Federal Policies That Clarify Right To Technology In Special Education, Vocational Rehabilitation

By Patricia M. Beattie

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

Over the past few years, most major legislation which impacts individuals with disabilities has been strengthened to include technology-related services. Unfortunately, experience across the country has shown that although a federal/state program MAY pay for assistive technology devices or services, it also MAY NOT.

Following is a list of concerns which staff of the RESNA Technical Assistance Project is most often asked to respond to.

School officials say they just don't have the money to purchase the device...

A school district cannot unilaterally rule out purchase of assistive technology. According to a letter addressed to a Maryland advocate, Ms. Susan Goodman, a school district MUST see that devices or services are provided IF it is required for the student to benefit from an Individualized Education Program (IEP), in other words, to receive a "free and appropriate public education." A student's need for assistive technology should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

School officials say there's no place for assistive technology on the IEP...

The federal letter of interpretation states that if the student needs the technology/services to receive the appropriate, free education to which he/she is entitled, that the assistive technology may be "special education" itself, a "related service" or "auxiliary aids" to facilitate placement in a setting with non-disabled classmates.

Use of the technology, training for parents or teachers, etc., all should be incorporated into short or long-term educational goal statements, as necessary for the child's special education program.

The therapist confides to me that school officials won't permit inclusion of assistive technology needs in the evaluation report...

Parents may obtain an independent evaluation, at the school district's expense, while pursuing "due process," appealing a disputed individualized education program plan. Ask school officials for a copy of the "due process" procedures.

The school won't let students take equipment home...

In a letter of interpretation from the federal Office of Special Education Programs, it was stated that assistive technology equipment can be taken home at night, on weekends or over the summer_if use in other settings is included in the IEP. Furthermore, this federal letter states that a school system may have to provide a SECOND device for use at home, if transport is impractical. Therefore, it is important that IEP goals are written clearly.

Our local principal agreed to provide technology, but the school board said "no"...

The U.S. Department of Education has said that a school board cannot overrule a decision made by a local school IEP team. The IEP team should include parents and/or an advocate, as well as appropriate professionals qualified to assess a student's educational needs and authorized to commit the resources of the school system.

The school says I must first try to get private insurance or Medicaid to pay for the equipment before they will consider it...

While there is an advantage of an individual owning a device when using insurance funding for equipment, the school cannot require you to use public or private insurance to pay for equipment or services included on an IEP to facilitate the student's participation in the educational program (This is because of the potential cost to the parent from using up a lifetime cap on a particular benefit). School systems may become Medicaid service providers and seek reimbursement for medically necessary services provided to a Medicaid-eligible student (A copy of this federal policy on Medicaid and special education is included in the appendix of the RESNA Press publication, Assistive Technology and the Individualized Education Program).

Who should pay for technology, training or other services included on a 16-year-old student's Transition Plan?

A representative of the state vocational rehabilitation agency should be included in the development of a Transition Plan. Vocational rehabilitation may provide services to an individual as young as age 14, as long as the service is deemed necessary for determination of eligibility, participation in training or attainment of interim or employment goals.

My vocational rehabilitation counselor said there is no money left in his/her case services allocation for the year...

Although allocating funds on a regional or individual counselor basis may be convenient, a state's entire allocation is available to any counselor for provision of services to an individual client or applicant.

Vocational Rehabilitation is making me run around and get a denial from every other potential source of funding before considering providing the technology I need...

The 1992 amendments of the Rehabilitation Act excludes rehabilitation technology from the requirement to use "similar benefits" if there would be an undue delay in provision of the service or equipment. Note: This exemption from the requirement to use similar benefits also applies in the Title VII Independent Living programs.

When I finished school, I went to work in a sheltered workshop. I'd like to get a "real job," but I've been told I'm "too severely disabled"...

You are entitled for reconsideration under new, much less strict, eligibility criteria. Rehabilitation technology or other supported employment or vocational rehabilitation services may now make an employment outcome possible for you. In addition, you are eligible every year for a review to determine potential for transition into a job in the community.

Where can I find advocacy assistance to get the technology and services I need?

You may contact your state assistive technology project. To find out if your state has a project, contact RESNA. Among the advocacy resources to which you may be referred are the Client Assistance Program (vocational rehabilitation issues) or the Protection and Advocacy agency (individuals with developmental disabilities).

The two special education policy interpretation letters and the federal policy on Medicaid and special education are included in the publication Assistive Technology and the Individual Education Program, available from RESNA Press.

One last word of advice: Remember that various federal/state programs have different purposes. Therefore, if you are looking to a "medical program," you will need to justify the need in "medical necessity" terms. If you are trying to get the technology for use in school and for homework, then incorporate its use in the educational goals. Similarly, if the technology is needed to prepare for the world of work, then relate its use to vocational training independence and productivity outcomes.

(Editor's Note: Patricia Beattie, former Project Associate, now works as the Director, Legislative Affairs, National Industries for the Blind).


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.


RESNA TA Project
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