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Delaware Assistive Technology Initiative

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Volume 11, Issue 4: Fall 2003

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School Districts Waiting on
Congress's New IDEA

Beth Mineo, DATI Director

Photo of Congressional BuildingThe Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) reauthorization was well underway before the August Congressional recess. The House completed action on its controversial bill, HR 1350, with remarkable speed in April. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) unanimously endorsed its bipartisan bill on June 25, and that bill is awaiting full consideration in the Senate. As this issue of The AT Messenger goes to print, speculation abounds about the timetable for Senate action on IDEA, with some expressing concern that the work may not be completed until sometime next year.

Controversy is expected, as numerous amendments relating to funding, discipline provisions, personnel standards, attention to transition, and vouchers are anticipated. With regard to assistive technology, both the House and the Senate bills affirm the important role technology can play in educational access, participation, and achievement. Both bills retain assistive technology needs as one of the "special factors" that must be considered for all children for whom an IEP is developed. Both bills acknowledge that technology issues should be included in both pre-service and in-service personnel preparation activities. Both continue support for research activities that will result in new technologies.

There are innovative provisions in both the House and Senate bills, however, that could revolutionize access to print materials for those who have difficulty with this medium for any number of reasons. Both bills require the adoption of a national Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard, which requires textbooks and other print materials to be provided in a standard digital format that facilitates translation into large print, Braille, speech, and other accessible formats. Within two years of the passage of the Act, educational publishers will be required to prepare and supply electronic files containing the contents of the instructional materials using the file format that will be finalized this fall.

This new development would eliminate the burdens now faced by school districts when they translate a textbook into an accessible format. At the current time, districts must scan each page of text, which converts it into digital form, and then transform that digital media into the particular formats needed by students. The proposed IDEA provision would shift the burden for provision of digital media onto publishers, saving districts considerable time and money. Most importantly, more straightforward access to digital media will help to get materials to students much more efficiently than is currently possible.

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