Consumer Tips for Evaluating Assistive Technology Products

Learn how to select the most effective assistive technology tools for your child's specific needs.

By GreatSchools Staff , Marshall Raskind, Ph.D.

There are many assistive technology (AT) products available, and new tools are frequently released on the market. The first step to narrowing down your search for appropriate AT tools is to analyze several factors: your child's individual needs, the particular task(s) she must accomplish, the AT tools that address her challenges and the settings where she will use the technology. Once you have identified these key factors, you will want to focus on the quality, usability and reliability of the AT tools themselves. Here's how to be a savvy consumer.

Using the AT Tool in Different Settings

AT can help a child with a learning disability function better at school as well as in other settings such as home, work, social gatherings and recreational events. Here are some questions to consider:

Product Usability and Reliability

As with any device or piece of equipment, you will want to know how user-friendly and reliable an AT tool is before you invest in it. Here are some questions to ask about a product's reliability, usability and quality:

Try Before You Buy

Before you select an AT tool, learn all you can about the products available. Have your child try out any AT tool or device you're considering purchasing. She's the one who will use - or not use - the technology. The "perfect" item can't help her if she refuses to use it!  Here is a list of resources to assist you in the selection process:

Alliance for Technology Access (ATA) can help you find the nearest place in your area to preview software. To keep AT costs down, use readily available resources such as those listed below to access the technology or just try it out.

Community

Community Technology Center's Network (CTCNet) is composed of independent, not-for-profit community-based technology centers providing free or low-cost access to computers and related technology.

Some community colleges have assistive technology centers where you and your child may be able to try out different types of AT tools (often geared for older students).

Schools

Your child's school may have AT tools available to try out. Even if your child's school does not provide and pay for your child's AT, don't hesitate to use it as a resource before you purchase AT tools for your child.

Technology Companies/Manufacturers

Some software publishers have Web sites that offer demonstration versions. Other publishers offer fully operable programs for a 30-day trial. Check if free-trial offers are available for the products you're interested in.

Conferences

Several assistive technology groups sponsor conferences where attendees can learn about and try out various AT tools: Technology, Reading and Learning Difficulties

California State University, Northridge Center on Disabilities' Annual International Technology and Persons With Disabilities Conference (for all disabilities)

Closing the Gap (for all disabilities)

You may also meet with representatives from AT manufacturers when they exhibit at conferences hosted by learning disability organizations (such as the Learning Disabilities Association of America and the International Dyslexia Association).

Reviewed February 2010

 

Marshall H. Raskind, Ph.D., is a learning disability researcher. He is a frequent presenter at international LD conferences and is the author of numerous professional publications on learning disabilities. He is well-known for his research on assistive technology and longitudinal studies tracing LD across the life span.