University of Vermont

The Center on Disability and Community Inclusion (CDCI)


Considering Assistive Technology and Accessible Instructional Materials on the IEP

How Assistive Technology (AT) Complements Accessible Instructional Materials

Education technologies are the ones commonly used in the classroom to support students’ learning such as the use of SMART Boards, computers to complete projects and digital text players, which are embedded in the universal school experience of students. School districts’ Educational Technology Plans support the universal access to educational technology (Tier 1) for all students in the K-12 system. In this way, educational technologies meet the definition of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which is a framework for applying universal design principles to instructional materials, curricula, and educational activities so that they are challenging yet achievable for students with a wide range of abilities and needs. The consistent use of UDL principles promotes the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.
Some students with disabilities who may or may not have IEPs or 504 plans need technology supports to help them to access the general education curriculum fully beyond the universally implemented educational technology. On the diagram below these students fall in the Yellow Triangle and are commonly referred to as Tier 2. The students on Tier 2 may need supports to improve their ability to access literacy, math and/or science content. If a student is unable to use printed text effectively, he or she may require instructional materials in specialized formats. They may need Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) as a component of their educational technology. AIMs are specialized formats of fully accessible textbooks and other curriculum materials that can be used by students who are struggling readers or otherwise are unable to access printed text. Determining this need for AIM is the first step toward ensuring that ALL students have the learning materials necessary for participation in activities that lead to educational achievement. Coupled with Assistive Technologies, AIM materials provide a powerful solution in ensuring that struggling readers or children that have difficulty gaining meaning from or using traditional print materials due to physical or other disabilities have equal access to a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) and to fully demonstrate their skill levels.
In addition to the above-mentioned supports, some students require more intensive special education supports and specialized instruction. At Tier 3 - The Red Triangle, students are provided with the most intensive interventions. Some of these students may use and/or benefit from specialized assistive technology to perform basic communication tasks and may depend extensively on assistive technology to access general education content and activities. Students are eligible to be supported by the I-Team if they are identified in the categories of multiple disabilities, deaf-blindness, autism, and learning impairments, however they do serve students identified in other special education categories.
Information on eligibility and referral to the I-Team may be found:
Providing accessible materials to an eligible student does not guarantee student achievement. In order to effectively use accessible materials, staff, students, and parents will likely require training. In addition, most electronic forms of these materials will require assistive technology that can add needed supports. This too, will likely require training for staff and students.

In the above description of Accessible Instructional materials (AIM) what does the term “Fully Accessible” mean? Fully Accessible Means That:
  • All Text is digital, and can be read with text- to-speech, modified with regard to font size, and navigated by the unit, chapter, section, and page number (or otherwise appropriate segments)
  • Images include alternative text and long descriptions when appropriate (alternative text is a replacement for an image that serves the same purpose as the image itself. The alternative text is read by a screen reader in place of the image).
  • Math equations are provided as images with alternative text or in the content file using MathML.
  • All content reading order, levels and headings are determined by publisher tagging.
  • Text can be converted into Braille.
What is Assistive Technology?

The term Assistive Technology (AT) is the systematic application of technology, engineering methodologies, or scientific principles to meet the needs of and address the barriers confronted by students with disabilities in areas including: education, employment, transportation, independent living, and other community living arrangements. This term includes assistive technology devices and assistive technology services.

Assistive Technology (AT) is the systematic application of technology, engineering methodologies, or scientific principles to meet the needs of and address the barriers confronted by students with disabilities in areas including: education, employment, transportation, independent living, and other community living arrangements. This term includes assistive technology devices and assistive technology services.

What does IDEA say about Assistive Technology?

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams to consider the assistive technology needs of a student during the development of an IEP. The law further defines assistive technology devices and services.

Assistive Technology Device - The term 'assistive technology device' means any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability.

Assistive Technology Service - 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. Such terms include:

  • the evaluation of the needs of such child, 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 such child;
  • 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 a child, or, where appropriate, the family of such child; and
  • training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing education and rehabilitation services), employers, or other individuals who provide services to, employ, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of such child.
  • training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing education and rehabilitation services), employers, or other individuals who provide services to, employ, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of the child.
[IDEA: 20 U.S.C. Part A, Section 602.]
Definition of Assistive Technology
The definition of AT in the law is broad and includes almost any type of device used to support the education of a student with a disability. The word technology in the phrase assistive technology does not imply a requirement for electronic components. For all students with disabilities, it is important for IEP teams to recognize that AT encompasses a range from the low end of devices (e.g., picture boards, wide-lined paper, pencil grips, calculators, typewriters) to the high end which may include computers or devices with computer components.

AT is not educational technology. Educational technology (hardware and software) functions as a supplement to the curriculum. It reinforces concepts taught and is one of the many instructional tools available to a teacher. Educational technology should not be specified in the IEP.

Relationship of Assistive Technology to Student Strengths and Needs

AT is one aspect of a multifaceted approach to addressing the strengths and needs of a student with disabilities. The needed technology must be considered in relation to the students learning potential, motivation, chronological age, developmental level, and curriculum access needs. AT is a tool for access that will change over time as the students needs change and as advancements are made in technology.

Consideration of the Need for Assistive Technology

IEP teams are required to consider the need for AT devices and services. AT considerations must address the students need to access curriculum and specially designed goals and objectives. IEP teams must ask the question, What does the student need to do that he/she cannot do because of his/her disability? Consideration does not imply a mandate for an AT assessment or for the actual provision of devices for every child with a disability. For example, if a students performance is functional in relation to curriculum and goals, the consideration should be brief and consensus should be reached relatively quickly with the conclusion that AT is not needed at this time.

Approach to Assistive Technology Assessment

The need for assistive technology (AT) should be an integral part of a comprehensive assessment for a student in all areas related to his/her disability and/or educational needs. AT considerations should be part of a collaborative school-based approach that includes service providers who are knowledgeable about the childs disability and the aspects of AT associated with the disability.

Trial Period of Assistive Technology Use

In some cases, the IEP team consideration may lead to a recommendation for a short-term trial with new strategies or devices available at the school. In this case, the team should check the yes box which addresses AT in the special factors section of the IEP. Such trials should be written into an IEP goal or short term objective with a time frame and measurable criteria to evaluate progress. The IEP team should plan a subsequent IEP meeting to review the results of the trial period or to provide other considerations for AT.

Assistance From Assistive Technology Specialists

After an AT assessment is completed at the school level and attempts to use school- based AT resources are not successful; an IEP team may request a more in- depth AT consultation from the District, Regional or Education District programs.

Documentation of A Childs Need For Assistive Technology

IEP teams must specify the type of device the student needs (i.e., pencil grips, word processing software, augmentative and alternative communication system). The IEP team should not specify brand names unless a device has particular characteristics that require the child to learn operational skills that are unique to the device provided.

A Way to Think About Assistive Technology

Like any other strategy used to help educate children with disabilities, assistive technology decisions are the responsibility of the IEP team. Assistive Technology consideration is a collaborative student-centered process. The team that considers assistive technology should also be the IEP or IFSP team, expanded as needed, to include additional members who have information or special expertise about the assistive technology solution the team is considering. If the team does not include people who have sufficient knowledge about the child, the tasks the child needs to complete, and the environments where those tasks must happen, as well as people who know about the assistive technology that might help the child, then the team does not have enough information to really consider the need for assistive technology.

Assistive technology enables children with disabilities to participate more fully in all aspects of life (school, home, and community) and helps them access their right to a "free, appropriate, public education" in the "least restrictive environment."

What does Assistive Technology Consideration in the IEP look like?

The steps a team should take when considering a childs need for assistive technology are the same as the steps the team would take when considering any other educational need. According to procedures outlined in federal and state statutes, the team would....

Before the IEP Meeting:

(The following steps need to be completed prior to the IEP meeting)

  • Teacher reviews information regarding the student's abilities, educational tasks that are difficult for the student, interventions that have been implemented.
  • The following questions should be asked in regards to assistive technology (AT) services and devices and accessible formats:
    • What are the rest of the students' doing that this student can't do?
    • Is there available AT (either devices, tools, or software) or accessible formats that could be used to address what the student can't do?
  • Collect information about possible AT interventions and accessible formats. This might include having the student try different devices or software to see what works or not.
  • Implement the chosen intervention and collect sufficient data, typically 6-8 weeks worth of data about the intervention's effectiveness. This time frame should be based on the device or format being assessed, the student's needs, and the severity of the intervention problem.
  • If data (collected as stated in #4 above) shows that the AT/accessible format intervention does not work, try another intervention, if available, and collect additional data.

At the IEP Meeting:

(The following are important to address at the IEP meeting:)

  • Review pre-IEP interventions and data on AT interventions
  • Address: "Does the student require AT devices and/or services?"
    • If the current interventions are working and AT is not required, discuss evidence of progress and proceed with the development of the IEP
    • If AT is already being used effectively, the AT intervention must be described in the IEP
    • If there has been a trial with an AT intervention and the IEP team determines that it is a requirement to meet the student's needs, include specific statements of such services, including the nature and amount of such services. The inclusion of assistive technology in the IEP requires a degree of specificity so that it is clear how and why the technology will be used to accomplish a particular goal and the anticipated frequency, location, and duration of the technology
    • If the IEP team determines that AT should be tried, describe what AT intervention will be tried, for what specific educational tasks, under what conditions, and the criteria for determining whether or not the need is being met by the AT intervention
  • Establish student-learning goals, AT devices and services, and accessible formats on the IEP form including how AT will be implemented and utilized to meet these learning goals. Also describe the textbooks and related core materials to be converted to accessible formats (NIMAS/NIMAC).
  • Establish review dates of progress of AT on IEP learning goals (this is not the annual review of the IEP).
  • Identify methods and dates to monitor progress of AT implementation.
  • Identify training needs of student, family members, necessary staff, and who will provide the training and when.
  • Discuss timely manner issues (when student needs the device, who needs to be trained, how device will be ordered and installed or implemented). The timely manner in Vermont is defined as the same time that all children get their textbooks and materials.
  • LEA representative on the team is responsible for monitoring the provision of AT in a timely manner.
  • Discuss maintenance and repair issues and responsibilities.
  • Team discusses transition issues such as course-to-course, grade-to-grade, post-secondary, and early access to school.

After the IEP Meeting:
  • Implement interventions
  • Document the effect on student performance
  • Review effectiveness of AT/accessible formats on a periodic basis using data
  • The LEA representative is responsible for monitoring the provision of AT/accessible formats in a timely manner.
  • TRIPSCY/AIM Home Page

Last modified October 21 2013 01:58 PM

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