At a glance
There are many free apps and other assistive technology (AT) that can support people with learning and thinking differences.
Start by exploring the built-in accessibility features on your device or computer.
Try free versions of apps or extensions before buying.
Assistive technology (AT) doesn’t need to be expensive. In fact, there are many free options to help with reading, writing, and math.
Keep two things in mind before you look for a free AT tool:
First, know what you need the tool to help you with. For example, do you need something that helps you take notes or reads aloud text? If you’re not sure, ask yourself questions for choosing an AT tool.
Second, know which operating system your device or computer use — Apple iOS, Microsoft Windows, macOS, Google Chrome OS, or Google Android.
Here’s where to begin your search for free tools.
Tools you already have
Many computers and mobile devices have built-in tools for learning, vision, and hearing needs. On most devices, you can open the Settings app and go to “Accessibility” to see what features you have.
Companies also offer lists of their accessibility features. You can look up what’s available for PCs, Macs, iPhones and iPads, Chromebooks, and Google Android devices.
Demo versions of apps
You’ll notice that many apps have free and paid versions. The free versions usually have limited features. But maybe that’s all you need. Give them a try to get a sense of an app’s usefulness before paying for the full version.
Short-term free trials of tools
Another “try before you buy” idea: Many services have free trials of 7–30 days. If you find a tool that you think might fit your needs, give it a trial run.
Some will require that you use a credit card to get started. Then they will bill you automatically once the trial ends. Put a reminder in your calendar to keep track of when the trial ends. That way you can cancel and not be charged for services you don’t want.
Free apps/extensions (but beware)
Many apps and Chrome extensions are free, but watch out for potential privacy and security issues. Don’t just click to download without considering what you’re giving the vendor access to (like personal identifiable information) and what they may do with it (like sell to third parties). Review the policies before downloading and entering personal information.
Web apps — interactive webpages with free built-in tools
There are some great apps you can access online for free — without downloading. For example, the Math Learning Center has apps with virtual manipulatives, like number lines and pattern shapes, to solve math problems in different ways.
Another app, Bookshare, has one of the largest collections of accessible digital books available for people with a documented “print” disability. That includes dyslexia. These books can be used with various TTS apps and websites. It can also be used with Bookshare’s own free Bookshare Reader app that works in web browsers.
Borrow a device for free to find out if it’s a good fit
Every state has an Assistive Technology Act Program, which offers free, short-term loans of devices to people with disabilities. You may be able to try a device for several weeks at no cost.
Short-term trials are a good “try before you buy” tactic.
Don’t download apps or extensions before reading the fine print.
Some apps can be used online with no download necessary.
About the author
About the author
Molly Touger is a writer and instructional designer based in Brooklyn, New York.
Shelley Haven has spent more than 30 years helping individuals with physical, sensory, and cognitive challenges unlock their potential with technology.