During the 1980's and 90's, the civil and education rights of individuals with disabilities were strengthened. As Assistive Technology (AT) has the potential to provide opportunities for increased independence and participation in all of life's activities, the federal government recognized this ability in the following statement:
"...for all individuals, technology can provide important tools for making the performance of tasks quicker and easier, but for some individuals with disabilities, assistive technology is a necessity that enables them to engage in or perform many tasks."
Prior to 1988, several laws addressed the potential of AT use by individuals with disabilities, but none mandated its use. Since then, laws specifically addressing the AT needs of persons with disabilities have been passed
The "Tech Act" provided federal funds to states to develop training and delivery systems for assistive technology devices and services. It required states and territories to develop statewide, consumer-responsive programs of technology-related services for individuals with disabilities of all ages. This act first defined Assistive Technology Devices and Services and promoted the availability and quality of AT devices and services to all individuals, including children.
Assistive Technology Act of 1988 (P.L.105-394)
The "Tech Act" amendment affirms that technology is a valuable tool that can be used to improve the lives of Americans with disabilities. It extends the funding of the 50 states and six territories to develop permanent, comprehensive, statewide programs of technology-related assistance.
Although the Tech Act first defined AT devices and services, it was IDEA in 1990 that first outlined the school district's responsibility to provide AT to students with disabilities. IDEA also included the Tech Act's Assistive Technology Devices and Services and a specific statement about the school district's role:
[IDEA] 300.308 Assistive Technology
Each public agency shall ensure that assistive technology devices or assistive technology services or both, as those terms are defined in 300.5-300.6 are made available to a child with a disability if required as part of the child's
(a) Special education under 300.17;
(b) Related services under 300.16; or
(c) Supplementary aids and services under 300.550(b)(2).
Taking all of this together, it is clear that the school district, as a public agency, must ensure that both AT devices and services are provided if "required" for the student to receive a Free, Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). It is this determination that is often challenging for schools. It falls to the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team to determine what, if any, AT is necessary.
However, with the 1997 Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) Amendments stating that AT be "considered" on all student IEPs and its recognition that AT may continue to support the student's access to FAPE outside the school environment to a child's home or in other settings, the use of AT is further strengthened.
This "consideration" mandate infers that the IEP team has sufficient knowledge of AT devices and services to make this determination. The law is clearly intended to encourage district personnel to learn about what AT works and what doesn't themselves, as they are best equipped to understand the demands of the environment, the time available, or the skills of the personnel in that environment.