2000 Conference Proceedings

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Taymour Ravandi, Staff Attorney
100 Howe Avenue, Suite 235N
Sacramento, California 95825
Phone: (800)776-5746

1. What is special education?

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (20 U.S.C. Sections 1400 and following), enacted in 1975, is the federal law that authorizes special education and related services, including assistive technology. California has also enacted its own statutes which generally parallel the IDEA and provide the basis for providing services in this state. California Education Code (Cal. Ed. Code) Sections 56000 and following. Special education is instruction that is specially designed to meet the unique needs of students with disabilities at no cost to parents. This includes classroom instruction, home instruction, instruction in hospitals and institutions, vocational education, and physical education.

2. What are related services?

"Related services" are supportive services that students require in order to benefit from their special education programs. California calls related services "Designated Instruction and Services" (DIS). Cal. Ed. Code Section 56363; 5 Cal. Code Regs. Sections 3051 and following. It is important to remember that education for children with disabilities includes independent living skills and vocational education, not just academics; therefore a broad range of related services may be required.

Assistive technology devices and the services necessary to help a child select, acquire or use an assistive technology device are made available if required as part of the child's special education or related services. 20 U.S.C. Section 1401(1) and (2); 34 C.F.R. Secs. 300.308 and 300.6.

3. What is assistive technology in special education?

Assistive technology in special education refers to any devices or services that are necessary for your child to benefit from special education or related services, or to enable your child to be educated in the least restrictive environment. 34 C.F.R. Section 300.308. The term assistive technology and its definition were added to the IDEA in the 1990 amendments to the law. This definition provides:

"The term assistive technology device means 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 children with disabilities." 20 U.S.C. Section 1401(1).

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. The term includes:

the evaluation of the needs of a child with a disability, 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 children with disabilities; selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying maintaining, repairing, or replacing of assistive technology devices; 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 with disabilities or, where appropriate, the family of a child with disabilities; training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing education or rehabilitation services), employers, or other individuals who provide services to, employ or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of individuals with disabilities." 20 U.S.C. Section 1401(2). Assistive technology in special education also includes specialized transportation equipment such as "special or adapted buses, lifts, and ramps." 34 C.F.R. Section 300.16(b)(14).

An August 1990, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) letter interpreted the definition of "related services" to include assistive technology. 16 EHLR 1317 OSEP, 1990. The letter emphasized the hallmark of special education law that the determination of what constitutes a free, appropriate public education must be made on an individual basis, and any needed services must be included in the student's IEP. Other OSEP policy letters and hearing decisions provide further clarification of the types of assistive services and devices that fall within the scope of IDEA's mandate. Assistive devices that OSEP found to be related services include: Apple IIe computer (In Re Mary H 1984-1985 EHLR 506:325); auditory training equipment (Cleveland Public School District, EHLR 353:307 OCR 1988); computer assistance (Eldon MO R-1 School District EHLR 352:144 OCR 1986); computerized communication system (San Francisco USD 1985-1986 EHLR 507:416); device for loading/unloading students from a bus (Davis USD 18 IDELR 696, 1992); a $7,000 liberator communication device (19 IDELR 355, 1992); and hearing aids (Seiler, 20 IDELR 1216, 1993). In addition, a 1992 OSEP letter stated that calculators, tape recorders, and teacher's notes can be considered assistive technology. Lambert, 18 IDELR 1039, 1992.

4. Who is eligible to receive assistive technology under the IDEA?

Children who have disabilities that cause them to need specialized educational services to benefit from education are entitled to receive special education and related services, including assistive technology. Eligible disabilities include but are not limited to sensory (i.e. hearing, visual, or speech/language) or orthopedic impairments, mental retardation, autism, serious emotional disturbance, other health impairments or specific learning disabilities. In addition, children with traumatic brain injuries are eligible for special education under federal law. 20 U.S.C. Section 1401(3); 34 C.F.R. Section 300.7. California legislation refers to "individuals with exceptional needs." Cal. Ed. Code Section 56026 and 5 Cal. Code of Regs. Section 3030.

Children who meet these criteria who are between the ages of three years and 18 years, inclusive, are eligible for special education. Cal. Ed. Code Section 56026(c)(2) and (3). Individuals between 19 and 21 who are enrolled in or are eligible for special education programs prior to their 19th birthdays, and who have not completed their prescribed courses of study (or who have not met prescribed proficiency standards), are eligible for special education. Cal. Ed. Code Section 6026(c)(4).

Children aged three to five years are eligible under the same criteria as school-age children with the addition of one new category, called established medical disability. This medical condition or congenital syndrome must have a high predictability of requiring special education. Cal. Ed. Code Section 56441.11.

Infants and toddlers less than three years of age who are developmentally delayed or at risk of such delay, or who have low-incidence disabilities (visual, hearing, or orthopedic impairments and are not otherwise eligible for regional center services) are eligible for early intervention services under PL 99-457 (Part C of the IDEA/Cal. Gov. Code Sections 95000 and following).

Regional centers are the responsible lead agencies for infants and toddlers who are developmentally delayed or at risk of delay; local education agencies have responsibility for those who have solely low-incidence disabilities. (See Questions 24 and 25 for assistive technology for infants and toddlers available through the regional center and the local education agency). Early intervention services that children receive through the regional center are generally governed by the rules and protections of the IDEA, not the Lanterman Act, unless the children are also identified as developmentally disabled under state law, in which case they would also be entitled to any additional benefits of the Lanterman Act.

Educational agencies may also be required to provide assistive technology for students as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Students who are not eligible for special education under the IDEA because they do not fit into one of the defined categories, and/or because their learning problems are not severe enough to qualify for special education, may still receive assistive technology to allow them equal access and opportunity to participate with non-disabled peers. (See Question 28 for information regarding students eligible under section 504 and the ADA.)

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