IDEA: Assistive Technology Definition Revision

What IDEA Says

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) includes a change to the definition of "assistive technology device." Congress added an exception to the previous definition as follows: "The term [assistive technology] does not include a medical device that is surgically implanted, or the replacement of such device." The same exact language was also added as an exception to the "related services" definition.

IDEA language restricts a school's responsibility for "medical" services to only those needed for evaluative and diagnostic purposes. Therefore, schools are free of responsibility for providing medical devices. The language in IDEA adds the force of federal law to existing policy.

Note: In the U.S. Supreme Court case Cedar Rapids v. Garrett decision, "medical" is defined as something that must be provided by a physician. If another health care provider can deliver the service/device, it is not considered "medical" under IDEA.

Since medically implanted devices are specifically excluded from the definition of assistive technology device, the IEP team is not required to consider whether the child needs such a device or services related to such a device when the IEP is developed (Sec. 614(d)(3)(B)(v).

On the other hand, consideration of services like programming surgically implanted devices is not prohibited in the law so that such services may be the school's responsibility if the IEP team voluntarily decides that these services are needed for a child's free appropriate public education (FAPE). Audiology continues to be a related service and as a result, cochlear implant mapping done by an audiologist could still be provided under IDEA.

Medically implanted devices are excluded from the definition but Sec. 614(d)(3)(B)(v) requires that every IEP team consider whether a child requires assistive technology and states that each public agency must provide the necessary technology if as part of the child's special education. Additionally, funds may be used to improve the use and support of technology in the classroom to "maximize accessibility to general education curriculum for children with disabilities" (Sec. 611 (e)(2)(C)(iv) & (v)).

Implications for ASHA Members

IDEA does not address lingering questions about what is and is not school responsibility regarding assistive technology devices that serve both educational and medical functions (e.g., augmentative communication systems, eyeglasses, traditional hearing aids, respirators, suctioning equipment, nebulizers). The new language may also affect longstanding U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) policy interpretation (circa 1977) that "personal use devices" are not school responsibility—unless of course they are needed to provide FAPE. This personal use exclusion, with the caveat that such devices must be provided if needed for FAPE, continues to confuse both schools and families.

The U.S. Department of Education’s most recent guidance is from January 2024:

What Members Should Do

ASHA members are encouraged to ensure that assistive technology device needs are included in the IEP process, advocate the use of assistive technologies to other education professionals, and provide support and training to related professionals who are involved with service provision and education to students using assistive devices.

Reference: P.L.108-446, Title I, Part A, Section 602, paragraphs (1), (2), and (26).

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