Clients’ Rights Advocacy: Accessing Assistive Technology through
the Public Schools
By Kathy Motoarella, Protection and Advocacy, Inc.
Did you know that the law requires your child’s Individualized Education
Plan (IEP) Team to specifically consider the child’s need for assistive
technology devices and services when IEP is developed?
If you a child receiving special education services from a school
district then, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(3)(B)(v), every year the IEP team is
required to consider whether assistive technology can provide education
benefits to your child.
The law say that children with disabilities in special education
programs are entitled to related services that may be required to
assist them in benefitting from their education. In other words, the
service must be needed for educational reasons. One type of related
service is assistive technology. This includes devices and services.
34 C.F.R. 300.308; Cal. Ed. Code 565363.1. Examples of assistive technology
include computers, augmentative communication devices, Braillewriters,
What is assistive technology?
In special education, assistive technology means any device or service
that is necessary for a child to benefit from special education or
related services, or to enable the child to be educated in the least
restrictive environment. If includes: evaluations for assistive technology
devices purchasing, modifying or repairing the device, training the
student and others to use the device.
What is an assistive technology device?
The IDEA described an assistive technology device 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 functional capabilities of children with disabilities.
What is an assistive technology service?
It is any service that directly assist a child with disabilities
in the selection, acquisition or use of an assistive technology device.
If you believe your child may need an assistive technology device
to benefit from his education, then make a written request to the
school district to have an assistive technology evaluation done. The
school will conduct an evaluation of you child’s need for such a device
or service. If it is determined that your child requires an assistive
technology device to benefit from his/her education, then the school
district will bear the cost. Any equipment purchased by the school,
though, will remain the property of the school. However, if necessary
for educational reasons - such as homework assignments - there is
a strong argument that the equipment can be used at home or outside
of the classroom.
Information technologies &
Related services and resources.
Center on Information Technology Accommodation (CITA) http://www.ataccess.org
This site provides information on legislation and policy on making
information accessible. It also includes resources such as vendor
lists, public and non-profit resources and guidelines for access technologies.
Consumer Assistive Technology Transfer Network (CATN) http://www.gsa.gov/
DREAMS for Kids, Inc. Information about AT for children. http://www.trace.wisc.edu
Looking for information on assistive technology to help you or someone
you work with on the job, home, or recreational setting? URL: http://www.techconnections.org
Empowerment Through Effective Record Keeping: A Message to Parents
By Carol Wilson
News Exchange - Parents and Providers Working Together
American Association for Home-Based Early Interventionists Fall 1999
We need to remember that doctors, therapists, schools, and any other
service providers are businesses. It is our job to learn how the business
works and to be professional about ourselves or our children, and
getting what we need and what the law states we must have from the
system. Records are vital and can become legal documents. It is important
to get every record that exists. We also need to chart our own observations
about what is going on. We cannot trust such important information
to memory or chance, but must become active participants in this struggle
to get needs met.
Records are valuable information in many instances. Should a parent
die, the designated caregiver will have a complete and accurate record.
All those things about Jon that only mom would know are in his records
to assist someone else. If a child or adolescent ever gets in trouble
with the law, we have proof that he is not a bad kid, but has some
special needs in his life. Records can be given to children as they
become adults and take responsibility for their own lives and become
their own advocates. For adults, records help in charting the course
and clarifying goals, and obtaining what you need from the system.
I have a chart in my work area that I copied from a hospital. Its
says: "Remember, if you don’t chart it, it never happened."
I have been told by legal representatives that personal and parental
charting and record keeping if done consistently and accurately is
permissible in a court of law. After all, when you walk in with binders
of information charted, sleeved, and organized, no one is going to
think you put it together a few days before the hearing.
TIPS ON LETTER WRITING AND DOCUMENTATION
1. Writing letters (documenting) is just one part of this whole process.
It is not the solution or the answer in and of itself, but it is a
critical part of getting what you need.
2. Don’t be concerned about failure - this is a LEARNING process!
You only get better by doing, and you learn from your mistakes. Most
f us start out feeling this is an impossible task, but it does get
better if you keep doing it.
3. Try to be as direct and concise as possible, but don’t worry about
perfection. What’s important is that you get it written down. They
will have the opportunity to correct any miss communications in their
written response. And don’t try to document the entire conversation,
only the issues that are important to you.
4. Whenever possible, keep it to a maximum of one or one and a half
pages. Try to address only one issue per letter. Nobody reads or understands
a long letter with lots of issues.
5. This is an opportunity to re-direct your sadness and anger! Put
that energy into positive action. First drafts will usually be full
of emotion - it is often healing to get these feelings out. Then re-write
it stating the facts as you understand them, without the emotion.
6. Learn to identify what you want to see as an outcome. Ask directly
for it. Make your expectations clear.
7. Remember, these letter writing principles apply to all situations
you are dealing with. It can be equally effective when dealing with
education, medically, mental health, and other social service agencies
8. Letters make communications clearer. They can be used to achieve
any of the following and more:
A. To clarify what was said to you, or what you said.
B. Document what was said to you, or what you said.
C. Document agreements or disagreements.
D. Justify your stand.
E. State your change of mind since your last discussion or meeting.
F. Apologize when you may have been out of line.
G. Let someone’s supervisor know when they have been responsive,
respectful, or otherwise provided satisfactory services. (Don’t
forget to acknowledge any and all positives!)
9. Keep track of time lines. How long do you have to respond? How
long do they have? Did you ask for a written response within a specified
number of working days? Did you state that if you have misunderstood
in any way to respond in writing to clarify, also within a specified
number of working days?
10. If isn’t always necessary to quote the legal reference applicable
to your request or issue, BUT using the language as it appears in
the law is often effective. Quoting the legal reference will be seen
as adversarial, so I don’t recommend starting with it.
11. Always end your letters with a positive statement about wanting
to work with them to resolve these issues. If you ever go to court,
hostile letter with little intention of trying to resolve will not
help your case. And, truly, this really is what most of us want. We
just want things to get better for our kids. Few of us REALLY want
to fight. We fight hard enough just to get through every day.
12. Don’t waste too much time trying to resolve issues at the same
level. Give it a reasonable try, but then go higher. If you send a
copy (cc) of your letters to the next level up, they should be somewhat
informed of the situation when you need to ask for their assistance.
If you would like a set of my workshop handouts, which includes divider
pages for a binder, sample forms that you can fill out, sample letters,
and tips on how to get started in record keeping and other important
information, please send $15 to cover copying and postage costs along
with your address, and I will be happy to send you a set. Carol Wilson,
5109 Ross Lane, Marrero, LA. 70072,
Carol Wilson is the mother of a son with a dual diagnosis of Klinefelter
Syndrome and schizophrenia. She has been tireless in her efforts to
get appropriate treatment for her son and others like him.
Other useful resources
Drew Bledsoe of the New England Patriots has established
the Drew Bledsoe Foundation Parenting With Dignity
program. Bledsoe says of his success "my
parents helped me the most to be what I am today" and
his goal is to help other parents give their children the
best possible start. For more information, see http://www.drewbledsoe.com/.