Future Reflections Spring/Summer 1993, Vol. 12 No. 2

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ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY

From the Editor: What is assistive technology and how might it be applied to the education of blind children? Perhaps you instantly think of computers whenever you hear the term assistive technology. At one time the term, for me, conjured up the image of a computerized device which could be controlled by eye blinks or mouth movements. Assistive technology, in my mind, was linked with computers and communication devices for persons with extreme physical disabilities. Not for a moment did I consider any of the ordinary tools used by blind persons, such as Braillewriters or even Closed Circuit T.V.s (CCTVs), as assistive technology. Like many others, I equated assistive technology with computer technology. This popular misperception, however, is not consistent with either the legal definition or application of the term as it appears in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The following explanation of the definition of assistive technology in IDEA is reprinted from a RESNA Technical Assistance Project information paper entitled, “Assistive Technology and the Individualized Education Program,” August, 1992 (updated).

The RESNA TAP paper also includes copies of the two policy letters which you see printed in full at the end of this article. Both letters were written by Judy A. Schrag, United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, in response to inquiries about the right of a child with disabilities to assistive technology under IDEA.

The first letter was written August 10, 1990, to Mrs. Susan Goodman, a parent of a disabled child and an attorney. You will note this letter predates the amendments to the Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA) which would both change the name of the legislation to IDEA, and specifically define assistive technology devices and service. This policy letter clearly states that:

The second letter was written in November, 1991, to a parent of a blind child. This parent wrote to ask if she could request a CCTV for home use so her daughter could do homework and other school assignments. (She also had questions about time limits on implementation of the IEP and the role of the local school board in approving IEPs.) In her November, 1991, reply Judy Schrag stated, “If the individualized Education Plan (IEP) team determines that a particular assistive technology item is required for home use in order for a particular child to be provided FAPE [free appropriate public education], the technology must be provided to implement the IEP.” In other words, the school district cannot categorically deny any request that assistive technology (such as Braillewriters) be available at home for the student.

Parents of blind children need to remember that neither of these policy letters guarantees blind children the rights carte blanche to certain technological devices or services at school or at home. However, it does expressly forbid school districts from making unilateral decisions or policies about assistive devices and services without evaluating and considering the special educational and related services needs of each individual student. A school district which states that it has a policy against sending Braillewriters home with students, or buying a CCTV for the student's use at home, is in the wrong. Such decisions, according to the guidelines given in these policy letters, must be based upon an evaluation of the individual student's needs.

*Note: For more information about the RESNA TAP paper, call or
write: RESNA Technical Assistance Project, 1101 Connecticut Avenue,
N.W., Suite 700, Washington, D.C. 20036, (202) 857-1140.

DEFINITION OF ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY DEVICES AND SERVICES
Reprinted from “Assistive Technology and the Individualized
Education Program,” RESNA Technical Assistance Project, August,
1992 (updated).

Congress, recognizing the importance assistive technology can play in the lives of individuals with disabilities, first defined the terms assistive technology device and assistive technology service in the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-407). This definition which appears in the Tech Act legislation has also been adopted in the IDEA. The IDEA defines an assistive technology device 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 functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.[20 U.S.C. Chapter 33, Section 1401 (25)].

This definition is broad and includes a range of devices from low technology to high technology items as well as software.

The legal definition of assistive technology service as it appears in IDEA is “any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.” Specifically this service includes:

School districts are responsible for helping individuals with disabilities select and acquire an appropriate assistive technology device and assist in training them to use it.
                                                                                                                                               

Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

Dear Mrs. Goodman:

This is in response to your recent letter to the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) concerning publications of public agencies under Part B of Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA-B) to provide assistive technology to children with handicaps.

Specifically, your letter asks:
1. Can a school district presumptively deny assistive technology to a handicapped student?
2. Should the need to assistive technology be considered on an individual case-by-case basis in the development of the child's Individual Education Program?

In brief, it is impermissible under EHA-B for public agencies (including school districts) “to presumptively deny assistive technology” to a child with handicaps before a determination is made as to whether such technology is an element of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for that child. Thus, consideration of a child's need for assistive technology must occur on a case-by-case basis in connection with the development of a child's individualized education program (IEP).

We note that your inquiry does not define the term “assistive technology” and that the term is not used either in the EHA-B statute or regulations. The Technology-Related Assistance For Individuals With Disabilities Act of 1988, Pub. L. 100-407, contains broad definitions of both the terms “assistive technology device’ and “assistive technology service.” See Section 3 of Pub. L. 100-407, codified as 29 U.S.C. 2201, 2202. Our response will use “assistive technology” to encompass both “assistive technology services and assistive technology devices.”

Under EHA-B, State and local educational agencies have a responsibility to ensure that eligible children with handicaps receive FAPE, which includes the provision of special education and related services without charge, in conformity with an IEP. 20 U.S.C. 1401(18); 34 CFR Section 30O.4,(a) and (d). The term “special education” is defined as “specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parent to meet the unique needs of a handicapped child...” 34 CFR Section 300.14(a) Further, “related services” is defined as including “transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a handicapped child to benefit from special education.” 34 CFR Section 300.13(a).The EHA-B regulation includes as examples 13 services that qualify as “related services” under EHA-B. See 34 CFR Section 300. 13(b)(l)-(13). We emphasize that this list “is not exhaustive and may include other developmental, corrective, or other supportive services...if they are required to assist a handicapped child to benefit from special education.” 34 CFR Section 300.13 and Comment. Thus, under EHA-B, “assistive technology” could qualify as “special education” or “related services.”

A determination of what is an appropriate educational program for each child must be individualized and must be reflected in the content of each child's IEP. Each child's IEP must be developed at a meeting which includes parents and school officials. 34 CFR Section 300.343-300.344. Thus, if the participants on the IEP team determine that a child with handicaps requires assistive technology in order to receive FAPE, and designate such assistive technology as either special education or a related service, the child's IEP must include a specific statement of such services, including the nature and amount of such services. 34 CFR Section 300.346(c); App.C to 34 CFR Part 300 (Ques. 51).[Emphasis added.] EHA-B`s least restrictive environment (LRE) provisions require each agency to ensure þ[t]hat special classes, separate schooling or other removal of handicapped children from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the handicap is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and service cannot be achieved satisfactorily.þ 34 CFR Section 300.550(b)(2);  See also Analysis to Final Regulations published as Appendix A to
45 CFR Part 121a, 42 F.R. 42511-13 (August 23, 1977). Assistive technology can be a form of supplementary aid or service utilized to facilitate a child's education in a regular educational environment.[Emphasis added]. Such supplementary aids and services, or modifications to the regular education program, must be included in a child's lEP. Id. Appendix C to CFR Part 300 (ques. 48).

In sum, a child's need for assistive technology must be determined on a case-by-case basis and could be special education, related services or supplementary aids and services for children with handicaps who are educated in regular classes.[Emphasis added].

I hope the above information has been helpful. If we may provide further assistance, please let me know.

Sincerely,
Judy A.Schrag, Ed.D., Director
Office of Special Education Programs

United States Department of Education
Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
Dear _________:

This is in response to your recent letter to the office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) requesting a copy of any OSEP policy clarifications on assistive technology, as well as asking specific questions concerning the assistive technology needs for your___. You also ask a question about the time limits for implementation of an individualized education program (IEP).

In response to your request, I am enclosing a copy of OSEP's August 10, 1990 letter to Ms. Susan Goodman concerning the obligations of public agencies under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Action (Part B), formerly cited as Part B of the Education of the Handicapped Act, to provide assistive technology to children with disabilities, along with some additional information on assistive technology and a copy of the Part B regulations. I would also like to provide you with OSEP's response to each of your specific questions as stated below. “I would like to make the request to the appropriate officials for another CCTV for home use to accomplish the same results as is done in school. (For homework, reading books, any assignment from
school).”

The IEP, which must be developed at a meeting that includes parents and school officials, must contain, among other things, a statement of the specific special education and related services to be provided to the child. See 34 CFR Section 300.343þ300.346. As stated in OSEP's letter to Ms. Goodman, if the IEP team determines that a child with disabilities requires assistive technology in order to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE), and designate such assistive technology as either special education or a related service, the child's IEP must include a specific statement of such services, including the nature and amount of such services. See CFR Section 300.36(c); App. C to 34 CFR Part 300 (Ques. 51). The need for assistive technology is determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the unique need of each individual child. If the IEP team determines that a particular assistive technology item is required for home use in order for a particular child to be provided FAPE, the technology must be provided to implement the IEP. [Emphasis added.]

“If the committee approves this request, it will go to the School Board for approval. I would like to know what happens if the School Board doesn't approve the proposal? Is it impartial hearing time?”

As part of the public agency's Part B obligation to provide FAPE to an eligible child with disabilities, the public agency must ensure that special education and related services are provided in conformity with and IEP which meets the requirements of 34 CFR Sections 300.340þ300.349. One requirement, at 34 CFR Section 300.343(a), is that the public agency conduct a meeting to develop, review, and revise the child's IEP. The Regulations require that certain participants attend the IEP meeting. See 34 CFR Section 300.344. The role of the participants at the IEP meeting is to determine the specific special education and related services that a child needs in order to receive FAPE. Once the determination is made at a meeting convened pursuant to 34 CFR Section 300.343(a), Part B does not recognize any authority on the part of a local School Board to unilaterally change the statement of special education and related services contained in the IEP. [Emphasis added]. After the IEP is developed and the placement decision is made by a group of persons knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the evaluation data and placement options, the public agency must implement the IEP. See 34 CFR Section 300.533(a)(3). Without reconvening the IEP meeting, the local school board could not change the IEP.

“Is there a time limit on implementation of updated IEP's [?] Every year I have long delays on implementation of Board approved IEP's [.]”

Part B imposes no specific time limits for the implementation of IEP's . The Part B regulations at 34 CFR Section 300.342(b) require that an IEP: (1) must be in effect before special education and related services are provided to a child; and (2) must be implemented as soon as possible following the meeting required to develop, review or revise a child's IEP. The answer to Question 4 in Appendix C to the Part 300 regulations states that no delay is permissible between the time a child's IEP is finalized and when special education and related services are provided.[Emphasis added]. It is expected that the special education and related services set out in the IEP will be provided by the agency beginning immediately after the IEP is finalized. In certain circumstances such as when the IEP meeting occurs during the summer or a vacation period, or where there are circumstances which require a short delay (e.g. working out transportation arrangements) the implementation may not be immediate. See Comment 34 CFR Section 300.342.

I hope that this information is helpful to you. Please let us know if you have any additional questions or concerns.

Sincerely,
Judy A. Schrag, Director
Office of Special Education Programs
United States Department of Education

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