Selecting Assistive Technology


Ensuring Accessibility and Literacy for All.

Range of Assistive Technology Tools

Assistive technology (AT) can be as sophisticated as eye gaze software that allows a person to use his or her eyes to navigate a computer, or as simple as an erasable highlighter to color code information in a textbook.

As a general rule, always “try before you buy” AT tools. Many free trials are for 30 days, which is usually plenty of time to determine whether the tool will be beneficial for your child or student. If a free trial is not available, consider using the “light” version first before investing in a more comprehensive version.

Low and High Tech

Low Tech: Assistive technology does not need to be expensive or complicated. It is defined as a tool that enables the student to access a curriculum that would otherwise be inaccessible. Examples of low-tech tools are: raised lined paper, a slant board, and erasable highlighters.

High Tech: Examples of high-tech technology tools include: eye gaze software, text-to-speech and speech-to-text applications, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and websites such as Newsela that allow a student to change the reading difficulty of a passage.

Understood.org provides a database of reviewed apps, called Tech Finder, which can help narrow your search.

Hear from our Senior Educational Technologist, Nanci Shepardson

Nanci Shepardson, Senior Educational Technologist at Wilson Language Training, discusses challenges when selecting the right AT tool. Nanci offers advice, guidelines, and common pitfalls to avoid. More information can be found in the article, Assistive Technology Overview for Parents of Students with Learning Disabilities.

Decision Valuing Process

Before selecting a particular assistive technology (AT) tool, the student’s education team must first consider the student’s unique needs and learning environment, including how and when the supports will be used.

The SETT Framework

The SETT framework is widely used in the education field for making collaborative, informed decisions about selecting AT. SETT, which stands for Student, Environment, Task, and Tool, lays out a specific plan to find solutions that will level the playing field for students with learning disabilities.

How does the SETT framework help guide decision making?

  • Student: Always start with the student first. Discuss and document the student’s strengths and challenges. Whenever possible, include the student in this conversation.
  • Environment: Once the student’s needs have been established, the next factor is to consider the environment. Where are we asking this student to do the work? In a quiet library, a lecture hall, or a science lab? Each of these environments present their own challenges and benefits.
  • Task: Next, consider the task. What are we asking this student to do? Is it to write a paper or dissect a frog?
  • Tool: The team can discuss different tool options after these three factors are thoroughly considered.
  • Training: Once a tool or tools have been chosen, it is important to establish who will provide the training to all stakeholders needed to support the student’s progress with the tool.
  • Trial: Pursue a free trial whenever possible. These free trials range from a week to a month and can be very helpful in determining the effectiveness of the tool for each student prior to making a commitment.

Precautions

Potential mistakes happen when a tool is chosen because it happens to be easily accessible. For example, if a student is provided with a tablet because it is available, but it is not actually the right tool for the task the student needs to accomplish, the tablet can potentially lead to frustration and missed learning opportunities.

A student’s privacy online is a factor to consider when choosing a tool; be sure to consult data privacy laws for minors. When researching, ask about what data is collected and who is that data shared with before purchasing. Another factor to consider when choosing a tool is if it needs internet access to function properly. For example, the text-to-speech option on Apple® based products is built into the operating system, so no internet is required. On the other hand, products used to scaffold the comprehension process often do require an active internet connection.

Support Goal Achievement

In addition to using the SETT framework, the tools chosen must “support achievement of goals and progress in the general curriculum,” according to Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology. Each tool must take into consideration the unique needs of the student, and the results of using the AT device must be measurable and observable.

Evaluating Effectiveness

The following items will help you assess if an AT tool is working for your student.

A Vehicle to Achievement


The best AT plans are based on excellent communication and collaboration. The process should remain fluid as the learner develops and acclimates. In addition to an AT plan, it is always important to make sure that a sound plan is in place to remediate the child’s learning challenges. Technology should never be used in lieu of a high quality, intensive intervention with a certified/qualified professional.