What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology (AT) are tools that let people with differences work around challenges. They make tasks and activities accessible at school, work, and home. Learn how AT apps and software can help with reading, writing, math, and more.

By Andrew M.I. Lee, JD

Expert reviewed by Shelley Haven

Updated September 26, 2023

People who learn and think differently can use technology to help work around their challenges. This is called assistive technology (AT). AT helps people with disabilities learn, communicate, or function better. It can be as high-tech as a computer, or as low-tech as a pencil grip. It’s a type of accommodation that involves tools.

Assistive technology has two parts: devices (the actual tools people use) and services (the support to choose and use the tools).

Students who struggle with learning can use AT to help with subjects like reading, writing, and math. AT can also help kids and adults with the tasks of daily life. And many adults use these tools on the job, too.

Assistive technology devices

There’s a wide range of AT devices for people with learning and thinking differences. Simple AT tools include highlighters, organizers, and timers.

Other AT tools are high-tech and depend on digital devices. For example, an app with text-to-speech technology can read aloud for people with dyslexia.

There are hundreds of these tools. For examples, explore:

Assistive technology services

Getting the best use out of assistive technology requires more than just having a tool. That’s where AT services come in. AT services is any support that helps people with disabilities to choose, get, or use an AT device.

Some examples of AT services include:

  • Evaluation performed by a doctor or specialist
  • Training to help a person learn what a tool can do and how to use it
  • Help with repairing a device

Without these services, assistive technology may not be effective. AT tools and services work together to help people thrive.

Myths about assistive technology

There are lots of myths about AT. Some people wrongly believe that using AT is “cheating.” Others worry that people who use AT may become too reliant on it.

One of the biggest myths is that using AT will prevent kids from learning academic skills. Education experts say that’s not true.

At the same time, keep in mind that AT can’t replace good teaching or instruction. And it won’t “cure” a learning difference like dyslexia or ADHD.

Watch a video debunking five myths about AT.

Selecting and using assistive technology

Finding the right AT tools and learning how to use them can be overwhelming.

For students, another approach is to ask the school to recommend AT. Read about when and how schools are required to provide AT to kids. For employees, talk to your manager about workplace supports

This list of questions can also help with choosing a tool. Learn ways to tell if an AT tool is not effective for you. Consider free trials and other cost-free options for trying out a tool. 

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