The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) requires school districts to consider AT devices and services for each student with a disability. In Massachusetts, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recommends that AT be considered for students with disabilities before the creation of the student's IEP (Individualized Educational Program) goals. Why? Because students with disabilities benefit from AT to such a degree that not only can it help them reach educational goals, it can also help them envision new and higher goals.
AT in the classroom ranges from "low tech" devices like pencil grips and cardboard reading frames (to focus eyes on a single line of text) to "high tech" devices like alternative keyboards, screen reading software, and specialized calculators. Some devices require extensive training and customized programming; others are simple, and more easily mastered.
In general, AT should be considered if it can help a student complete a task or perform a skill more easily and with less help from others. It should also enable students to participate in the "least restrictive environment" possible and interact with their classmates.
- How does IDEA define an AT device?
- How does IDEA define an AT service?
- Who pays for AT?
- How should AT be included in a student's IEP?
- What is the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard? How can I get accessible text for my student with a disability?
- Where can I find help evaluating a student's need for AT?
- Where can my staff or my student learn about, try out, and borrow a range of AT?
- Where can I browse AT for my students online?
- How can I borrow AT from other Massachusetts schools?
- How can my school district get free computer equipment?
- How can I find training for a particular device or device type?
- How is AT for post-secondary education or for a job funded?
An AT device under IDEA (2004) 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 children with disabilities." IDEA makes an exception for "any medical device that is surgically implanted or the replacement of such a device." (Reference: Statute: TITLE I / A / 602 / 1.) As result, Cochlear implants are not considered an AT device under IDEA.
An AT service under IDEA (2004) is defined as "any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device." The statue specifically includes the following:
- Evaluations for the AT needs of a student with a disability;
- Acquisition (purchasing, leasing, renting, etc) of AT devices for a student with a disability;
- Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing AT devices;
- Coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with AT devices, such as those associated with existing education and rehabilitation plans and programs.
- AT training or technical assistance for the child, or, where appropriate, the family;
- AT training or technical assistance for professionals working with the student. (Reference: Statute: TITLE I / A / 602 / 2)
School districts are responsible for paying for AT devices and services that are listed as necessary on a student's Individualized Educational Program (IEP). Sometimes a student's medical insurance or other insurance can pay for the AT, but the parents must agree to use that insurance. There can be no cost to the parents for the devices; if parents do use their insurance, they must not pay the insurance deductible or be compelled to have their homeowner's insurance cover it. Read more about the school district's responsibilities for providing AT in the Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education's guide: Access to Learning: Assistive Technology and Accessible Instructional Materials (WORD) (see the FAQs for school district funding issues in depth).
The Individualized Educational Program (IEP) is the plan for special education and related services created annually by each student with a disability's IEP Team. The IEP outlines all placement decisions, goods and services the school district will provide the student to help the student reach his or her goals for the year.
There are several ways to record AT in an IEP:
On parts A and B of the Student Present Levels of Educational Performance, under "Types of Accommodation": AT can be recorded as something the student currently uses to complete tasks (i.e. "The student uses specially lined paper when there is written work that is not done on the computer").
On Current Performance Levels/Measurable Annual Goals: AT can be included as a "benchmark/objective" if developing a skill with AT is needed to achieve curriculum goals (i.e. "The student will learn to use a word processing program with spelling, grammar, and punctuation checklist"). Or it can be part of a "measurable annual goal" statement if AT is needed to complete tasks toward achieving a goal (i.e. "The student will use a cassette recorder to practice oral language responses").
On the Service Delivery Grid in section A, B, or C, AT services can be listed (i.e. "Training for teachers and family members on student's augmentative communication software").
Other IEP considerations:
- Training: all needed AT training for student, teachers, family members, and peers should be specified on the service delivery grid of the IEP.
- Acquisition: how and by when the AT will be acquired could be listed on the service delivery grid of the IEP.
- Home use: if a student needs access to an AT device at home to achieve a "free and appropriate education" then this must be recorded in the IEP. It's also helpful if liability for the device while at home is recorded in the IEP.
What is the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS)? How can I get accessible text for my students?
The National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) is a technical standard that curriculum publishers began using in 2006. NIMAS makes it easier and faster to get accessible instructional materials. School districts direct publishers to send NIMAS files to the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC). NIMAC then uses the files to produce alternate formats, including Braille, large print, digital text, and audiobooks, for students with disabilities.
You can learn more about providing accessible educational materials, including how to use the NIMAC for your students with disabilities, at the Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education's Office of Digital Learning and the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials.
Call or visit your AT Regional Center for assessment and evaluation referrals.
Explore a range of assessment and evaluation resources at this Virtual Toolkit for Education page.
MassMATCH has two AT Regional Centers where students, parents, educators and therapists come to see, learn about, and even borrow the latest technology. Do you have a student who needs to find an appropriate augmentative communication device? An alternative keyboard? Screen-reading software? Bring your staff or student, explore the technology, and get your questions answered. You can even hold one of your Special Education Department staff meetings at one of our facilities.
Once you've found AT that you'd like to try, a short-term device loan is a great way to test-drive the equipment and ensure that it will meet your student's needs before you make a purchase. Devices can be borrowed for up to one month and may be used at the student's home, school, or in the community. If you need technical assistance and/or want to purchase the device, the AT Regional Centers can put you in touch with an appropriate sales representative. The Centers may also help you negotiate the best price possible.
Learn about MassMATCH AT Regional Centers and other demonstration programs at the MassMATCH Demo AT page.
A range of tools and resources for searching AT for education--including apps and browser extensions-- are available at this Virtual Toolkit for Education page.
Join the MassMATCH AT School Share! This is our online AT exchange program exclusively for Massachusetts school systems. Members of the AT School Share can upload their AT and choose what equipment may be made available to other Massachusetts school systems. You can also use the AT School Share site to list your school system's inventory without making equipment available for loan.
Visit AT School Share and read the FAQs or Request an Account. Members with a user name and password can log in and browse what is available.
The National Cristina Foundation directs donations of used computer equipment to non profit organizations, schools, and public agencies throughout the United States. To be added to their network of partner organizations, organizations with not-for-profit 501(c)(3) status, and public schools or public agencies need to submit an NCF Grant Application, which is available online.
The Share Network has an information clearing house page on computer recycling, donating, and reuse projects nationwide.
MassMATCH AT Regional Centers can help you find technical assistance and training on equipment.
State vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies are a major funding source for AT for working-age individuals with disabilities. In Massachusetts, VR services are available through the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) which serves individuals with most physical and mental disabilities, and the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) which serves individuals who are legally blind. College AT needs may also be provided if classes are a clear part of an individual's vocational goals. Learn more about VR services at Fund Your AT for Work.
- Doors Open for Teen at a MassMATCH AT Regional Center
- Text-to-Speech Software Empowers College Bound Senior
From Dawn Perotti at the MassMATCH AT Regional Center in western Massachusetts:
Parents of a student attending a local high school came in to our Center to explore a communication device for their non-verbal seventeen-year-old daughter, Amy*. They wanted something to help her at school, but also for home and for her volunteer work outside of school. They weren't familiar with any communication equipment and came in to learn about and try out a few different options.
Eventually they settled on a "type and speak" device they thought could work. Eagerly they surrounded Amy as I set the device up for her to try. "Type anything you'd like to say to your parents," I coached her.
Amy, to everyone's astonishment, typed "I-love-you." Needless to say there was not a dry eye in the Center. The excitement just built from there.
The family borrowed the device for the assigned loan period and Amy took it to school where teachers and administrators were so impressed that they soon called me to get them in touch with a company representative so they could expedite a purchase. They also bought a mini printer so she could print out her assignments.
Today Amy and her family report that the communications device has opened many doors and has become an integral part of Amy's school life.
*Amy's name has been changed to protect her privacy.
From the Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education
Peter*, a high school senior in western Massachusetts, is getting ready to send out applications to colleges. Because he enjoys creating artwork on his computer, Peter is thinking about majoring in communications, graphic design, or video production.
Peter, who has dyslexia, says he has always had trouble in school. Initially he experimented with various tools, such as audio books, which he says didn't work for him because it was difficult to find his place on the tape. Today Peter uses a text-to-speech software program that he credits with changing his life, saying that his grades have gone up and he doesn't have to suffer as much in school.
When he gets a reading assignment, Peter scans the pages of the book, using the program's optical character recognition (OCR) feature. Once the text is in a digital format, the program's text-to-speech feature can be used. The program then "reads" each sentence aloud for Peter, highlighting each word as it is read. If Peter wants to take notes, he can type them and highlight them on the computer screen. When Peter needs to take a test, he scans the test, types his answers, and then prints out the completed test. When he needs to write a paper, Peter proofreads what he has written by having the computer read it aloud to him.
Peter says that his ability to read has improved since he began using this software, although he's not sure why. He says that although the software program doesn't teach him to read, hearing and seeing the words highlighted at the same time and at his own speed helps him remember how to read them.
Peter's advice to educators is to try to be open to new technology. He also suggests that schools try to get digital versions of textbooks**, so that students won't have to scan the pages.
*"Peter's" name has been changed to protect his privacy.
** In the six years since this story was originally written, developments like NIMAS are making it easier for schools to get digital text.