Assistive Technology Devices Receive Wider Role In Student's Individualized Education Program

By Michael Morris

This article is reprinted from the A.T. Quarterly, Volume 5, Number 1 (1994)

On November 19, 1993, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) issued a new policy letter clarifying a childūs right to a wider range of assistive technology devices when included in his or her individualized education program (IEP). This new policy letter recognizes the expanded definition of assistive technology devices added as an amendment to the 1990 Public Law 101-476, the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This definition is identical to the one contained in Section III of the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988. The definition is:

"...any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities."

Historically, such items as hearing aids were not part of the IEP process because they were regarded as personal and necessary regardless of whether the child was attending school. Asked to respond to whether the new definition included hearing aids, the OSEP's November policy letter makes clear such a device could be covered. The letter further affirms a child's right to assistive technology devices and services when it is determined through the IEP process that they are needed in order for the child to benefit from special education or related services or to enable the child to be educated in the least restrictive environment.

A copy of the OSEP policy letter is available from the RESNA Technical Assistance Project Office. Call or write:

1700 N. Moore Street, Suite 1540
Arlington, VA 22209-1903
Voice: 703-524-6686
TTY: 703-524-6639

Let us know about the progress you make improving access to assistive technology under the IEP process. Meanwhile the action steps below make a good jumping-off point.


1. Although the new policy letter is specifically about coverage of hearing aids, the implications are far broader. Local and state education agencies need to be made aware of the fact that, based on this new OSEP policy, they can no longer make distinctions between assistive technology devices and personal devices. This affects not just hearing aids but also eyeglasses, wheelchairs, seating and positioning, and the like.

2. Technology project staff should meet with the special education director at local and state levels. If they are not already aware, inform them of the contents of the OSEP policy letter and together work on a letter or memo to be circulated to teachers, therapists, administrators, and families. The purpose of the joint memo is to clarify the individual studentūs right to assistive technology services and devices as part of the IEP.

3. State education departments should assist local school districts in identifying and making available assistive technology to respond to individual student's needs. Check to see if your state education agency or department has a plan to:
a. Improve assessment of assistive technology needs on an individualized basis;
b. Improve teacher and therapist knowledge and understanding of the use of assistive technology to enable the student to benefit from education;
c. Increase state-wide funding to enhance the availability of assistive technology at the local level; and
d. Notify and educate families about their right to assistive technology as an integral part of their child's free appropriate education.

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
1700 North Moore Street, Suite 1540
Arlington, VA 22209-1903
Phone: 703-524-6686 | Fax: 703-524-6630 | TTY: 703-524-6639