Tuesday, May 17, 2022
Amplifying Their Voices: Equity and Assistive Technology For Children With Disabilities
Rosemary Queenan (Albany Law School), Amplifying Their Voices: Equity and Assistive Technology For Children With Disabilities, Dickenson L. Rev. (Forthcoming):
Assistive technology devices are crucial to the educational development of children who suffer from hearing loss. For some hearing-impaired children, access to hearing aids is vital to their ability to acquire language, develop speech, and socialize. Yet many hearing-impaired children are unable to acquire hearing aids because most insurance policies do not cover them. Access to assistive technology devices for hearing-impaired individuals has been the subject of long-standing controversy.
The law recognizes the benefits of assistive technology devices and includes them within the scope of services school districts may be required to provide in order to ensure that children with disabilities have a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). However, the Supreme Court’s FAPE standard requires only that school districts provide special education services that are “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress in light of the child’s circumstances.” As a result, requests for assistive technology are often denied, even if there is medical evidence that such services would benefit the child academically and socially, if the child is making “progress,” which is often measured by “passing grades and advancement from year to year.” This narrow focus on progress fails to account for the unique benefit evolving technology can have on the development of a child with a disability and the detrimental impact caused by an inability to acquire access. Additionally, children who are unable to acquire assistive technology from their school district are often left with no other options for financial support because government and private insurance funding for certain devices, such as hearing aids, is limited. Many scholars have noted the implications of the Supreme Court’s standard, including that it remains “unpredictable,” and lacks clarity as to how to define “substantive appropriateness” but the scholarship has not addressed the impact the standard has on children who do not have access to hearing aids. This Article analyzes the issues related to access to assistive technology by focusing on children with hearing disabilities as an illustration of the tension between the limited scope of the law, the substantial cost of certain assistive technology devices, and the significant social and academic developmental cost to children who are unable to afford the technology they need. To address the legal and financial barriers to access, the FAPE standard should be interpreted to recognize the unique benefit of quickly evolving and much-needed assistive technology for children with disabilities and states should take steps to mandate government-based and private insurance coverage.