At a glance
Learning how to use assistive technology (AT) can be intimidating.
The first step is knowing what an AT tool can and cannot do.
Many AT websites include video tutorials and reference guides toAniman help kids and adults learn how to use the tools.
Assistive technology (AT) is a big help for people who learn and think differently. These tools empower people to work around their challenges and do things for themselves. First, you have to choose a tool.
Then you have to learn how to use assistive technology. Trying out these tools can be intimidating. “Am I using this tool correctly?” “Is this a helpful tool for trouble with reading?” These are just some of the questions you might ask when using assistive technology for the first time.
If you’ve recently started using assistive technology for your child’s learning differences or for yourself, you may have the same questions. Here are some tips for learning to use an AT tool for the first time.
1. Explore the tool’s capabilities.
Knowing what an AT tool can (and cannot) do is key to getting the best use of it. Visit the tool’s website and look for a “features list.” Here you can learn about the tool’s capabilities. This is also a good place to find out if features vary on different operating systems.
2. Take advantage of reference guides and video tutorials.
Skipping over a tool’s learning manual can be tempting. But spending some time exploring these guides can pay off. Vendors often include resources like videos and guides in the “support” or “learn to use” section of their website to show people how to use the tool. Some vendors also have video tutorials on their YouTube channels. And it’s common for AT specialists and educators to film their own “how to” videos and upload them to YouTube.
3. Set your preferences.
AT tools, especially those that help with reading and writing, allow users to set their own preferences. For example, when using text-to-speech (TTS), users can adjust the reading speed and line spacing to help make reading less difficult.
Explore the preference options in your tool to find how they can best support you. It may take some trial and error — and that’s OK.
4. Make sure the tool is also accessible at home.
If an AT tool is helping you at work or at school, it may also be useful at home. But some tools may only be accessible on a school’s or workplace’s network. That’s usually because of the tool’s account type or membership. If you’re a parent and caregiver, talk with their child’s teacher to ask if the tool can also be accessed at home or on a mobile device. If you’re an adult in the workplace, talk with your manager.
5. Try it out.
Use an AT tool for a few days or weeks to test it out. (Some vendors offer users a free trial to try out an AT tool.) You can take notes about which features are helpful and which supports you still need.
Afterward, you can review questions to decide whether the tool is working for you. If an AT tool isn’t the right fit, consider trying out a different option.
Assistive technology tools can make everyday life easier for people who learn and think differently. Watch an expert debunk common myths about assistive technology. And learn about assistive technology that’s built into mobile devices.
There are many ways to learn more about an AT tool.
Most vendors include learning resources on their website.
Setting a tool’s preferences helps to make a tool easier to use.
About the author
About the author
Tara Drinks is an editor at Understood.
Shelley Haven has spent more than 30 years helping individuals with physical, sensory, and cognitive challenges unlock their potential with technology.