Newsline Volume 31, Number 1

Assistive Technology Corner...
Choosing Your Child’s Assistive Technology

By Randi Sargent

Assistive technology (AT) is 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 the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.” The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states determinations for a student’s use of AT must be made on a case-by-case basis to ensure access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). If the IEP team – including you - determines that your child needs AT to meet his or her educational goals and ensure FAPE, it must be included in your child’s IEP and be provided by the school district at no cost to your family.

There are thousands of products available for use by students
with low vision, hearing impairments, communication limitations, access challenges and difficulty with learning and studying. AT solutions run the gamut from simple, no tech/low tech products that do not require electronic equipment (for example, colored paper and post-it notes) to high technology products that are more costly and training intensive (such as text to speech software, augmentative communication devices and mobility equipment). As a parent, you know your child best. Learn about different AT solutions so you can help your child’s IEP team select the AT that will make it possible for your child to meet his or her academic, social and daily living goals.

Ways to Learn about AT Products

  • Browse assistive technology web sites to learn about industry standards and manufacturers. Two associations are the Alliance for Technology Access (www.ataccess.org) and the Assistive Technology Industry Association (www.atia.org).

  • Use a search engine to search for “assistive technology in the classroom.”

  • Request catalogs from companies that distribute school AT products. See a listing at www.massmatch.org/find_at/at_catalogs.php.

  • Visit AbleData at www.abledata.com and search the AT database.

  • Visit YouTube at www.youtube.com and search “assistive technology in the classroom” to see products in action.

  • Ask your child’s teachers and therapists for recommendations.

  • Request a school-based AT evaluation from a qualified AT specialist to make sure the AT product will benefit your child. An AT evaluation should consider the learning and work style of the student; the long-range implications, ease of use and maintenance, adaptability, portability, dependability, and technical support.

Be sure to document any staff, student and parent instruction that will be needed to use the AT, as well who will be responsible for maintenance, managing repairs and upgrades. Ask for a trial use of the AT, which often is required prior to purchase.

And finally, consider the funding options. Is the AT an item you want to purchase to retain ownership? Check your health insurance for any durable medical equipment (DME) benefit and spending limits, and to see if there are preferred vendors you must use.

If your child’s IEP team determines that your child needs AT in order to do his/her homework, make sure the IEP states the equipment can be used at home and in other settings outside of school.

Once the equipment has been selected and successfully trialed, all aspects of implementing AT should be described in your child’s IEP and considered at every IEP meeting. Karen Janowski, local Assistive and Educational Technology consultant, suggests three possible discussion outcomes for ensuring the effective implementation of AT at your child’s IEP meeting:

  • 1. AT is considered, is already in place and is working well.

  • 2. AT is considered and the Team will trial new tools or strategies.

  • 3. The team needs additional information and an AT evaluation is indicated.

Being an active participant in choosing your child’s AT will benefit your child, your team and you. By becoming an educated and proactive consumer, you can speed along the acquisition of needed equipment, which can take months, support your child’s classroom team and help your child get the equipment he or she needs to learn and participate independently at school and at home.

For more information about Assistive Technology and IDEA, visit www.wrightslaw.com.

Randi is the parent of a child with cerebral palsy who relies on assistive technology for mobility, communication and daily living. Randi is also a member of the MassMATCH AT Advisory Committee, and the Federation’s Board of Directors. Learn more about MassMATCH at www.massmatch.org.