The use of technology has increased a lot over the past few decades. We are surrounded by it and depend on it these days. Some forms of technology we would all recognize include cell phones, computers, and tablets. Less obvious forms may include highlighters to help us find important information and lined paper to help keep writing on track. Some lifesaving devices such as carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms let us know when we're in danger. Technologies that help us carry out tasks for daily living (such as all those listed above) are called Assistive Technology (AT).
Although AT can help all of us, it can be really helpful for many people with disabilities. Many people use speech-to-text processors already. Think of Siri and Alexa, for example. Just imagine how speech-to-text could help someone who has trouble typing on a keyboard. Other people use word prediction software when texting when texting which can be helpful for people with learning disabilities struggling with spelling or reading.
Here, you’ll find an introduction to AT for students with disabilities in pre-K through the end of high school in the New York City education system. That includes students in public, charter, and private schools. You'll find information about AT devices and services; your student's AT rights; parent advocacy tips; and resources. We also suggest you check out the NYC Department of Education (DOE)'s Assistive Technology Family Guide.
Technology is always changing. Today’s newest technologies may be tomorrow’s old news. The rights and resources we highlight here are all correct as of January 2019.
About assistive technology devices and services
When we talk about AT we mean both devices and services.
AT is defined and laid out in federal, state, and local special education laws and policies. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal law on which AT is most often based.
- The IDEA defines AT devices 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 a child with a disability.” IDEA Regulation §300.5
- The IDEA defines AT services as “…any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.” IDEA Regulation §300.6
- Under the IDEA, the term assistive technology "does not include a medical device that is surgically implanted or the replacement of such device." This means, for example, that a cochlear implant would not be considered AT.
AT devices and services help students with disabilities by:
ASSISTIVE technology (AT) is used to meet the needs of individual students. INSTRUCTIONAL technology (IT) is technology that supports whole classroom instruction and assessment (for example, smartboards).
See the U.S. Department of Education's website for more information on the IDEA and AT. To learn more about the IDEA in general, see INCLUDEnyc's Top 5 Rights in Special Education [PDF] and Understood's How IDEA Protects You and Your Child.
Examples of AT devices
There are many types of AT devices. Some don’t use what we usually think of as “technology,” while others are more technologically advanced. Some common examples include:
Below are some more examples of AT devices that can be used to support students with a range of needs. It is not a complete list and we are not endorsing the products and organizations below.
For additional resources, check out Spectronics' page on physical disabilities.
For more information on AT for vision impairments, check out the American Foundation for the Blind.
For more information on AT for hearing impairments, check out the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
For another video example, watch AT solutions for math.
For more information on AT for academic support, see the Center On Technology and Disability's How Technology Can Help Your Child With a Learning Disability Be More Independent [PDF].
Examples of AT services
AT services can be just as important as the devices themselves. AT services may include:
- Evaluating what AT device would help your child;
- Picking and buying the device;
- Training your child, your family, and professionals in your child’s life, including teachers and other school staff, on the use of the device;
- Repairing your child’s device; and
- Matching the AT device with other interventions, other AT devices, and other services your child is getting.
Students' rights to AT
Your child’s rights to AT are laid out and defined through two key laws: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Students may have a right to services under one or both laws. Students who receive services under Section 504 will have a 504 Plan laying out the services they have a right to. Students that get services under the IDEA will have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) laying out the services they should be receiving.
Sometimes IEP teams resist the idea of AT. They may feel like they don't know enough about how helpful AT can be and they may not be willing to look further. In those cases, you can emphasize that AT can make it possible for students to match their peers in their learning experiences. With AT support for individual students, the whole classroom may run more smoothly.
If your child has a 504 Plan…
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a federal civil rights law that makes it illegal for any program that gets money from the federal government to discriminate against people with disabilities. Because public schools in NYC get funding from the federal government, the public school system is not allowed to discriminate against students with disabilities.
Under Section 504 a child with a disability can get accommodations and services to help them participate in and benefit from all federally funded school programs and activities to the same degree as children without disabilities. It is also possible to arrange for AT as a “related service” under Section 504. Just be sure that it is laid out in clear terms in the 504 Plan.
For more information on 504 Plans in general, see the U.S. Department of Education's Frequently Asked Questions About Section 504, Advocates for Children of New York's Guide to Section 504 [PDF], and New York Lawyers For the Public Interest's Section 504 Accommodation Plans [PDF].
If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP)…
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that protects the rights of students with disabilities. It requires that every child with a disability get a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). The IEP is the legal roadmap that lays out the special education supports and services a child will get. If the team that creates the IEP agrees that your child could benefit from AT, then AT must be included in the IEP, and if it's on the IEP it must be provided to your child.
Below you will find information on how to make that happen in New York City. If you would like to learn more about IEPs in general, see Advocates for Children of New York's Preparing for an IEP Meeting [PDF] and INCLUDEnyc's IEP Resources.
The AT process for a student with an IEP in New York City
The IEP team will think about whether your child could benefit from AT. If the team decides your child may benefit from AT, your child will be evaluated.
If you believe that AT could help your child, you should talk to school staff—your child’s classroom teacher, the psychologist at your school, the principal or assistant principal for special education, or the Committee on Special Education (CSE). Your child may also want to advocate for themselves. If so, they can bring the idea of AT up themselves. They can tell the same people you would tell—a teacher, the school psychologist, the principal or assistant principal. To learn more about how you can encourage your child to self-advocate, see Pacer's How You Can Help Your Child Learn to Be a Good Self-Advocate [PDF].
To let your school know about your interest in AT, you should write to the IEP team, your child’s classroom teacher, principal, and CSE Chair. We suggest that you fax your letter and save the confirmation sheet, hand deliver it to the school and have a copy stamped as received, or send it by certified mail, return receipt requested. Make sure you save copies of anything that you’ve sent and anything you receive in return.
Once the request has been made, no matter who makes it, you will need to consent to (agree to) the evaluation by signing the DOE's Request to Consent letter. Your child will then get an AT evaluation, either at one of the centers listed below or at their school.
If after 15 calendar days, no one has asked you to sign the consent form, you should reach out to your District Superintendent or your CSE Chairperson.
Depending on where your child goes to school in the New York City school system, the evaluation will either be done at:
- Their public school by a qualified evaluator.
- The Center for Assistive Technology (CAT): for students in community school district programs; preschool students; and students getting special education supports in specialized, private schools.
- Technology Solutions: for students in District 75; students that have hearing or visual impairments; students getting home or hospital instruction; and students in charter schools.
Your child’s AT evaluation must take place within 60 calendar days of when you gave consent for that evaluation. If it does not, you will get an Assessment Authorization letter that explains how to get an independent evaluator.
If you are not happy with the DOE's AT evaluation, you can ask for an independent evaluation to be paid for by the DOE. Submit this request in writing. The DOE will then either disagree and file an impartial hearing or agree and pay for a new evaluation.
You can also set up to have your own private evaluation [PDF] done by anyone you choose. If you do this, you will be responsible for paying for the evaluation yourself.
For more information on AT evaluations, see the DOE's information sheet The Assistive Technology Evaluation Process [PDF]. For more on independent and private evaluations, see Advocates for Children of New York's Guide to Special Education [PDF].
Post-evaluation: IEP meeting and IEP development
Once evaluations are done, the IEP team will come together to consider the recommendations made by the AT evaluator. If the team (of which you are an important member) agrees that AT would be helpful, the devices and services you agree on must be written in the IEP.
The IEP should be specific about:
- What device your child will be using;
- Any services that your child, his or her teachers, and anyone in your family will need to help with the technology; and
- Any rules or limits to whether the device can go back and forth from school to home on weeknights, weekends, and over the summer.
If you don’t agree with the AT recommended by the evaluator or the rest of the IEP team, or if you have concerns about implementation, you can request mediation or file a due process hearing. For more on your due process rights, see Advocates for Children of New York's Guide to Special Education Impartial Hearings [PDF], or New York Lawyers for the Public Interest's Special Education Impartial Hearings in New York City [PDF].
Sometimes it takes a while to figure out the best technology to help your child. It may be necessary to try out a few different devices or make tweaks to a single device. The law and NYC policy make that possible. The DOE should work with your child and the school staff to try out as many devices as needed. They should try different devices one-at-a time, so things don't get confusing. They may also make some adjustments to devices as they search for the best fit. This is an important part of the process that will help make sure your child and the technology they use work well together.
Once that fine-tuning is done, if the recommendation changes, your child’s IEP team will need to come together again to put the changes on the IEP.
Purchase and training
Once the IEP team agrees that AT will help your child, and which AT device will work best, it’s time to put that technology in place. The actual device and any necessary services around that device must be provided at no cost to your family. No one should ask you to pay for the device. Because of this, however, it’s important to understand that any device your child uses will be the property of the DOE—something that you must return at the end of the school year or if your child moves to another school system.
Once your child has the AT device, your child and others working with them (parents, teachers, etc.) should get training on how to use the device. In New York City, the same office that did the evaluation (the Center for Assistive Technology or Technology Solutions) will be responsible for training.
If your child transfers schools within the DOE, AT should follow them to the new school. If you move out of NYC and your child is still school-aged, your child's AT device should be returned to the DOE. You want to prepare for that, and make sure you get AT set up wherever your child goes next.
Technology doesn’t always work as hoped and your child's device may sometimes need to be repaired. If something goes wrong, and the AT device breaks, the DOE will be responsible for making sure it gets fixed. They may ask you for some help getting the broken device to the right place so that can happen. Your first step should be to check with the Center for Assistive Technology or Technology Solutions (depending on which office provided the device in the first place) to see how they want to fix it. If the device is under warranty, they may ask you to mail it straight to the manufacturer for repairs. If they do, they should give you what you need to do that yourself.
If you are not getting answers during any point of the AT process from your school or the CSE, or if something doesn't go as it should, your concerns can be brought to others in higher places at the DOE.
For public school students, send your concerns in writing to your District Superintendent and the Family Support Coordinator in the Superintendent's office. For all other students, send your concerns in writing to your district CSE Chairperson. If that doesn't work, you'll want to reach out [PDF] to the Center for Assistive Technology or Technology Solutions.
Assistive technology after high school
Under law, there must be a transition plan to support successful employment and education after high school for every student with an IEP by the time each student turns 15. This is true whether your child will be graduating high school with a diploma, receiving one of the alternative special education credentials, or aging-out of DOE services at the age of 21. For more on graduation options and transition planning, see our page on transition planning services.
If your child has AT during their school-aged years, then you should talk about continued AT support as part of their transition plan with the rest of your IEP team. The team should think about questions such as:
For more information on AT and transition planning, see:
- The Center on Technology and Disability's Family Information Guide to Assistive Technology and Transition Planning [PDF]
- The National Center for Learning Disabilities' Assistive Technology: Checklist of Questions to Ask Colleges [PDF]
For more general assistive technology videos, watch recordings of Advocates for Children of New York's AT webinar (below left), the ARISE Coalition's student-led AT conference (below right), and the District 75 Conference addressing the need and place of AT in school.
Here are some additional links you may find helpful:
- AAC Connection offers AAC consultations and training for individuals/families; email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (929) 256-3650.
- ATHelp at the JCC in Manhattan provides free assistive technology support for students, families, and professionals. Available by appointment only on select Tuesdays and Sundays; email ATHelp@me.com or call (917) 586-8000.
- Bookshare provides free read-aloud versions of printed materials for students with print disabilities.
- Bridging Apps has an app search tool for assistive technology device (search for apps by age, subject, skill, etc.), and the University of Michigan has compiled a list of apps for individuals with dyslexia.
- The Center for Technology and Disability provides a comprehensive assistive technology glossary [PDF], a guide for families and teens, Getting Started: Exploring Assistive Technology with Your Teen or Young Adult, and a tip sheet, Involving Teens and Young Adults in Selecting Assistive Technology. See also their webinar demonstrating accessibility features in a number of devices that can be used by students to complete their school work independently.
- Council for Exceptional Children's Assistive Technology and IDEA Regulations [PDF] explains the relationship between IDEA and assistive technologies, and the Vermont Family Network's Assistive Technology & Section 504 [PDF] explains the relationship between Section 504 and assistive technologies
- See District Administrations piece, Enhancing Education with Assistive Technology: Products to Help Prepare Students for Life Beyond K12.
- Google (Chrome/Android), Apple, and Microsoft (Windows/Office) provide resources on making your devices more accessible.
- United Cerebral Palsy of NYC provides resources including AT SHARE Lending Libraries, to borrow various AT devices; TechWorks Technology Resource Centers, for various AT trainings and trials; and TechWorks To Go! mobile resource van, to bring AT to schools and fairs. Email email@example.com or call (877) 827-2666 for more information.
- Wrightslaw's Strategies for Assistive Technology Negotiations offers tips on how to discuss your child’s AT rights with school staff.