Funding of AT for Education
What kind of Federal funding is available for Education?
Federal laws have helped shape the funding for Early Intervention, Special Education, and even in some aspect at the Post Secondary level. Funding for assistive technology through education dollars is addressed through IDEA.
School Funding of Assistive Technology
In the U.S., the major law in this area is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), first passed in 1975. This federal law authorizes special education to all students with disabilities ages 5 through 18, and to students with disabilities, ages 19-21, if enrolled in a special education program prior to the 19th birthday and if not yet graduated from a prescribed course of study.
IDEA entitles students with disabilities to an education which meets their individual needs in the least restrictive environment and at no cost to the student or parents. (Need and the concept of “least restrictive” must be determined on a case-by-case basis.) Special education can include more than academics: it also may include independent living skills and vocational training. Children aged 3 to 5 years are eligible for early childhood education programs under the same criteria as school-age children if they are diagnosed with an “established medical disability” (a condition or congenital syndrome whose existence indicates the child is very likely to need special education services).
Infants and toddlers younger than 3 years of age who have developmental delays, or are at-risk for such delays, or who have low-incidence visual, hearing or orthopedic disabilities, are eligible for early intervention programs. IDEA also authorizes “related services,” which are support services a student needs to benefit from his or her special program. In 1990, the U.S. Dept. of Education interpreted “related services” to include assistive technology services.
In 1990, amendments to IDEA incorporated the definition of assistive technology used in the 1988 U.S. Tech Act. The definition is: “The term 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 functional capabilities of children with disabilities.”
IDEA also states:
“The term assistive technology service means any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. The term includes: the evaluation of the needs of a child with a disability, including a functional evaluation of the child in the child’s customary environment; purchasing, leasing or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices by children with disabilities; selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing, assistive technology devices; coordinating and using other therapies, interventions or services with assistive technology devices, such as those associated with existing education and rehabilitation plans and programs; training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing education or rehabilitation services), employers or other individuals who provide services to, employ, or otherwise are substantially involved in the major life functions of individuals with disabilities.”
All this means a school must make available assistive technology devices and services if these are needed to help the student meet IEP (individualized education plan) goals and objectives. When an IEP is written, the need for an assistive device must be justified by a specific goal or goals and objectives. It is also important to remember that assistive technology services are considered “related services”, which also should be spelled out in the IEP.
Obviously, the rules for writing the IEP, about the right to an evaluation of student need, and the right of appeal all have an impact on assistive technology. The U.S. Dept. of Education also has policies about the role of assistive technology in the IEP process. Parents should be familiar with these rules.
The parents or guardians of a student with a disability play an important and influential role in the IEP process, so it is very important to understand how the process, including the appeal process, works. Parents are entitled to involve an advisor of their choice, and many families do involve the services of an advocate.
Another important point: assistive technology purchased by the school district belongs to the school district. The district is responsible for maintenance and repairs and for insuring the device. If a student moves or is graduated, the equipment stays in the school district. However, a student does have the right to take a device home, if the equipment is needed there or in the community so that a student may benefit fully from its use.