Volume VI Number 1, April 1999

Individualized Education Plans: Parents' Rights and Responsibilities

Carmela Cunningham
Richard Banks

Many parents agree that the most trying thing about having a child with a disability is the fight to get services and an appropriate education for their child - even when the school is trying to do the best thing for the student. Even though educators have become increasingly aware of the potential offered by adaptive computing technology, students and parents often run into situations where the school administrators are not aware of the potential of students with disabilities, and further, not aware of the types of technology and accommodation that are readily available today.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1997) mandate that all students must be provided with a free and appropriate education. Further, the IDEA mandates that all K-12 students with disabilities should have an individualized education plan (IEP) that will spell out what accommodations will best suit the needs of each child.


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 is the fifth set of amendments to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Prior to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, children with disabilities often did not receive an appropriate education in public schools. Most often, they were segregated from the regular classroom and sent off to special classrooms and sometimes to separate schools. They were often thrown into one big group called "disabled," and they did not get the specific attention or services that would best meet their own needs. It was not uncommon for a student in a wheelchair who could do grade level work to be lumped into the same classroom situation as a student who was developmentally disabled. The school district looked at both children as being "disabled" and put them in a one-size-fits-all situation.

IDEA and its predecessor legislation were aimed at changing that attitude and situation. IDEA has six important principles that provide the framework for special education services.

First, a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) must be provided for all students, regardless of disability.

Second, each student should be given an appropriate evaluation to determine his or her abilities and needs.

Third, each student should have an individualized education program designed specifically to meet his or her needs.

Fourth, each student should receive an education in the lest restrictive environment.

Fifth, parents and students should participate in all decisions that are made regarding the student's education.

Sixth, there are procedural safeguards identified by IDEA that ensure that each student's rights under the law are protected.

The directive to provide an appropriate and individualized education for each child with a disability is the central purpose of the IDEA. Concretely stated, each student with a disability must have his or her own - written and approved - Individualized Education Plan (IEP) designed to meet his or her unique and individual needs. Several theories guide the IEP development.

Each IEP must be drawn up according to a particular method, and each plan must include particular information.

An IEP must include information about the child's present level of educational performance, and it must include information about how the child's disability affects his or her involvement and progress in the regular curriculum.

The IEP must have measurable annual goals that include identifiable short- term objectives. The plan must include how progress reports on those goals will be made and how parents will be kept informed of the child's progress.

The IEP must include special education, related services and supplementary aids and services that are to be provided to, or on behalf of, the child.

The IEP must identify program modifications or school personnel support that will be provided to ensure that the child will advance appropriately toward his or her annual goals. The goals should include extracurricular and nonacademic activities, as well as the general classroom curricula.

The plan must explain any activities - either regular classroom or extracurricular and nonacademic - that the child will not be able to participate in.

The plan must identify any individual modifications to be made in the administration of state and district-wide assessment programs of student achievement and how the student would be assessed to accommodate his or her disability and still meet the mandate of the state or district.

The plan must include a reasonable date for the beginning of services and modifications and the anticipated frequency, location and duration of services and modification.

Further, the IEP must have a component on the transitions planned for the child, beginning at age 14. The transition component must be updated annually.


In order to ensure that the Individualized Education Plan is the best and most comprehensive for each child, the law outlines who should be involved in developing and maintaining the plan. A typical team would include:


As of yet, there is no legal mandate for having an adaptive technology specialist on a student's IEP team. Unfortunately, as a rule, teachers and service providers at the K-12 level are not as informed about the potential and availability of adaptive technology accommodations. Many parents complain that no one on the IEP team is actually qualified to plan and institute effective adaptive technology for their children. When that's the case, parents can exercise their right to have individuals with "knowledge or special expertise" attend the meeting.

Teachers, parents, and service providers should continually evaluate five areas when they're planning and instituting adaptive tech services for students:

Consider the curriculum and goals of the student.

Evaluate the requirements of the student.

Make a detailed task analysis for each of the student's classes.

Match appropriate assistive technology to each task.

Continually re-evaluate the effectiveness and practicality of the assistive technology.
Cunningham, C. & Banks, R. (1999). Individualized education plans: Parents' rights and responsibilities. Information Technology and Disabilities E-Journal, 6(1).