Assistive Technology and the Law

The use of Assistive Technology (AT) has made a positive impact in the lives of many people.  From low tech devices to high tech classroom technologies, it seems that AT is on the mind of everyone these days, especially students and their care givers. For many students, their AT device is procured by their school through a process known as an Assistive Technology Assessment.  However, many students are still lacking the assistive technology they need.  Unfortunately, when it comes to assistive technology, it is very common for parents/care givers to not know what benefits they are entitled to under the law.

For the past few decades, federal legislation has been the main driver of assistive technology implementation.  Federal legislation impacting the use of assistive technology can be placed in two main categories, laws that eliminate discrimination in the general public and laws that specifically mention the use of assistive technology.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 falls in the first category.  This legislation prohibited discrimination on the basis of a disability.  An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a “person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”

The most impactful law on assistive technology has been the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

This law, passed in 1990 and amended in 1997 governs a wide variety of issues related to technology, transition and transition planning. IDEA requires that students with disabilities receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environments (LRE) possible and have Individual Education Plans (IEP) against which their progress is measured in place of standardized tests. 

Most importantly, IDEA laid out who is responsible for paying for the students’ use of Assistive Technology.  If the use of AT is specified in a students’ IEP, then the AT or AT service must be provided and paid for.  This federal legislation clearly mandates that the local education agency (LEA), typically a school district, should investigate various ways to pay for their AT needs.  However, if the LEA cannot find additional resources, they are 100% responsible for paying for the AT.  In other words, the school is the “payer of last resort”.  Further, lack of local funds is NOT a justifiable excuse per the law.

This law clearly states that the IEP team MUST consider the use of A.T., and if A.T. is recommended in the IEP, then the A.T. and all training and services would be covered under this law.

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