Accommodations & Assistive Technology


A student’s ability to access the general education curriculum is fundamental. Access means the opportunity and ability to participate in the instruction, discussions, activities, products, and assessments that are provided to all students within a public school.

Accommodations are provided to “level the playing field.” They are intended to offset the effects of a disability and to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge and skills. Assistive technology, which can be any equipment or product, like audiobooks, word processors, or word prediction software, is a type of accommodation intended to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities.

Accommodations must be determined on an individual basis and specific to a task or content area. Accommodations may require eligibility for Section 504 or an Individual Education Program (IEP).

IEPs and 504 Plans

IEPs and 504 Plans can both provide for accommodations, but they are guided by separate laws. The IEP is a plan for a child's special education experience at school, while a 504 Plan is a plan for how the school will remove barriers and provide support for a child with disabilities (Understood).

A 504 Plan satisfies Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a federal civil rights law meant to stop discrimination against people with disabilities. A 504 Plan can serve students at both the K–12 and college levels, providing services and changes to the learning environment to enable a student to learn alongside their peers. A 504 Plan does not have to be a written document, but it typically includes the accommodations or supports the child will receive, who will supply them, and who is responsible for making sure the plan is implemented (Understood).

An IEP answers to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal special education law for children with disabilities. An IEP provides for specialized instruction for students in grades K–12 (Corsetto, 2020). The IEP must be a written document that sets specific learning goals for the child and describes the services the school will provide (Understood).

To obtain either plan, a child must have a disability as defined by the IDEA or Section 504, and that disability must have a negative impact on the child's ability to learn in a general education classroom. In fact, to qualify for an IEP, the child must require specialized education to make progress in school (Understood). If your child doesn't qualify for an IEP, a 504 plan could help provide the accommodations they need.

Why Accommodations Are Essential

Traditional reading interventions are often designed to address important areas for reading development including phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency. While working to develop these skills, learners experience challenges with information processing: by the time they have successfully decoded a word, they have little to no energy or cognitive capacity left to solve the word, let alone make sense of it, and then do something with it. Although systematic instruction benefits all children, there is a group of students who may never achieve the levels of speed, fluency, accuracy, and automaticity required for their grade level.

Text-to-speech technology that reads digital text aloud provides instant access to all sorts of instructional materials including textbooks, articles, websites, newspapers, and even instructional materials prepared by the classroom teacher. Providing text-to-speech for students allows them to gain access to grade-level reading materials. Listening to text enables students to gain new information and expand their vocabularies. When students have access to information at or above grade level, they can participate in classroom discussions and feel part of the group, both academically and socially. In addition, providing text-to-speech for students is also an education equity issue, ensuring that every student has access to the educational resources and rigor they need at the right moment in their education.

Accommodations for Students with Characteristics of Dyslexia

Text Reading

  • Provide text-to-speech technology, allowing the student to hear digital text. This allows for digital textbooks and digital books to be read to the student in part or whole as the student follows along in the text as he or she is able. If the rate of reading is too fast, the student can simply listen.

  • Provide audiobooks for literature and grade-level text. The student could have a copy of the text in front of them while listening to help focus their attention, increase their visual memory of words, and let them take advantage of graphics within the text. (See or for low cost and free audiobooks for schools and families.)

  • Ebooks, which can be converted to audio files, are another good option.

  • Provide oral testing or prompting upon request (i.e., allowing a student to request that certain words or text be read to them), when allowable.

Spelling and Writing

  • Allow use of a personal ‘vocabulary’ notebook, a dictionary, a speller’s dictionary, a Franklin Speller, or similar device for in-class assignments and to assist with correct spelling. (A student's spelling skills need to be at a fifth- to sixth-grade level for this device to be helpful.)

  • Allow access to a computer for written assignments. A program with word prediction and text-to-speech to compose writing assignments, such as Kurzweil or Dragon, may be helpful as they get older.

  • Allow use of a recorder to record lectures or directions, especially as they get older (e.g., the Livescribe Pen,

Dual Credit, Advanced Placement, Start College Now & College in the Schools

Students with dyslexia should have equal opportunity to participate in Dual Credit, Advanced Placement, Start College Now, and College in the School courses. With appropriate accommodations, dyslexic students can excel in these programs. Participation can also support the development of self-advocacy, use of assistive technology, and study skills necessary for post secondary education.

IEP and 504 teams should work with Disability/Ability Service Specialists at local technical colleges and universities to determine whether a student’s current IEP or 504 plan is sufficient, or if the student should contact a Disability/Ability Service Specialist to request an accommodation plan.


Children’s Hospital Wisconsin. (2021). 504 Education Plans (for Parents) - Children’s Hospital Wisconsin.

Children’s Hospital Wisconsin. (2021). Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) (for Parents) - Children’s Hospital Wisconsin.

College Board. (2021). Exam Accommodations – AP Students | College Board. Exam Accommodations.

Corsetto, K. (2020, September 8). IEP or 504 Plan:What’s Best for Your Student? N2y.

TN Department of Education. Dyslexia Resource Guide: Guidance on the "Say Dyslexia Law. April 2018

Understood. (2021, April 14). The difference between IEPs and 504 plans.

Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Education Services. WCASS Guide: How to Provide Students with IEPs Access to Their Grade Level Curriculum Through Text to Speech.

Wisconsin Technical College System and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (2017, August). Dual Enrollment & High School Students with Disabilities.