Assistive technology basics

Who Pays for Assistive Technology? Parents or Schools?

By Jessica Millstone

Federal law requires school districts to consider whether a child needs assistive technology. But who covers the cost of these devices? Parents or the school district? What about Medicaid or private health insurance? Are there any other ways to make assistive technology more affordable?

Jessica Millstone

Former Education Fellow, Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop

The answers to these questions depend on your child’s issues and how much her school or doctor says those issues affect her ability to learn. Here are four options to consider.

Public schools: Some students with disabilities may be eligible for special education and services. If so, and if the school determines that an eligible student also needs assistive technology, the device will be provided at no cost as part of the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan.

The school will repair the device if it breaks. But it’s important to remember that it belongs to the school. This means that if you move outside the district, your child can’t keep the device.

Health insurers: Not every child with a disability will qualify for an IEP or 504 plan. When kids don’t qualify for these things, it’s pretty rare for private health insurance to pay for certain kinds of assistive technology. The same is true for government programs such as Medicaid.

For insurers to cover assistive technology, a doctor has to prescribe it as being “medically necessary.” This typically doesn’t apply to a handheld device, unless a child has been diagnosed with a communication disorder.

But there are still some options for kids who can’t get assistive technology from their school.

Nonprofits: In some instances, families may be able to get free devices from nonprofit groups. Also, when companies donate computers they no longer need, there are groups that refurbish these devices and give them to kids with disabilities.

Low-interest loans: There are also dozens of states that have low-interest loan programs to help families buy assistive technology.

Keep in mind that you can buy some devices that cost less and may be as good as or better than the devices provided by schools. This includes tablets that could cost less and weigh less than most computers. They can also be used by the whole family for learning and entertainment purposes alike.

About the Author

Portrait of Jessica Millstone

Jessica Millstone

Former Education Fellow, Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

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