Assistive technology platforms: The basics

Learn about different assistive technology (AT) platforms and the pros and cons of each.

An adult wearing headphones is typing on a computer.

At a glance

  • People can use assistive technology (AT) tools on several platforms.

  • The major platforms are desktop and laptop computers, tablets, and mobile devices.

  • There are pros and cons for each platform.

(AT) comes in different shapes and sizes. You may encounter assistive technology without realizing it, like built-in tools on your mobile device. Understanding the different platforms can make it easier to figure out which tools will work for you.

Here’s what you need to know about platforms for AT.

Basics about platforms

A platform is a foundation of technology that AT tools can operate on. It’s typically a hardware device controlled by built-in software called an operating system. There are two main platforms to use AT on:

  • Desktop and laptop computers

  • Mobile devices (includes smartphones and tablets)

Anyone can use AT tools like text-to-speech, dictation (speech-to-text), word prediction, calculators, and more on each of these platforms. Some tools are built into the operating systems.

You can also add tools to each platform:

  • You can add new tools to computers with software.

  • You can add new tools to mobile devices with apps.

Using AT on one of these platforms is different from using a single-purpose AT device, like an audio recorder. A single-purpose device can do only a fixed number of things, such as record and play sound. It can’t add new functions.

Desktop and laptop computers

Many AT tools were first developed for desktops and laptop computers. Here are some of the benefits of using computers for people with learning and thinking differences:

  • Operating systems such as Windows and macOS come with built-in AT tools, like text-to-speech and dictation.

  • They have plenty of storage space for documents, videos, photos, and other files.

  • They have built-in microphones and speakers to run different AT features and offer the ability to add on more powerful external microphones and speakers as well.

  • They typically have built-in physical keyboards, which is helpful for people who prefer touch typing.

Desktop and laptop computers also have some drawbacks:

  • Desktop computers aren’t portable, and laptops aren’t as portable as mobile devices like smartphones and most tablets.

  • They can be expensive.

Mobile devices

In recent years, many people have started using AT on mobile devices. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Like desktops and laptops, mobile devices come with built-in AT tools. For example, iOS and Android have basic text-to-speech.

  • AT tools can be downloaded through apps onto mobile devices from the iTunes App Store (iOS) and Google Play Store (Android).

  • These apps are often more affordable than software designed for desktops or standalone AT devices.

  • Smartphones and tablets are portable.

  • Smartphones and tablets have touch screens, which some people prefer.

  • Apps can take advantage of the camera on mobile devices to scan documents and add photos to projects.

  • Some mobile devices are less expensive than desktop and laptop computers.

There are some drawbacks, too:

  • Mobile devices generally have less storage space than desktops and laptops, and it can fill up quickly.

  • Mobile devices have smaller screens than most laptops and desktops, sometimes making it difficult to see an entire page or project. When using the device’s on-screen keyboard, even less of a page or project is visible.

Understanding these different platforms can help you choose the right AT tool.

Key takeaways

  • A wide range of functions and tools can be added to an AT platform.

  • Desktop and laptop computers and mobile devices have built-in AT.

  • There can be multiple AT functions on these devices, not just one.


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