U.S. Department of Justice
U.S. Department of Education
Office for Civil Rights
Office of Special Education and
Meeting the Communication Needs of Students with
Hearing, Vision, or
What do Federal laws require of a public school to meet the communication
needs of students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities?
- Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), schools must
provide a student with a disability a free appropriate public education (FAPE)
designed to provide meaningful educational benefit through an Individualized
Education Program (IEP).
- Under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, schools must,
without charge, ensure that communication with students with disabilities is
as effective as communication with students without disabilities, giving
primary consideration to students and parents in determining which auxiliary
aids and services are necessary to provide such effective communication.
Will the aids and services required be the same under both Federal
- It depends on the individual needs of the particular student.
- Sometimes the special education and related services provided to a student
as part of FAPE under the IDEA will also meet the Title II requirements. In
other instances, in order to meet the Title II requirements, a school might
have to provide a student with aids or services that are not required by FAPE.
- Some services related to communication, like teaching a child to read
Braille or understand sign language, are not required by Title II's effective
communication requirement but may be required by FAPE.
Does the school have to give a student the aid or service the parents
- Under Title II, the school must provide the aid or service requested
unless the school can prove that a different auxiliary aid or service is as
effective in meeting the student's communication needs (in which case the
school must provide that alternative), or the school can prove that the aid or
service would result in a fundamental alteration or in undue financial and
administrative burdens (in which case the school must take other steps to
ensure that the student can participate).
- Schools are not required to provide aids or services greater than what is
needed to ensure effective communication, or to comply with requests about
details of the aid or service (such as particular brands or models) that are
not relevant to its effectiveness.
What types of aids or services could be required for students?
- There are no categorical rules. A school must assess the needs of each
- For a student who is deaf, deaf-blind, or hard of hearing, some examples
are: exchange of written materials, interpreters, note takers, real-time
computer-aided transcription services (for example, CART), assistive listening
systems, accessible electronic and information technology, and open and closed
- For a student who is blind, deaf-blind, or has low vision, some examples
are: qualified readers, taped texts, audio recordings, Braille materials and
refreshable Braille displays, accessible e-book readers, screen reader
software, magnification software, optical readers, secondary auditory programs
(SAP), and large print materials.
- For a student with a speech disability, some examples are: a word or
letter board, writing materials, spelling to communicate, a qualified sign
language interpreter, a portable device that writes and/or produces speech,
and telecommunications services.
Where can I get more information about the rights of students with hearing,
vision, or speech disabilities?
- The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and
Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, along with the U.S.
Department of Justice (DOJ), have issued a Dear
Colleague Letter and a Frequently
Asked Questions document explaining what federal law requires of schools
to meet the communication needs of students with hearing, vision, or speech
What can a parent do if the school won't give a child what the parent thinks
- Arrange to meet with the IEP or 504 team or the school's Title II or 504
- Consider using the school district's published disability grievance
- Under the IDEA, a parent challenging the provision of FAPE may request
mediation, may file a complaint with the State educational agency, or may
request an impartial administrative hearing by filing a due process complaint.
- Under Title II, a parent may choose to file a lawsuit in court. Parents of
an IDEA-eligible student generally must exhaust the administrative hearing
procedures of the IDEA, which means obtaining a final decision under the
IDEA's impartial due process hearing procedures, before filing a lawsuit
seeking a remedy that is also available under the IDEA.
- OCR and DOJ both investigate complaints of disability discrimination at