quarterly, Volume 4, Number 3 (1993)

On Friday, July 30th the Department of Education issued final regulations for the Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities. The 1991 amendments to Part H of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) were enacted to "promote a seamless system of services for children with disabilities from birth through five years of age and their families." The final regulations include a definition of assistive technology services and require that the need for assistive technology devices and services be determined on an individualized basis as part of the development of the individualized family service plan (IFSP).

Background

All 50 states are currently at various stages of planning, development, and implementation of the federally mandated system of early intervention services for children with disabilities from birth to age three. Beginning this October, sixteen states will reach full implementation status with all the requirements of these new final regulations expected to be in full force. Each state has a lead agency designated by the governor, an Interagency Coordinating Council with membership appointed by the governor, and a plan that must be reviewed and revised annually with public participation.

Core Requirements

In order to receive federal funding, a state's plan must be approved by the Office of Special Education Programs in Washington, D.C. Each state plan must address the minimum components of a statewide system of coordinated comprehensive, multidisciplinary, interagency, programs providing appropriate early intervention services to all eligible infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. Each system must include the performance of a timely, comprehensive, multidisciplinary evaluation of each child, birth through age two, who is suspected of experiencing developmental delays in one or more of the following areas: cognitive development, physical development, communication development, social or emotional development or adaptive development.

For a child who is determined to be eligible, an individualized family service plan (IFSP) must be developed within a 45 day time period and reviewed at least every six months. The plan must include a statement of major outcomes expected to be achieved for the child and family, and a list of the specific early intervention services necessary to meet the unique needs for the child with a description of the frequency, intensity and method of delivering the services. Each IFSP must also include the name of a service coordinator to assist the child and family. Funds under Part H may be used only for early intervention services that an eligible child needs but is not currently entitled to under any other federal state, local, or private source. The regulations do explain that Part H funds may be used to pay a provider to guarantee the timely provision of services pending reimbursement from the agency that has ultimate responsibility. A state may choose to establish a fee-for-service system with a sliding fee schedule. Each state must establish and publicize procedures for filing and resolving complaints from individuals or organizations about possible violations of Part H mandates.

Opportunities for Assistive Technology

Section 303.12 of the final regulations defines early intervention services to mean "services designed to meet the developmental needs of each child" and selected in "collaboration with the parents." Types of services defined as included under "early intervention services" are both assistive technology devices and assistive technology services.

Assistive technology device means "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 children with disabilities."

Assistive technology service means "a service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. Assistive technology services include:

  1. The evaluation of the needs of a child with a disability, including a functional evaluation of the child in the child's customary environment.
  2. Purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices by children with disabilities.
  3. Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing assistive technology devices.
  4. Coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices, such as education and rehabilitation plans and programs.
  5. Training or technical assistance for a child with disabilities, or if appropriate, that child's family.
  6. Training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing early intervention services) or other individuals who provide services to or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of individuals with disabilities."

The definitions are basically the same definitions first included in federal law under the Technology-Related Assistance For Individuals With Disabilities Act Of 1988 (Herein referred to as the "Tech Act").

The final regulations notice describes an attempt by some commentators to the Department of Education to limit the right to assistive technology devices and services under Part H. Some commentators suggested limiting access to assistive technology devices to include "only devices that result in an educational benefit to children with disabilities. The final regulations reject such a notion." Linking the provision of assistive technology devices to an educational benefit is not appropriate under a program that serves children from birth to age three. In the context of the Part H program, assistive technology devices are required "only if they relate to the developmental needs of infants and toddlers served by the program." Such needs would be determined on an individualized basis through the IFSP process.

In comments following the final regulations the Secretary does express concern that "the costs of AT devices and services be manageable. Interagency cooperation will be needed to identify all available sources of assistive technology funding, both public and private."

A state lead agency under the Tech Act, parents, advocates, and assistive technology professionals need to become active and visible in Part H planning and implementation in every state. These final regulations provide a new opportunity to begin or reopen a dialogue with Part H planners and each state's Interagency Coordinating Council. There are three major areas for discussion: a) capacity building; b) parent and professional training; and, c) monitoring, oversight, and enforcement of federal mandates. Please consider the following Action Steps at a state level to accelerate implementation of the right to assistive technology as an integral part of the Part H program.

Assistive Technology Access in the Part H Program

A.T. ACTION STEPS

  1. Schedule a meeting with the lead Part H agency staff in your state to discuss status of planning efforts to include access to assistive technology as part of early intervention services.
  2. Find out if their comprehensive plan for personnel development includes building understanding of effective approaches to technology-related assistance as part of early intervention services for professionals and parents. If not, discuss ways you can work together to develop continuing education programs on assistive technology assessment and service delivery.
  3. Consider co-sponsorship of a conference for parents and professionals on early intervention and assistive technology; effective approaches to assessment and service delivery.
  4. Discuss the possibility of joint development of sample IFSP's that include access to assistive technology devices and services and the dissemination of such materials statewide.
  5. Consider the collection and development of a catalog of IFSP's from across the state that include technology-related assistance for children with different types of developmental delays.
  6. Conduct training for parents on how to effectively include in an IFSP technology devices and services and their appeal rights.
  7. Identify opportunities for cooperative funding of assistive technology devices and services at a local and state level.
  8. Identify a list of experts and programs in the state that feature technology-related assistance in the delivery of early intervention services. Disseminate the information to families statewide.
  9. Seek time on the agenda of a quarterly meeting of the Interagency Coordination Council to discuss access to assistive technology as part of early intervention services and the need to expand capacity for service deliver and the monitoring of the mandate statewide. Monitor progress at future quarterly meetings.
  10. Work cooperatively with the lead agency to make a commitment of Part H funds for the next three years to build capacity to provide assistive technology as part of early intervention services statewide.
  11. Consider jointly funding several model demonstration programs that foster parent and family involvement with assistive technology with very young children with disabilities in the home and in inclusive settings.
  12. Consider jointly funding computer and adaptive toy loan programs for families.
  13. Seek agreement from the lead agency to include as part of its monitoring and oversight responsibility of local programs the inclusion of assistive technology in IFSP's and the timely delivery of such services.

Finally, please consider the following ten question checklist in the box below to stimulate discussion in your state.

STATE PART H PLAN CHECKLIST

Answer Yes or No.

1) Any discussion of assistive technology in plan for personnel development?

2) Any planning effort to build capacity of assistive technology service delivery?

3) Does plan explain how assistive technology will be funded?

4) Does plan describe when assistive technology will be considered as part of IFSP?

5) If considered as part of IFSP who will pay for the assistive technology?

6) Will assistive technology in IFSP's be monitored statewide?

7) Will any assistive technology demonstrations be funded?

8) Any training planned on assistive technology assessment and service delivery?

9) Any activities focused on how use of assistive technology can foster inclusion?

10) Are there lead policy and program experts on assistive technology in early intervention services?


The A.T. Quarterly was a newsletter developed by the RESNA TA Project under a contract with the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education (ED). The content, however, does not necessarily reflect the position or policy of NIDRR/ED and no official endorsement of the material should be inferred.


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