Assistive Technology for Learning: What You Need to Know

By The Understood Team

At a Glance

  • Assistive technology is any device, software, or equipment that helps people work around their challenges.

  • Some examples of assistive technology are text-to-speech and word prediction.

  • Assistive technology includes low-tech tools, too, like pencil grips.

Technology is everywhere these days. But did you know that there are specific tech tools that can help people who learn and think differently? These tools—called assistive technology, or AT—are often inexpensive and easy to use.

What is assistive technology? How can kids and adults benefit from these tools, and where do you start? Read on to learn more.

Assistive Technology Basics

AT is any device, software, or equipment that helps people work around challenges so they can learn, communicate, and function better. A wheelchair is an example of AT. So is software that reads aloud text from a computer. Or a keyboard for someone struggling with handwriting.

These tools can help people work around their challenges, while also playing to their strengths. This is especially important for kids who struggle with learning—whether in reading, writing, math, or another subject. AT can help these kids thrive in school and in life. And that can help grow their confidence and independence.

There lots of myths about AT. Some wrongly believe that using AT is “cheating.” Others worry that kids 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. That’s simply not true. For instance, experts agree that listening to audiobooks doesn’t keep kids from learning to read.

While AT has many benefits, keep in mind that it can’t “cure” things like dyslexia or ADHD. It can’t replace good teaching and instruction, either.

Examples of Assistive Technology Tools

Despite the word “technology,” not all AT tools are high-tech. AT includes many simple adaptive tools, like highlighters and organizers. A great example of low-tech AT is a pencil grip.

Many AT tools are high-tech, though. And because of advances in technology, tools are now available on a variety of platforms:

  • Desktop and laptop computers

  • Mobile devices (includes smartphones and tablets)

  • Chromebooks (and the Chrome browser used on any device)

Examples of high-tech AT tools include text-to-speech (TTS), dictation (speech-to-text), and word prediction. But there are hundreds of AT tools that can help with learning challenges. For more examples, explore:

Some of these AT tools are free. Some tools are even built into mobile devices. (Watch as an expert explains how to turn on TTS on a smartphone or digital tablet.)

How to Find the Right Assistive Technology Tool

With so many AT tools available, finding the right one can be overwhelming. One good approach is to choose AT that targets a specific struggle. For example, if a child struggles with writing, try dictation technology. As the child speaks, words appear on the screen.

People with access to a mobile device, like a smartphone or a digital tablet, can add AT tools to it with apps. Explore these ideas:

People with access to a desktop or laptop computer can use AT software for reading, writing, and math. And those with access to a Chromebook or the Chrome internet browser can look at Chrome tools to help with various challenges.

If you don’t know what to use first, text-to-speech is a good place to start. Text-to-speech converts electronic text to spoken words, so people can listen to digital text. It can make a big difference for people who have trouble with reading or focus.

Key Takeaways

  • There are many free AT tools, and some are built into mobile devices.

  • A good way to choose an AT tool is to start with a specific learning struggle or need.

  • Text-to-speech is often a good first AT to try.