Veronica With Four Eyes

Five Myths About Assistive Technology

When I first started writing about low vision and assistive technology, I was surprised about the number of misconceptions and myths about assistive technology that people believed were true, even people who worked in the field of special education and disability services. These myths have often led to people being denied assistive technology services and devices that could have a tremendous impact on their quality of life, or simply not knowing about what assistive technology can do to help them. Here are five myths about assistive technology that I have come across, along with explanations about what assistive technology actually is.

Assistive technology consists of high-tech devices

The use of the word “technology” in the phrase assistive technology often generates images of high-tech devices like augmented communication devices, smart blindness canes, or robotic tools that are meant to help people with disabilities. However, there are actually three different categories of assistive technology devices, with high tech devices being one of them.

The three categories of assistive technology devices include:

No-tech/low tech assistive technology

The terms no-tech and low-tech assistive technology are used interchangeably, but both refer to assistive technology tools and devices that do not require an electricity or power source. Some examples of no-tech or low tech assistive technology for low vision include:

  • Blindness canes
  • Line trackers for reading
  • High contrast markers and paper
  • Bump dots/tactile dots

Mid-tech assistive technology

Mid-tech assistive technology refers to tools and devices that require some form of electricity or a power source to use, but are easier to use than traditional high-tech devices. They may be paired with a high-tech assistive technology device or used on their own. Some examples of mid-tech assistive technology for low vision include:

  • Scanning pens
  • Liquid level indicators
  • Large print keyboard
  • Switches

High-tech assistive technology

High-tech assistive technology refers to tools or devices that require electricity or a power source and may require additional training or technical expertise to use. This does not necessarily mean that the devices are complicated, but users often need to practice using high-tech devices to become proficient in completing various tasks. Some examples of high-tech assistive technology for low vision include:

  • Braille notetakers
  • Video magnifiers/CCTVs
  • Computers
  • Smart glasses/wearable technology

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Assistive technology comes in the form of specialized devices that are often expensive

While many people associate assistive technology with specialized devices that are expensive or hard to find, many mainstream technology devices have started supporting accessibility features and built-in assistive technology that can make specialty tools more financially and publicly accessible for all. These include items like computers, tablets, smartphones, smart speakers, and other devices that can be acquired off-the-shelf and often come with assistive technology features that don’t require additional purchases. Of course, there are cases where specialty assistive technology may be preferred over mainstream technology, but mainstream technology users can still access a multitude of accessibility features on their devices that can help with improving usability.

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Assistive technology is only used in the school or workplace environments

Assistive technology is frequently talked about in the contexts of education and workplace accommodations, with students and professionals alike using various forms of assistive technology to complete tasks. However, these accessibility needs do not disappear outside of school or the workplace, and there are many ways to incorporate the use of assistive technology in the home, in entertainment, and in a variety of other contexts.

Some examples of how assistive technology can be used outside of academic/professional environments include:

  • Using audio description to watch a movie or see a play
  • Getting accessible copies of books and magazines through a digital accessibility library- I love Bookshare for this
  • Incorporating large print or braille labels for items at home
  • Displaying sheet music on an iPad

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There is often one “universal solution” when it comes to assessing assistive technology needs

Assistive technology is individualized, and what works well for one person may not be an option for someone else. As an example, I frequently use color as a way of conveying information and find colored labels and icons extremely helpful, but someone with low vision who is colorblind or has other color deficiencies would not benefit from this approach. Likewise, a flashing notification on a phone would be helpful for someone with hearing loss, but would likely trigger a migraine for me. People who are interested in assistive technology should explore a variety of different options for tools and devices to determine what will work well for them.

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Assistive technology should only used by people who “really need it”

There have been several conversations online suggesting that only people who meet a certain diagnostic criteria should use assistive technology devices, or that assistive technology should only be used by people with disabilities. However, assistive technology tools and devices can provide benefits for people dealing with situational or short term disabilities, and marketing assistive technology tools to the general population can help with increasing the accessibility of items through wider distribution and lowering the cost of said items. While I’m not sure that a sighted person would benefit from using a blindness cane, many people love having larger print sizes or being able to have text read out loud or on a simplified display, and I’m excited to see these tools becoming more widespread. Another good example of assistive technology devices that are widely available are as-seen-on-TV products that are designed for making tasks easier, such as manual food processors for chopping, wearable magnification aids, and the Snuggie blanket (which was originally designed for wheelchair users).

Another consideration is that some people feel they are not “disabled enough” to use specialty assistive technology, or that other people with disabilities may judge them for using assistive technology. Personally, I have no problem with people using assistive technology that helps them, even if they have better vision than I do, and also believe that learning about assistive technology can help people to be less anxious about how/if their condition may progress in the future.

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Summary of myths about assistive technology

  • Assistive technology isn’t all “technology”- any device or tool that is used to improve the functional capabilities or assist a person with a disability with completing a task is assistive technology
  • Assistive technology devices can be mainstream devices that have accessibility features built-in or installed
  • Assistive technology is used in all aspects of daily living, including in the school, workplace, home, and recreational environments
  • Assistive technology is often customized to the individual, and what works well for one person may be a conflicting access need for another
  • Assistive technology does not have strict requirements for diagnostic criteria- if a person can benefit from using assistive technology, they should use it!

Five myths about assistive technology. Common misconceptions and myths about assistive technology, including what it is and how it is used by people with disabilities