assistive technology Process in Schools

Did you know?

  • Assistive technology (AT) is any item that improves the functional capabilities of a student with a disability.

  • IEP teams are legally required to consider the need for AT during the development of all IEPs. (34 CFR § 300.324). Example below is from Illinois IEP form.

  • Each professional on the IEP team has a role to play. The legal responsibility for AT consideration doesn't belong to a specific person.

  • Consider AT before the IEP meeting so you are prepared to discuss it and document it.

Before considering AT, you need to know:

  1. What are the adverse effects of the student's impairment(s)? See eval/re-eval documentation.

  2. What educationally-relevant activities and tasks are difficult due to the adverse effects? See IEP goals and curriculum expectations.

  3. What is the student's current level of performance on the difficult activities and tasks? See Present Levels.

AT Consideration question:

Would AT improve the student's performance on the activities and tasks that are difficult and/or increase their independence?

YES (reasons AT may be needed)

  • The student has been using AT on a regular basis and progress monitoring data supports its ongoing effectiveness.

  • An AT assessment was recently completed and pre/post data shows improved task performance with AT and/or increased independence.

NO (reasons AT may not be needed)

  • The IEP team has determined that no-tech accommodations are sufficient to reduce or remove adverse effects.

      • For example: Extra time will compensate sufficiently for slower processing.

      • However, consider AT as a replacement for human assistance to increase independence (e.g. text-to-speech instead of "tests read" by a human).

  • The IEP team has determined that AT tools will not improve the student's performance because tool features cannot reduce or remove the specific task-demands that are difficult for the student.

      • For example: AT features cannot directly augment or replace the cognitive demands of reading comprehension. (But text-to-speech CAN reduce the demands of visual decoding (accuracy and fluency), which might give a student better access to comprehension.)

      • For example: AT features cannot augment or replace social perception in students with autism. (But researchers are studying a product that uses artificial intelligence to recognize emotions.)

  • An AT assessment was recently completed and pre/post data shows no improvement in specific task performance with AT.

Maybe (reasons to assess the need for AT)

  • The IEP team does not have enough data or expertise to answer the question.

  • The AT currently documented on the IEP is no longer effective but the student is still struggling.

  • The learning environment and/or learning tasks have recently changed and AT needs to be reconsidered (AT should be reassessed annually).

If the answer is "maybe"

Use a problem-solving process to determine the need for AT

Integrating AT into the Problem-Solving Process

A. What's the problem?

  1. Identify the activity/task that is difficult to do

B. Why is it occurring?

  1. Analyze the task-demands of the activity

  2. Determine which specific task-demands are difficult for the student

C. What are we going to do about it?

  1. Consider AT

    1. Use a consideration guide to find AT features that could compensate for (augment or replace) the difficult task-demands

    2. Request an AT consultation if assistance is needed

  2. Choose & Trial AT

    1. Choose specific product with the desired AT features that also match the student's preferences and the environment(s) in which the activity is typically performed

    2. Teach the student how to use the tool

    3. Test-drive the tool using "pre/post" protocols or extended trials

    4. Compare performance with the tool to performance without the tool to determine AT effectiveness

    5. Document the need for AT on IEP

  3. Implement AT

    1. Provide more training until the student can use the tool independently

    2. Train staff and parents (as needed)

    3. Create an implementation plan to maximize opportunities for use, identify team member responsibilities, and determine outcome criteria

D. Monitor Progress

    • Monitor AT use and effectiveness over time

    • Reassess the need for AT periodically

JHU AT Cycle used with permission. Johns Hopkins University, School of Education, Center for Technology in Education. Contact Jeanne Dwyer for more information (

Request an AT consultation if the IEP team needs assistance with AT problem-solving.

Legal regulations related to AT

  • Assistive technology is any item that improves functional capability (34 CFR § 300.5)

  • IEP teams are legally required provide AT services to students who need it (34 CFR § 300.6). AT services legally include:

    • Functional evaluation in the child's customary environment

    • Purchasing, leasing or otherwise providing for the acquisition of AT

    • Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing AT

    • Coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with AT

    • Training or technical assistance for the student and, if appropriate, the student's family

    • Training or technical assistance for staff, employers, or other individuals who provide services to the student or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of the student

assistive technology or Universal Design for Learning?

AT reduces barriers to learning for individual students by augmenting or replacing specific task-demands.

UDL reduces barriers for ALL students by building multiple pathways into learning and assessment tasks.

  • Multiple means of engagement

  • Multiple means of representation

  • Multiple means of action and expression