Whether or not the VR agency will provide Assistive Technology (AT) devices and services for transitioning students varies depending on when and where it is needed. Here we will consider the following:
- Students preparing for transition in secondary school
- Students transitioning to post-secondary education settings
VR and AT in Secondary Transition
VR agencies have specific responsibilities to serve students with disabilities who are still in secondary school special education programs and receiving transition services. While the VR agency is required to provide Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) to students in secondary school settings, AT devices and services are not required.
Allowing AT devices purchased by school districts to follow students to settings after graduation has long been considered desirable, but it has proven difficult to achieve in practice.
Because school districts are responsible for funding AT devices for students under IDEA, many VR agencies will deny funding while a student is still in school, claiming it is not responsible under VR Comparable Benefits rules.
At the same time, AT devices purchased by schools are often considered school property, and schools may require that devices be surrendered back to the school when secondary enrollment ends.
This disconnect presents a significant problem, because the AT device a student uses in school will often be useful (if not essential) for further education or employment as an adult.
Under controlling federal policy for schools, equipment may be transferred to post-secondary settings “at the discretion of the school,” and specific guidance on this policy was issued in 1998. Some states have implemented interagency agreements that attempt to facilitate (but none require) the transfer. Nonetheless, many schools and VR agencies nationwide do not have local or state policies in place that effectively facilitate the transfer.
If an AT device used by a student in secondary school will be needed after graduation, students and parents should raise the issue of transfer with the school team. Though not common, some schools will agree to attempt to arrange the transfer of the devices. Remember, however, that the VR agency is responsible for the full cost of AT devices and services for eligible individuals, unless they are required to be provided by another agency or organization as “auxiliary aids’ or services under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504).
ADVOCACY TIP | In secondary school, the school pays for Assistive Technology devices and services under IDEA. VR agencies will typically deny funding of AT during secondary school because it is a Comparable Service. Transfer of AT from the secondary school to post-secondary schools or employment is desirable but problematic, and is rarely approved. Have the student or parent ask anyway. If the school district does not approve the transfer, ensure the VR agency provides it in a timely way so it is available and ready when the student needs it.
VR Services, Including AT, for Post-Secondary Students
VR agencies can provide a range of services for students enrolled in post-secondary education. However, colleges and universities have their own responsibilities to provide accommodations under the ADA and Section 504 that cross over with common VR services. The result is that needed services are often provided by both.
ADVOCACY TIP | The VR agency may provide a range of VR services while a student is enrolled in post-secondary education.
Accommodations in Post-secondary Education Institutions
Post-secondary education institutions are not required to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), as the high school was. Under the ADA and Section 504, post-secondary schools are only required to provide “reasonable and appropriate accommodations, academic adjustments, and/or auxiliary aids” as needed to ensure that it does not discriminate on the basis of disability.
As adults, students are required to advocate for their own accommodations. Parents may or may not be allowed to participate in arranging student accommodations. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The privacy rights under FERPA transfer solely to the student at age 18, or when they begin post-secondary education at any age. Post-secondary institutions are allowed to share student information with parents if the student is claimed as a dependent for tax purposes, or based on a school official’s personal knowledge or observation of the student, but they are not required to do so. Some post-secondary institutions will seek the student’s explicit permission to share information with parents.
ADVOCACY TIP | The VR Agency may pay post-secondary tuition costs if the education is part of an eligible student’s IPE. Tuition support is typically subject to VR Financial Participation.
Most post-secondary schools have disability services offices, which may help with arranging and documenting the accommodations needed and requested by students, but the post-secondary education institution is not required to assist a student with self-advocacy. Some disability services offices will allow parents to participate if the student signs a privacy waiver allowing them to share the student’s private information.
ADVOCACY TIP | Parents may be allowed to be involved and assist with the development of accommodations and may ask the student to sign the post-secondary school’s privacy waiver.
In order to obtain these accommodations, students are required to provide documentation showing they have a current disability and need an academic adjustment. Post-secondary schools are allowed to set reasonable standards for documentation, and some will require more than others. They may consider using the students latest IEP or 504 Plan and recent evaluations performed in secondary school. The post-secondary school may require new evaluations, but they are not required to pay for them. If the post-secondary school requires a new evaluation, the student may be required to pay for it. However, if the student is eligible for VR services, the VR agency may cover the cost of the new evaluations under the IPE.
It is also important to understand that the post-secondary school is not required to lower or substantially modify essential academic requirements. It is not required to change the substantive content of the course curriculum or tests as the secondary school was.
ADVOCACY TIP | Disability services offices (or the like) at post-secondary schools, may help with arranging and documenting the accommodations needed and requested by students. The quality of services from these offices vary. When selecting from post-secondary school options, students and parents should learn about this office’s work and services before making their school selection.
If the post-secondary school provides housing to nondisabled students, it must provide comparable, convenient, and accessible housing to students with disabilities at the same cost.
Personal aids and personal assistance services, including help in bathing, dressing, or other personal care, are not required to be provided by postsecondary institutions. However, if the student is receiving VR services, the VR agency may fund personal assistance services (including training in managing, supervising, and directing personal assistance services).
Available post-secondary school accommodations are individualized and vary, but some common accommodations include:
- Extended time on exams (not the same as “untimed” tests, which are not typically available)
- Use of laptops for tests and exams
- Use of calculators for tests and exams
- Permission to make audio recordings of classes (some schools may loan out smart pens for this purpose)
- Reduced course load (note that financial aid may be reduced as a result)
- Priority registration for courses
- Copies of notes from a classmate
- Access to audiobooks
- Access to voice recognition software
- Access to text-to-speech programs
ADVOCACY TIP | Understanding the accommodations/modifications received in HS that were successful is helpful when discussing services in post-secondary schools.
Post-secondary schools are also required to provide “Auxiliary Aides” as part of their responsibilities to make their programs accessible. Some of these might be considered AT devices and services. Examples include:
- Digital audio texts
- Talking calculators
- Electronic readers
- Braille calculators, printers, or typewriters
- Telephone handset amplifiers
- Closed caption decoders
- Open and closed video captioning
- Voice synthesizers
- Specialized gym equipment
- Calculators or keyboards with large buttons
- Reaching device for library use
- Assistive listening devices
- Telecommunications devices for deaf persons
If an auxiliary aid is necessary for the classroom or other appropriate (nonpersonal) use, the post-secondary school must make it available, unless provision of the aid would cause undue burden as defined under the ADA.
A post-secondary student with a disability may not be required to pay part or all of the costs of that auxiliary aid or service. If the cost of the auxiliary aid or service is considered an undue burden, the post-secondary student may try to obtain reimbursement for the cost of an aid from the state VR agency.
ADVOCACY TIP | Post-secondary schools are required to provide auxiliary aides under the ADA and Section 504 as part of needed accommodations for students with disabilities. Many are AT devices such as electronic readers, telephone handset amplifiers, voice synthesizers, assisted listening device, and calculators or keyboards with large buttons, talking calculators, and more.
VR Services Available to Post-secondary Students
The VR agency can provide services to students in post-secondary education settings and may even provide tuition support if it is necessary to achieve a vocational goal consistent with an individual’s capacities, abilities, and choices as set out in the IPE.
If post-secondary tuition support is included in the IPE, the VR agency may require the student to make maximum efforts to secure financial assistance from other sources, including federal student aid. If this is the case, the student typically will be required to apply for the federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and the VR agency may use the form to determine student/family participation and to determine VR support levels. The student may also be encouraged to take out student loans, but this is not a federal requirement. The VR agency may agree to pay for some or all of the remaining costs, after consideration of Financial Participation.
During the annual review of the IPE, the VR agency will need to see that the course of study is clearly connected to the employment goals in the IPE, and that the student is maintaining good academic standing.
The VR agency may also provide common VR services for eligible post-secondary students including re-evaluations, personal assistance services, vocational counseling, job placement, and referral to disability support services consistent with the goals in the IPE. However, the ultimate responsibility for the costs of auxiliary aids is the responsibility of the post-secondary school.
ADVOCACY TIP | A VR Agency’s support for post-secondary tuition costs usually requires the student/family to secure federal student aid. VR may suggest that the student/family consider loans, but the student/family is not required to assume debt.
If at any time the client needs information or assistance regarding VR services or their rights under these programs, tell them to contact their state’s Client Assistance Program (CAP). More information is available about CAP in Section 6 of this guide series.
For more legal analysis, see Work, Assistive Technology and State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies: The Vocational Rehabilitation Agency’s Obligation to Fund AT to Support Employment Preparation; Ronald M. Hager, Esq., September 2018; National Disability Rights Network. raisecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/VR-Funding-of-AT-2018.pdf
For Additional or General Support:
Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR) | There are nearly 100 Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs) and Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRCs) in the US and Territories. To find a state’s Parent Center, visit the CPIR website: parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center.
RAISE Center | The National Resources for Advocacy, Independence, Self-determination and Employment (RAISE) Technical Assistance Center works with the seven (7) Rehabilitation Service Administration (RSA)-funded Parent Training & Information Centers (PTIs) to develop and disseminate information and resources that increase their capacity to serve youth and young adults with disabilities and their families. Visit the RAISE Center website: raisecenter.org.
RAISE and its products are funded through a grant from US Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA).