Where Technology Provides People with Disabilities Access to Information
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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Shortly after passing the Assistive Technology Act reauthorization, Congress reauthorized the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The Conference Committee reported the reauthorization bill, known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, out of Committee on Wednesday, November 17, 2004. The House passed the bill with a vote of 397 - 3 on November 19, 2004, and the Senate agreed to it by unanimous consent on November 19, 2004.

The enacted legislation is similar to the Senate version of the bill, and contains numerous changes that encourage the development and deployment of assistive technologies and emphasizes the integration of technology into the classroom to improve access to the general curriculum for students with disabilities. As in the original bill, the legislation contains four parts. Part A is largely administrative, Part B governs the distribution of formula grants and utilization of those funds to pay for the special education of children ages 3 to 21 with disabilities, Part C provides formula grants for the education and early intervention services for infants and toddlers, and Part D provides for competitive grants to states, government institutions, non-profit organizations, for-profit companies, and other entities to engage in national activities to improve education for children with disabilities. The changes to Part C are largely irrelevant to gh Technologies, and will not be discussed on this site. For more information on IDEA and Part C, please reference the IDEA information at OSEP.

Part A

With respect to gh Technologies, the most significant changes in Part A include: a new finding supporting the development and use of technology, including assistive technology devices and assistive technology services, to maximize access for children with disabilities; some additions to the list of related services covered under the law; and an adoption of the definition of universal design from the Assistive Technology Act, which is "a concept or philosophy for designing and delivering products and services that are usable by people with the widest possible range of functional capabilities, which include products and services that are directly accessible (without requiring assistive technologies) and products and services that are interoperable with assistive technologies." This last change reflects yet another way in which ATIA's hard work in constructing the AT Act has also had a profound effect on the education of children with disabilities. In addition to these changes, Part A also contains an expansion of the ways in which special education teachers may satisfy the highly qualified requirements established under the No Child Left Behind Act; a revised definition for specific learning disability as a "disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written" and an explanation of what disorders are excluded; and a proposed pilot program that would allow the Secretary of Education to grant waivers of the Part B requirements to up to 15 states for four years for proposals to reduce paperwork.

Part B

Under Part B, there are many new authorizations that allow states and local education agencies to use IDEA funds to support the development and use of technology (including universally designed technologies and assistive technology devices and services) to enhance learning and maximize accessibility to the general curriculum for students with disabilities. Part B also sets standards to ensure the qualifications of related services personnel. With respect to assessments, Part B works to harmonize IDEA with the No Child Left Behind Act, and states that children with disabilities must be included in statewide and district-wide assessments. The legislation directs states to develop accommodation guidelines to improve accessibility for children with disabilities in assessments, and sets new standards for alternate assessments for those children who cannot participate in the assessments as determined in the Individualized Education Program (IEP). As part of this process, the legislation directs states to use principles of universal design where feasible in developing and administering state and district assessments. Additionally, the consideration of assistive technology needs continues to be a special factor in the development of an IEP for children with disabilities. Another new provision in Part B would allow the Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) to use IDEA funds even if 1 or more non-disabled children will benefit from the use of those funds.

Perhaps one of the most groundbreaking changes in Part B is the establishment of the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS), a standardized electronic file format for providing print instructional materials in digital form. As a condition of eligibility for IDEA funds, each state is required to adopt NIMAS for providing instructional materials to blind persons or other persons with print disabilities. Additionally, each state is given the option of coordinating with a National Instructional Materials Accessibility Center (NIMAC), which is established through a grant in Part D of IDEA. For those states that choose to coordinate with the NIMAC, within two years after the enactment of the Act, states and local education agencies must require publishers (as part of any print instructional materials adoption process, procurement contract, or other practice or instrument used for the purchase of print instructional materials) to prepare delivery of instructional materials in the NIMAS to the NIMAC. Alternately, states may purchase materials directly from the publisher that are produced in, or may be rendered in, specialized formats.

Other changes in Part B include: IEPs now have "measurable annual goals" and quarterly progress reports instead of short-term objectives and benchmarks; up to 15 states may be granted an opportunity to pilot optional three-year IEPs; students who violate school codes will have to remain in an interim placement pending an appeal of the manifestation determination (a hearing must occur within 20 days); mediation of disputes between parents and schools is encouraged; and states and districts may recover attorneys' fees if a parent's complaint is deemed frivolous. With respect to funding, Congress recommitted to covering as much as 40 percent of the additional cost of educating children with special needs. Currently, the federal government pays less than 19 percent, and states and schools must cover a shortfall of billions of dollars every year. Under this legislation, Congress would reach its spending share by 2011. That goal, however, is based on yearly spending increases that are not guaranteed.

Part D

Part D is a series of competitive grants for national activities to improve education for children with disabilities. This Part contains a new finding that support is needed to improve technological resources and integrate technology, including universally designed technologies, into the lives of children with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities, school personnel, and others through curricula, services, and assistive technologies. Part D has three major components: State Personnel Preparation Grants; Personnel Preparation, Technical Assistance, Model Demonstration Projects, and Dissemination of Information; and Supports to Improve Results for Children with Disabilities. While earlier drafts of the legislation required all deliverables of Grants under this Part to be provided in accessible formats, this requirement was removed from the final version of the law. Additionally, this Part also directs the Department of Education to build a comprehensive research plan, and includes specific guidance to the Department regarding public input and procedures to do so.

State Personnel Preparation

State Personnel Preparation grants are competitive grants to states for personnel preparation and professional development. Among many other uses for these grants, states may use these funds to encourage and support the training of special education and regular education teachers and administrators to effectively utilize and integrate technology into curricula and instruction.

Personnel Preparation, Technical Assistance, Model Demonstration Projects, and Dissemination of Information

The personnel development grants may be used to ensure pre-service and in-service training in new technologies, and to provide sufficient skills to promote quality education of special education students in the regular education classroom; and to prepare teachers on the innovative uses of technology, including universally designed technologies, in the classroom. With respect to technical assistance, model demonstration projects, and dissemination of information, some funds must be used for providing information to regular and special education teachers regarding the different learning styles of children, and disseminating innovative, effective and efficient curricula designs, instructional approaches and strategies. This section also directs a study/evaluation regarding the effectiveness of funds disbursed under Part D of IDEA.

Supports to Improve Results for Children with Disabilities

One of the new purposes of this section is to ensure that appropriate technology and media are researched, developed and demonstrated in order to improve and implement early intervention, educational, and transitional services and results for children with disabilities and their families. This section includes grants for parent training and information centers, community parent resource centers, and, most important for our membership, grants for technology development, demonstration, and utilization, media services, and instructional materials.

In the Technology Development, Demonstration, and Utilization section, there is new support for research and development of innovative, emerging and universally designed technologies for children with disabilities, an emphasis on technology transfer, and for improving internet-based communications for students with cognitive disabilities.

The scope of Educational Media Services grants has also been expanded to fund projects that are designed to be of educational value in the classroom setting, to provide captioning and video description (expanded to include new and emerging technologies), and to provide free educational materials in accessible media for visually impaired and print disabled students (only national non-profit organizations with a track record of providing free educational materials in accessible media for students with visual impairments or other print disabilities and the capacity to produce in digital audio are eligible to apply for this last grant). With respect to captioning and video description, the Secretary may support the closed captioning, open captioning and video description of television programs, videos or other materials appropriate for use in the classroom setting, or news until September 30, 2006, including programs and materials associated with new and emerging technologies such as CDs, DVDs, video streaming, and other forms of multimedia. These funds will only be made available if not previously provided by the producer, or if not previously funded through other sources.

This section also creates the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Center (NIMAC), and designates the American Printing House for the Blind to receive the NIMAS files as directed under Part B, catalogue these files, and develop procedures to provide access free of charge to these materials to students, and safeguard against copyright violations.

Overall, the reauthorized IDEA contains numerous changes that help improve the integration of technology into the education of all children, and help improve access to the general curriculum through the development, dissemination, and use of assistive technology for children with disabilities.

For more information on IDEA, please reference the IDEA site.