The Assistive Technology Process for Beginners

As a parent, there are all kinds of supports that can help your child with disabilities. Assistive technology covers a wide area of supports from speech, adapted play, communication and computer access.

If you are considering assistive technology for your child within the public school system, here are a few points you might want to know about as you embark on this process:

1.      Considerations – Did you know that it is a federal mandate that AT be considered in all IFSP’s and IEP’s?  AT should be discussed in IFSP and IEP meetings.

2.      Team planning and SETT – When assistive technology is being considered, it is usually the job of the team (this includes the parent) to determine what the needs of the student are, what the environment will be where it is used, the tasks to be performed and the tools that will be used. We call this SETT (Student, Environment, Tasks, Tools) – a process that is very helpful in working with students to develop assistive technology implementation.

3.      Trials – When the SETT elements have been decided, the next step should be to set up a trial where the assistive technology is used with the student to see if it is effective before purchase. I manage a local equipment center in our area that loans AT to schools for this purpose. We also have a state agency that loans state-wide. Check with your regional educational service providers to see what is available to you.

During the trial, specialists, teachers and assistants should be collecting data on what the student does and how the technology works to support a purchase.

4.      Funding – Once a strategy and AT tool has been found to be successful, the next step is funding. If the assistive technology is required to support equal access to learning for the student, it is the responsibility of the school to provide it. This does not mean that they are required to purchase the high-end expensive version though – oftentimes a free software for a school computer can do the job instead of a personal word processor or laptop. If the laptop would be helpful, but not required, the family might volunteer to contribute a laptop and the school would provide the software and the training/teaching with it.

Larger cost items can run in the thousands of dollars. In this case, all avenues of funding- insurance, Medicaid, state and federal programs can get some or all of the funds. I try to encourage parents to come up with money through all avenues to purchase certain equipment that needs to belong to the child. If a device is purchased by a school to support your child’s education and you move away, the device stays with the school and you are back to square one again somewhere else.

Funding can get sticky. There are all kinds of issues that can crop up. If you are feeling like a school is not living up to its’ responsibilities, you may need to consult legal advice to get a straight answer to what the district is responsible for and what the family is responsible for.

5.      Implementation – this is the biggest issue that will make or break the process of using assistive technology. The team needs to decide on who will support the training of the device and who will maintain, clean and fix repairs if necessary. There needs to be a target goal to focus on with the AT and a plan to see it accomplished. What will the teacher do? What will the specialists do? What will an assistant do? The job isn’t over when the AT is purchased and in the hands of the child and assistant or parent. It has just begun!

These are just a few broad points that I hope will be helpful to know as you pursue assistive technology for your child.

For more information, you might want to consult WATI (Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative) at You can also go to my blog at for an archive that covers many of these issues.

All the best to you!


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