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Frequently Asked Questions About Assistive Technology

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What is assistive technology?

According to, “The Technology Related Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (Tech Act),” “the Act described any assistive technology device as any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.”  For example, a smart phone is typically not considered an assistive technology device.  When a person with a disability uses a text-to-speech app to read information because the person cannot see to read, then the smart phone becomes an assistive technology device.


How can assistive technology help a person with a disability?

Assistive technology can increase a person’s functionality in life.  If one cannot read, a computer or device can be set up to read for them.  If a person cannot use their hands and arms to control a computer, there is technology that will allow them to control the computer entirely by using their voice.  There is even technology available for those individuals who cannot use their arms and hands and cannot use their speech to control the computer!  This is accomplished through “eye gaze” technology.  This is technology that tracks the movement of a person’s eyes.  When a person “dwells” on a particular part of the screen, one can activate a function by dwelling on a certain area of the screen.


Is assistive technology expensive?

If you exclude the FREE assistive technology, the price of assistive technology varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and product to product.  When compared with technology that is available at retail establishments, assistive technology can be more expensive.  The reason for this is very simple.  Assistive technology is not sold in high volumes like televisions, stereos, and computers.  If it was sold in high volumes, the price would be lower.


Is assistive technology hard to find and where can you purchase it?

Typically, the assistive technology software that is free is software-based.  It is meant to provide very basic assistance.  In many cases, the developer provides a FREE version with a few basic features.  If that works for a person, great!  Typically, the user will struggle with such a program.  The developer knows this and will provide more feature-rich versions of the program for purchase.  Many times, you will find that the developer has a full featured copy of the application; however, it is designed to stop working after so many minutes, hours, or days.  There are some software applications that are FREE, reasonably powerful, and easy-to-use.  What is important to understand is that FREE applications are typically designed to perform basic tasks with very few features.  It is also important to know that it may be difficult to complete these tasks efficiently.  Lastly, manufacturers and developers do not provide technical support people to answer questions on the product over the phone.  They may offer email technical support assistance.  Usually, they will provide an owner’s manual and/or an extensive knowledge base to use on their website.


Is the FREE assistive technology as good as the assistive technology that is purchased?

Assistive technology can be difficult to find.  Dedicated hardware and software that is considered assistive technology is not found in retail stores like Best Buy and Staples.  Typically, one would need an assistive technology specialist to help determine what technology is required.  When that has been determined, the specialist can assist with the acquisition of equipment.  The equipment is typically ordered directly from the developer or manufacturer.  In a very few cases, it is possible to find hardware and software in retail stores that can help people with disabilities.  You can also find free software for computers at different websites on the Internet.  One can also download assistive technology apps to devices from the different app stores, such as the Apple App Store and Google Play.


Do the high-tech companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google provide free assistive technology?

Yes, they do!  The applications provided by these companies provide FREE assistive technology that is embedded in the operating systems and other applications that they provide.  Each company provides assistive technology to assist people with different disabilities.  You will usually find a suite of products that covers people who are blind, visually impaired, learning disabled, physically challenged, deaf or hard of hearing, or who have difficulty communicating.  The applications are typically designed with basic to intermediate level features that will assist in completing most tasks.  These applications are reasonably easy to find and use.  There is no technical support person to provide assistance.  However, companies will provide user guides and an extensive knowledge base to access.  In some cases, they’ll provide email support.


Is there assistive technology for mobile devices like smart phones and tablets?

Yes, there is assistive technology apps for smart phones and tablets.  You can find such applications in the Apple App Store and Google Play.  Some of the apps are free, some are low cost, and others are somewhat expensive.  Most of the apps are free and low cost (under $25).  Technical support options for apps for your mobile devices will vary from developer to developer.  Typically, you will need to access a knowledge base on the developer’s website, check help files that might be included in the app, and sometimes email support.


What are “assistive technology services"?

The Tech Act describes assistive technology services as, “any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in selection, acquisition or use of an assistive technology device.”  Basically, an assistive technology specialist is a person who provides assistive technology services.  The assistive technology specialist can evaluate you for your needs and recommend assistive technology.  The person can also assist a person with acquiring the devices.  Typically, the person can also provide training on how to use the system.  Assistive technology specialists typically provide technical support for a system.


Do schools, colleges, and universities provide assistive technology and assistive technology services?

Typically, yes!  However, the amount and level of assistive technology and services will vary from educational institution to educational institution.  In public schools, assistive technology and assistive technology services are managed by the “Special Education Department”.  In colleges and universities, assistive technology and assistive technology services are managed by the “Office of Disability Services.”


What is an “assistive technology specialist?” How can such a person assist a person with a disability?

An assistive technology specialist assists people with disabilities on navigating the assistive technology process starting with the evaluation phase, the acquisition of equipment, providing training, and technical support.  Such a person is highly recommended when it is necessary to explore the use of assistive technology for someone who is disabled.  An assistive technology specialist has the skills and knowledge to get a person properly fitted for assistive technology and get them integrated into the classroom or workforce in an efficient manner.