2002 Conference Proceedings

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Dennis Martin, Ph.D.
Education & Product Applications Manager
DynaVox Systems LLC
2100 Wharton Street, Suite #400
Pittsburgh, PA 15203
Telephone: (412)381-4883, ext. 245
E-mail: dennis.martin@dynavoxsys.com 
Fax: (412)381-9096


The primary and basic source of law in the United States is the Constitution. The primary federal statute of relevance to special education that has evolved from Constitutional entitlements is The Education for all Handicapped Act (EAHCA). To a lesser extent, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 has also impacted services in schools. The EAHCA is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, P.L.101-476). The law requires Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for children with disabilities. It requires school districts to provide special education and related services without charge, based on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) designed to meet a student's unique needs. Special education is defined as "specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parent, to meet the unique needs of a student with disabilities with the necessary supplementary aids and related services needed for the student to benefit from his/her educational program in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)".

On June 4, 1997 President Clinton signed into law the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (Public Law No. 105-17). Among many changes to the legislation was the defining of assistive technology as a related service. An assistive technology device is "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 individuals with disabilities" (20 U.S.C. Chapter 33, Section 1401 (25)). Assistive technology may be provided as special education or as a related service. Pursuant to this, assistive technology must be considered when developing the IEPs for all students found eligible for special education. From a broader context, supportive assistive technology services must be addressed by the IEP team (e.g., evaluation, selection, fitting, purchasing, coordinating therapy, student and staff training, and technical assistance for staff). Whereas the awareness of assistive technology had been heightened with the passage of The Technology Related Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (Tech Act), Congress's specific reference to it in the new language of the IDEA clarified its significance.

An augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device is just one of the many types of assistive technology that may be required for students. AAC devices may cost as little as $100.00 or as much as $7,000.00 for highly advanced products. Regardless of the price, cost cannot be a factor in selecting a device for an individual. Moreover, parents cannot be required to use their personal insurance to acquire devices or services. Any attempt to compromise the individualized needs of a youngster because of a lack of funds or limited funds, constitutes a violation of the IDEA. The IDEA does not require that school districts provide "the best" or "most expensive" device or services that are available. It requires that both the AAC device and services be properly aligned with the student's individualized educational needs and that they enable the student to benefit from special education. It is imperative that the IEP team considers the student's "total" needs during the evaluation process and when determining the overall services. Provisions of the IDEA also require that teams consider the use of the school based AAC device(s) in the home setting. If the IEP specifies assignments in the home setting that requires the use of the AAC device, then the student must be allowed to take the device home.

More students are using AAC devices in the classroom than ever before in public education. However, it has been noted that students are not always provided with the most appropriate AAC devices and/or support services. Thus, they are not afforded the opportunity to fully develop their communication skills nor to reach their learning potential. For example, a low tech, static communication board may be provided for a student when he/she really requires a more highly advanced device that employs such features as dynamic dysplay and synthesized speech.

This session will highlight recent court cases and due process proceedings that have been litigated as a result of alleged infractions of IDEA and/or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act when considering AAC devices, support services, and training. Strategies for writing good, descriptive IEPs that provide solid justification for advanced dynamic dysplay devices will be reviewed. The DynaVox Systems family of products and software will be used to demonstrate the benefits of high tech AAC devices. More specifically, the demonstration will highlight the various types of advanced communication devices, applications available, and strategies to employ when selecting the appropriate communication solutions for students.


Gorn, S. (1997). The answer book on special education law. Horsham, PA: LRP Publications.

Individuals With Disabilities Act Amendments of 1997, PL 105-17, 20 U.S.C. Section 1400

Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), 29 U.S.C. Section 794

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