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Assistive Technology

Consideration of assistive technology (AT), in the context of IEP development, review, or revision is intended to be a collaborative process in which team members determine whether AT devices, supports, or services are needed for the learner with disabilities to: 

Consideration may necessitate that the IEP team include (or have access to) someone who has knowledge about AT or who can guide the team in considering AT in the context of what they know about the learner. 

Consider areas where the learner relies on others and whether AT could help them be more independent.  AT may be considered for mobility, hearing, vision, communication, computer access, reading, written language, positioning & seating, and recreation.

Assistive technology supports and devices may be simple, no-cost adaptations, built-in accessibility features, or high-tech equipment. 

For each IEP developed, the team must consider and determine if assistive technology is a special factor that needs to be addressed for a learner.  

The following questions may be helpful to IEP teams as they consider assistive technology:

Is there a specific task that is difficult for this learner? Would assistive technology support the learner with this task?

Some examples are:

  • The learner has difficulty communicating wants and needs.
  • The learner struggles to follow auditory directions provided by the teacher only.
  • The learner cannot access grade level content in reading or math.
  • The learner’s writing is illegible. 
  • The learner is not able to write with the same speed or accuracy as peers. 
  • The learner shows evidence of listening fatigue such as distraction, frustration, exhaustion, or preferring to be alone in difficult listening situations.
  • The learner cannot visually access print as written on the whiteboard/textbook/environment.
  • The learner is not able to physically or visually access the environment. This may include the bus, lunchroom, classroom, hallways, desk/tables etc.
Is there a device, software, product or strategy that may allow the learner to perform this task with greater accuracy, ease or independence?

An AT device is 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 the functional capabilities of a learner with a disability. This does not include medical devices that are surgically implanted.

Examples of AT devices include:

Behavior – visual supports such as first/then chart

Communication – augmentative or alternative communication device (AAC), visual supports

Computer Access – adaptive keyboard, mouse pointer, larger monitor

Hearing – classroom amplification, captioning services, headphones

Math – calculator, digital graphing tools

Reading – graphic organizer, text reader, page fluffer

Seating & Mobility – gait trainer, walkers, positioning supports, cane (including adaptive mobility devices)

Vision – electronic braille display or notetaker, magnification including built-in options, screen reader

Written Language – pencil grip, word processing, dictation, speech-to-text

If the school district is using technology, hardware and/or software, for all learners in the classroom, the team should consider whether or not that technology is assistive technology for this learner. If, what the learner is using, increases, maintains or improves the learner’s functional performance, then it would be a special factor and documented within the learner’s IEP. In addition, if a family purchased a device and wants the learner to use it at school, the team should consider whether or not the device is assistive technology for the learner. If the device increases, maintains, or improves the learner’s functional performance, then it would be a special factor and documented within the learner’s IEP.

Does the learner require assistive technology for working or living?

A learner’s IEP team must also address and determine if the learner requires access to any school purchased assistive technology in the learner’s home or school supported employment in order to receive FAPE.  

Examples of assistive technology that may support living or working outcomes could include:

Text reader for job duties

Augmentative or alternative communication device (AAC)

Timer or App to for reminders


If the IEP team would answer YES to any of the questions above, then the IEP team should identify ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY as a special factor. The IEP team will then need to determine if the learner requires AT supports, services or activities, as described below, to receive FAPE.  If specific devices or equipment are required, then they would be described as assistive technology devices in the IEP.

If the IEP team answers NO to all questions, then the consideration process would stop. There would no longer be a need to consider the next section because ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY would NOT be a special factor.


Defining Assistive Technology Devices, Supports, and Services


Assistive Technology Supports

AT supports are events or tasks that the learner needs to complete in order to take advantage of or respond to educational programs and opportunities. They are less regular and less systematic than services, therefore, do not need to be linked to a goal, require a designated number of minutes, or progress monitoring. The team will need to specify who will implement the support.

Examples of AT supports:

  • Consulting on the needs of a learner with regard to assistive technology in the learner’s educational environment
  • Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing AT
  • Purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology
  • Coordinating AT activities and services with other service providers
  • Training opportunities for staff and families
  • Providing aided language stimulation/modeling to learners who use augmentative/alternative communication (AAC)
  • Troubleshooting technology and remediating problems
  • Daily listening check performed on hearing assistive technology
Assistive Technology Services

AT services are actions designed to meet the unique needs of a learner or are required to assist the learner to take advantage of or respond to educational programs and opportunities. Services are regular and ongoing actions delivered to or on behalf of a learner over time, and are linked to IEP goal(s). The IEP must reflect the number of minutes of service, the frequency of service, the setting where service is provided and the provider(s) responsible.

AT services are generally not provided as a standalone service.  Professionals may provide AT services in an integrated manner under their discipline-specific service (e.g. Speech Language Pathologist, Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, Teachers addressing unique needs of students with hearing or vision loss).

Assistive Technology Devices

If specialized assistive technology equipment or systems (as defined above in question #2) are required for a learner to have FAPE, then this should be specifically described in the IEP as an Assistive Technology Device


For learners who are blind or visually impaired, instruction in braille should be provided unless the IEP team determines that it is inappropriate. To determine the need for braille and/or other special education services and supports, assessments are administered to collect data. The assessments used may include:

  • Learning Media Assessment (LMA) to determine the current reading and writing media (braille, large print, dual print media, and regular print with optical devices or regular print without optical devices) best suited to the learners
  • Assessments in the nine priority content areas of the Iowa Expanded Core Curriculum Procedures Manual Iowa Expanded Core Curriculum (pp. 29-35.)
  • For learners with any functional vision, a Functional Vision Assessment (FVA) to determine how the learner uses the remaining vision in a variety of educational settings

It is critical to evaluate the status of a learner's visual abilities at least every three years.

Assessment Results: The assessment data will determine the learner's primary and secondary learning mediums (sensory channel for learning- visual, tactile, or auditory) which the IEP team must document and use to support the development of the IEP. 

Primary Learning Medium

Primary Learning Medium is the medium most frequently used by a learner with visual impairment during classroom instruction.

  • Can also be used in a wide variety of settings inside and outside the classroom
  • Permits independence and efficiency in both reading and writing
  • Will become a primary living medium
  • Must accommodate academic, nonacademic, and vocational needs and be applicable to adult activities following the completion of school
Secondary Learning Medium

Secondary Learning Medium is the medium that is learned in order to allow a learner with visual impairment to perform specific tasks not easily performed in the primary learning medium

  • May alleviate fatigue experienced when using the primary learning medium for extended periods of time
  • May be appropriate when a visual prognosis indicates a future loss of vision and, therefore a changing learning medium
  • May also be appropriate when functional assessment criteria suggest the learner may benefit by using a different medium under some conditions


If the IEP team determines communication and language are a concern for the learner, the team must document how the learner’s unique needs will be addressed.

For any learner with a hearing loss, additional communication needs are to be considered by the IEP team. The team must consider opportunities for direct communication with peers and professional personnel, including opportunities for direct instruction. A communication plan is required for any learner with a hearing loss who is receiving direct services from an audiologist and/or teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing. This plan may be embedded within the IEP or documented on a communication plan and attached to the IEP.

The communication plan or IEP must include the following:

  • Information regarding the learner’s mode of communication, expressively and receptively
  • The learner’s language and communication needs
  • The learner’s academic level and full range of needs
  • A description of opportunities for direct communication with peers and professionals
  • A description of opportunities for direct instruction in the child’s language and communication mode

An educational audiologist and/or teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing must be involved in the development of the communication plan and be a member of the IEP team. If the child utilizes an educational interpreter, the IEP team should consider inviting him/her to be a member of the IEP team.
NOTE: Prior to the IEP meeting, a draft communication plan may be created. If a draft communication plan is developed prior to the IEP meeting, it must be provided to the parents before the meeting. 

Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)

Accessible instructional materials (AIM) have been broadened to accessible educational materials (AEM), including digital instructional materials. Accessible educational materials (AEM) are print- and technology-based educational materials, including printed and electronic textbooks and related core materials, that are designed or enhanced in a way that makes them usable across the widest range of learner variability, regardless of format (e.g. print, large print, braille, digital, graphic, audio, video, closed captioning). An IEP team must determine and document a learner’s need for accessible educational materials each time an IEP is written, reviewed, and/or revised.

An IEP team may use the following questions to determine if a learner requires AEM to independently access print-based and digitally-based text:

  1. Will the learner’s reading level continue to be below grade level if the current reading goal is achieved?
  2. Does the learner understand grade-level reading material at a significantly higher level when it is read to him/her?
  3. Does the learner have accommodations listed in the IEP that require an adult reader at specific times (e.g. testing, worksheets, chapter books, etc)?
  4. Does it take the learner significantly longer to independently read text than it does for same-age peers?
  5. Does the learner have significant visual or physical impairments that prevent him/her from independently accessing standard print-based materials provided to same-grade peers and thus require a specialized format?
  6. Does the learner have a hearing loss that doesn’t allow him/her to access content that is presented auditorily?

When considering a learner's need for AEM, the IEP team will review all data, including the AT consideration form, and may determine:

  1. The learner can use standard print-based and technology-based educational materials used across the curriculum by other students and does not require specialized formats.
  2. The learner requires exactly the same content in specialized formats.
  3. The learner requires modified content or alternative materials and does not require specialized formats.
  4. The learner requires modified content or alternative materials in specialized formats.

The IEP team must document all AEM considerations and decisions in the IEP.

An AEA or an LEA, when purchasing educational materials, must acquire those educational materials in accessible formats for learners that are blind, have a hearing disability, or have a print disability.

Learners in need of accessible instructional/educational materials must receive the materials at the same time as other learners receive instructional/educational materials.


Determining and Documenting a Certified Print Disability

For some learners, the IEP team may engage in the discussion of whether the individual has a certified print disability, the potential need for specialized materials, and eligibility for NIMAS (National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard) materials under the Copyright Act.

Steps to determine if a learner has a print disability, the IEP team will need to:

  1. Consider and discuss the following questions:
    1. Does the learner require specialized formats (Braille, large print, audio, digital text) of printed textbooks and core related instructional materials that are written and published for use in elementary and secondary school instruction?
    2. What printed textbooks and core related instructional materials are being used in the learner’s classes?
    3. Can this learner use these materials effectively for educational achievement?
    4. If the information in the printed materials were provided to the learner in a specialized format, would the information contained in the material be useful for the learner?
  2. Review the learner's evaluation information and present levels of achievement to determine whether the learner has difficulty with the task of gaining meaning from print-based core instructional materials used in academic content areas.
  3. Check the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped database (800-362-2587) to see if the student has been certified as having a print disability by competent authority based on: blindness or a visual impairment, physical limitations that prevent the reading of standard printed material, or organic dysfunction of sufficient severity to prevent reading printed material in a normal manner.

If the learner has been previously certified as having a print disability and is eligible for specialized formats under the Copyright Act as amended, the team will:

  • Initiate steps for obtaining materials in the required formats in a timely manner using the Iowa Department for the Blind
  • Identify instruction, supports, services, and/or training that will be needed by the learner and others to use the materials effectively

If the student has not been previously certified as eligible for specialized formats under the Copyright Act as amended, the IEP team will consider whether the student’s difficulties with print are due to lack of sufficient instruction or limited English proficiency.

  • If “yes” to either, specialized instruction may be more appropriate than materials in specialized formats.
  • If the answer is “no,” the team may check to determine if the student can be certified by a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO) as having a reading disability based on an organic dysfunction. The ‘Physician’s Form’ developed by the Iowa Center for Development and Disability would be used for documentation,
    • If the physician indicates “yes” on the form, then the form must be sent to the library at the Department of the Blind. It may be emailed to [email protected] or mailed to 524 Fourth Street, Des Moines, IA 50309-2364.
    • If the physician marks “no” and the team feels that the student needs materials in a specialized format, the team should follow state guidance on how to acquire the needed specialized formats for this learner.

If a learner with a certified print disability needs a specialized format, the IEP must document:

  • The specific format(s) to be provided (Braille, large print, audio, or digital text)
  • The individual(s) responsible for providing the specialized format(s)
  • The services and/or assistive technology the student needs to use the specialized formats
  • The instruction, supports, and other services, and/or training that will be needed by the student and others to use the materials effectively
  • Whether the format is required to be used in the learner's home or in other settings in order for the learner to receive a free and appropriate education
  • Additionally, if the learner is NIMAS eligible under the Copyright Act as amended, document such in the “Other information essential for the development of this IEP” section. Also, if the learner is not NIMAS eligible and the team feels the learner has a print disability and requires specialized formats, indicate this in the services for the learner.

Assistive Technology and AEM Resources

Further resources are available on the i3 special education resources page.  Additional resources are also available on the Iowa Department of Education AT Page and AEM Page.