With new guidance, the U.S. Department of Education is pushing schools to ensure that all students with disabilities have the assistive technology they need and the supports to use it effectively.

The agency issued a “Dear Colleague” letter and a 24-page “myths and facts” document this week aimed at clarifying schools’ responsibilities to provide various aids.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the agency said that every time an individualized education program team meets to develop, review or revise a student’s IEP, they are required to factor whether the child needs assistive technology devices and services.

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This can include electronic options like text-to-speech software, word prediction devices and augmentative and alternative communication devices as well as more basic tools including visual schedules and timers, pencil grips, binder clips, squishy balls and stickers.

“(Assistive technology) devices and services can help improve outcomes for children, develop important skills and abilities, and prepare them for the workforce and life after high school,” reads the letter from Glenna Wright-Gallo, assistant secretary of special education and rehabilitative services, and Roberto J. Rodríguez, assistant secretary for planning, evaluation and policy development at the Education Department. “By providing children with disabilities with the tools they need to succeed, we can help break down barriers and create a more inclusive and equitable educational system for all.”

Assistive technology can be used for infants and toddlers served under IDEA Part C as well as school-age kids served under Part B with all types of disabilities, the letter indicates. It should also be factored when children move from early intervention to school and again when they transition to postsecondary life.

Not only must schools provide and fully fund any assistive technology necessary for a child to receive a free appropriate public education, but they are also obligated under the law to ensure that children, families, teachers and related services providers are trained to use the devices so that they can be implemented correctly at home and at school, according to the guidance.

Denise Marshall, CEO of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, or COPAA, a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of students with disabilities and their families, said it’s important to see the Education Department clarifying that IDEA requires assistive technology devices and services to be considered regardless of a child’s age or disability.

“We know that too often, the (assistive technology) consideration is either skimmed over or skipped entirely due to biases, assumptions or lack of knowledge about various (assistive technology) devices and services that support and increase a child’s access to the general curriculum in their classroom,” she said. “We will encourage our members to use the guidance as a tool in the IEP process so that every child can have the resources they need to thrive in school.”

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