Friday, February 12, 2016

Assistive technology accommodations in higher education

By Nate Crippes
Utah Disability Law Center

As a new semester progresses, it is helpful to remember what higher education institutions must do to aid students with disabilities.  

In particular, it is helpful to know what higher ed must do to aid students with assistive technology. While law and regulation on this topic is complex, the U.S. Department of Education has a useful Q&A on these issues.   
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As the department notes, an institution may be required to provide “auxiliary aids and services” to students with disabilities:

[Auxiliary aids and services] include note-takers, readers, recording devices, sign language interpreters, screen-readers, voice recognition and other adaptive software or hardware for computers, and other devices designed to ensure the participation of students with impaired sensory, manual or speaking skills in an institution’s programs and activities.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that institutions would not be required to provide these auxiliary aids and services, or assistive technology, for personal use or study. They would also not be required to provide every aid a student wants.

Institutions are not required to provide an academic adjustment that would alter or waive essential academic requirements. They also do not have to provide an academic adjustment that would fundamentally alter the nature of a service, program or activity or result in undue financial or administrative burdens considering the institution’s resources as a whole.

In addition, an institution is not required to make modifications that would result in undue financial or administrative burdens. Public institutions are required to give primary consideration to the device or service that the student requests, but can opt to provide alternative aids or services if they are effective. 

If a student with a disability is in need of assistive technology, or any other accommodation, their institution will have a procedure in place. Each institution’s procedure will be slightly different, but they will have an office that can help with accommodations for assistive technology (links to the major Utah colleges and universities accessibility offices are below).  

While not all accommodations will be provided, a student who is provided assistive technology as an accommodation is not expected to pay for it. As the department states:

Once the needed auxiliary aids and services have been identified, institutions may not require students with disabilities to pay part or all of the costs of such aids and services, nor may institutions charge students with disabilities more for participating in programs or activities than they charge students who do not have disabilities. Institutions generally may not condition their provision of academic adjustments on the availability of funds, refuse to spend more than a certain amount to provide academic adjustments, or refuse to provide academic adjustments because they believe other providers of such services exist. In many cases, institutions may meet their obligation to provide auxiliary aids and services by assisting students in either obtaining them or obtaining reimbursement for their cost from an outside agency or organization, such as a state VR agency. Such assistance notwithstanding, institutions retain ultimate responsibility for providing necessary auxiliary aids and services and for any costs associated with providing such aids and services or utilizing outside sources.

The department provides much more information. In addition, if you have questions regarding accommodations, including those involving assistive technology, you can contact the Disability Law Center. More information can be offered, and, if necessary, legal consultation to help you resolve the issues with the institution. Please visit our website, or call us at 1-800-662-9080.  

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