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Who Pays for Assistive Technology? Parents or Schools?

Elementary students using tablet computers

This Q&A provides a brief overview of the responsibility of public schools to provide and pay for a student's assistive technology under the federal IDEA law and Section 504.

I know school districts have to consider whether a child needs assistive technology. But who covers the cost? Parents or the school?

In general, schools must provide and pay for assistive technology (AT) for students who need it. That’s the case under both IDEA and Section 504. These are two laws that cover students with disabilities.

Under IDEA, students get services and supports through an IEP. A school must provide AT devices and services the IEP team decides the child needs in order to:

  • Access the educational content
  • Participate in class
  • Demonstrate what she knows and what she can do

IEP teams must consider AT as part of developing a plan to meet each student’s unique needs. If the team determines your child needs AT, they may have a specialist do an evaluation to figure out which type of technology is best for your child. (You can also request an AT evaluation if the school doesn’t bring it up.)

Section 504 isn’t as direct as IDEA about providing AT to students. But if a child needs AT to participate in school, it can be covered in a 504 plan.

If your child has a 504 plan and you think she needs AT, ask the 504 team to evaluate her needs. The team must also consider any evaluation information you may already have.

Schools must pay for whatever AT the IEP or 504 team determines is needed. They can’t say they don’t have the funds, or that the devices or services aren’t available. And parents can’t be required to use private or public insurance to pay for AT for kids who have been identified under IDEA or 504.

Under both laws, use of the technology isn’t limited to just while the student is at school. A student will likely also need the AT at home for homework and studying. So the device can go back and forth, even though it belongs to the school. If your child is no longer enrolled at the school, however, she can’t take the device with her.

Schools must also provide teachers and students with any training that’s needed to properly use the AT. The training should be included in your child’s IEP or 504 plan.

Keep in mind that even though the law says IEP teams must consider AT, it’s possible a team will refuse to do an AT evaluation if it doesn’t think one is needed. In that case, you have options for disputing that decision. Check with your state’s parent training center for more information (or the Office for Civil Rights for 504 questions).

Interested in pursuing AT for your child? Learn what to look for when you’re considering options. And even if your child doesn’t have an IEP or a 504 plan, you can still explore assistive technology for reading, writing and math to help your child at home. Check out free web tools, too.

This article originally appeared on Understood.org, a free online resource for parents of children with learning and attention issues. Reprinted courtesy of Understood.org © 2018 Understood, LLC. All rights reserved.

About the author

Melody Musgrove served as director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in the U.S. Department of Education.

Melody Musgrove, Understood (2018)

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