Funding for Assistive Technology
If a child eligible under the IDEA requires AT to receive a free appropriate public education, the school district must provide the appropriate AT devices and services to ensure the child can access, participate in, and progress in the general education curriculum to the fullest extent possible.
As indicated in the IDEA and its regulations, FAPE means that all parts of a child’s IEP(special education and related services) must be “at no cost to the parents.” This “no cost” rule applies to AT and prohibits school districts from excluding AT devices and/or services from a child’s IEP based solely on the devices’ expense. A school district also cannot require that a parent’s health insurance pay for AT devices and/or services, although a parent may elect to use it.
As stated above, an AT service means any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an AT device, and includes an ATevaluation of the needs of a child with a disability. The school district, therefore, is responsible for paying for an AT evaluation when the PPT recommends one.
If a parent requests an independent AT evaluation at public expense because the parent does not agree with the school district’s AT evaluation, the school district may either choose to fund the independent AT evaluation, or, if the school district believes its AT evaluation is appropriate, initiate a due process hearing to have a hearing officer decide whether the school district’s AT evaluation is appropriate. The school district should choose one of these actions without delay. When the school district agrees to pay for the independent AT evaluation, the criteria under which the independent ATevaluation is obtained, including the location and the qualifications of the examiner, should be the same as the criteria that the school district would use when it does its own evaluation. When the school district initiates due process procedures and the hearing officer decides in favor of the school district, the parent may still obtain an independent AT evaluation but has to pay the costs associated with it.
According to the IDEA, a school district is responsible for paying for any AT device and/or service that is in the IEP and determined to be necessary to provide a child with a disability a FAPE. A school district should provide funding for AT devices and services required for the implementation of the child’s IEP both in school and off site (e.g., community involvement, vocational training, and homework). The IDEA and Section 504 do not provide for exemption of responsibility for “personal use” ATdevices. Examples of such devices include customized wheelchairs, augmentative communication devices used exclusively by and programmed for an individual student, text readers for personal use or study, or services of a personal nature, including assistance in eating, toileting, or dressing. In cases such as these, if the device is part of the IEP or meets the requirements set forth under Section 504, the school district is responsible for providing the AT devices and/or services (OSEP Policy Letter to P. Seiler, 10 IDELR 1216, [11/19/93]).
On “a limited basis and under unique circumstances” based on a child’s individual needs, devices such as hearing aids or eyeglasses may be considered AT devices. The consideration here is the educational need of the device as opposed to the medical need. An OSEP policy letter answering this specific issue stated that “the relationship that must be present is between the educational needs of the child and the AT device and/or service” (ibid). In other words, the student must require the device in order to benefit from his or her educational program. In order for the school district to provide the device, the device must be part of the IEP (OSEP Policy Letter to T. Bachus, 22 IDELR 629, [1/13/95]). The only exception to this is when the devices are determined to be “medical” and not “educational.”
There are a few exceptions to a school district’s responsibility for paying for AT devices and/or services. As stated above, the IDEA provides an exception to its definition of an AT device regarding medical devices that are surgically implanted or the replacement of such devices (Sec. 602 [B]; 34 CFR §.300.5). AT may be included in a child’s IEPas a related service (OSEP Policy Letter to S. Goodman, 16 EHLR 1317, [8/10/90]), however, IDEA has an exception to its definition of related services under 34 CFR Section 300.34(b):
(1) Related services do not include a medical device that is surgically implanted, the optimization of that device’s functioning (e.g., mapping), maintenance of that device, or the replacement of that device.
(2) Nothing in paragraph (b) (1) of this section—
- Limits the right of a child with a surgically implanted device (e.g., cochlear implant) to receive related services (as listed in paragraph (a) of this section) that are determined by the PPT/IEP team to be necessary for the child to receive FAPE;
- Limits the responsibility of a public agency to appropriately monitor and maintain medical devices that are needed to maintain the health and safety of the child, including breathing, nutrition, or operation of other bodily functions, while the child is transported to and from school or is at school; or
- Prevents the routine checking of an external component of a surgically implanted device to make sure it is functioning properly, as required in Sec. 300.113(b).
Furthermore, under Cedar Rapids Community School District v. Garret F. (25 IDELR 439), the Supreme Court provided a “bright line” test for purposes of determining whether a school district is responsible for providing a device or service that may be considered medical. Under the bright line test, the inquiry focuses on who must deliver the device or service, not on the nature of the service to be provided. If a physician must deliver the device or service, it is not a related service, and may be excluded as a medical service or treatment. The school district, therefore, is not responsible for providing the device or service. If, however, individuals other than a physician can provide or deliver the device or service (e.g., nurse, occupational therapist, speech/language pathologist), the device or service cannot be excluded as a medical service or treatment, and the school district is responsible for providing the device or service if the PPT/IEP team determines that the child needs it to benefit from the educational program.
The party that paid for a majority of a device owns the assistive technology devices purchased for children. If the school district fully funds the purchases of an AT device or equipment, the school district owns it. If the device has been purchased, in whole or part, through the child’s private insurance or other third party, then the device belongs to the child and must be used only by that child.
The school personnel, the family, and the student should be jointly responsible for taking reasonable care of the AT. The PPT/IEP team should also identify methods for periodic checks of the AT equipment, reporting problems and completing repairs. If the school district owns the AT device, then it is responsible for ensuring proper safeguards and for replacement if the device is damaged or broken. To ensure repair of devices, the PPT/IEP team should identify procedures that might include how a substitute device would be provided and other temporary options that would be offered as an acceptable substitute for the student’s device. If a family purchases a device included in the IEP, the PPT/IEP team should decide who has the responsibility to repair, replace, and update the device. If the school district or outside agency purchases the device, that agency has the responsibility to repair, replace, and update it.
These requirements fall under the definition of AT services. Equipment updates are required by statute if the update would benefit the child and is not just for cosmetic purposes. However, in the area of computer technology, especially software, the need to keep up with updates is often necessary as computers and equipment change.
For more information about Section 504 and public schools’ responsibilities under the provisions of Section 504, contact the Northeast Regional Office of the Office of Civil Rights at 617-289-0111.
Students who are identified as having a disability/handicapped under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are eligible for accommodations that may include ATdevices and/or services. Note that Section 504 uses the term “handicapped” while the IDEA uses the term “disability.” The Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education oversees the implementation of Section 504 by agencies and programs that receive federal funds.
Schools may have to make special accommodations, including the provision of ATdevices and/or services, to allow students with disabilities to have access to the full range of programs and activities available to nondisabled students.