Read our free guide to assistive technology to learn how you can get the most out of its tools and services.
Assistive technology is among the most powerful tools available to people with physical and learning disabilities. It makes their lives easier on many levels. This article shares everything you need to know about this innovative technology and the free tools available on the market today.
What is assistive technology
Assistive technology helps people with learning or physical disabilities perform everyday tasks in a more functional, productive, and sustainable way. There are different types of assistive technology:
- Low-tech AT: communication boards
- High-tech AT: special-purpose computers like braille devices
- Hardware AT: mounting systems, positioning devices, prosthetics
- Computer hardware AT: keyboards, special switches, and pointing devices
- Software AT: screen readers, communication programs, word prediction, voice recognition
- Electronic devices, braces, educational software, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), curricular software, etc.
This article focuses on assistive technology related to computer access and tools in order to help people with learning and reading disabilities.
Assistive technology allows people with dyslexia, visual impairments, or those who need special education to gain more independence. This can include simple things like note-taking, reading a text out loud, translating voice into text (speech recognition), and much more.
Websites such as Abledata (not operating anymore) were of tremendous help in sharing assistive technology resources and equipment from domestic and international sources. Non-profit organizations also put a lot of effort into making access to AT easier for people who need it.
The benefits of assistive technology
Assistive technology has numerous benefits:
- Greater independence
- More confidence
- Facilitates learning
- Improves visual tracking
- Helps group instruction
- Boosts fine motor skills
- Reduces stress on caregivers
Free assistive technology to help those with disabilities
Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), educators, and special education workers use adaptive accessibility features to help students in public and vocational schools be more productive. These features and tools are also practical for adults with different impairments.
Below is a list of the most popular free assistive technology tools available today. Note that some of these tools have a premium version with added benefits.
Text to speech screen readers
Text to speech software can convert any text into audio. This allows the user to listen to written content read out loud by a program regardless of the operating system. Let’s have a look at resources you can use to get the most out of this functionality:
Zoom provides universal communication, regardless of a person’s abilities. The platform has accessibility features that enable people with vision, hearing, cognitive, and mobility impairments to stay connected.
You can use this platform with a range of assistive technologies. The platform supports closed captioning for live meetings using a range of methods. This includes typing by meeting hosts, remote captioning, or third-party caption providers.
All Zoom recordings are available on screen readers and feature closed captioning and transcript options. Users can also complete all tasks with only their keyboard and not a mouse.
Users can always rely on the platform’s technical assistance team for any issues that may arise with its accessibility features.
Bookshare is an online library that hosts eBooks for users with print and physical disabilities. With the help of this library, people with reading barriers can have a fully customized experience reading books. Bookshare works for educators, students, and adults.
To use Bookshare, you must have a qualifying perceptual or reading disability that affects how you read printed work. The qualifying conditions include the blind, those with visual impairments, cerebral palsy, or those who are unable to hold or manipulate books.
Magnifier apps help users read printed works using a magnifying glass. These apps rely on the user’s camera. They are available on most devices and operating systems like Apple iOS devices (iPad, Mac, iPhone), Android devices, Microsoft, etc.
Popular apps with this functionality include:
- Magnifying Glass (Android)
- Magnifying glass + Flashlight (iOS, Android)
- BigMagnify Free (Apple iPhone, iPad)
Grammarly is a free proofreader and a must-have piece of equipment for anyone who types on a computer daily.
This tool can find errors in grammar, has a punctuation and spell checker, and can even suggest corrections in style. You can use this tool in Microsoft Office programs or paste the text you want to work with directly into your browser.
In combination with Grammarly Keyboard for Android devices, users can activate voice typing or dictation to get the most out of the app.
WebMath is a robust calculator and problem solver. It can solve calculus equations, count areas, and many other math problems. This tool is suitable for learners with special needs and those without impairments who need help solving math homework.
Introducing Speechify – the free TTS reader
Speechify is a robust mobile and desktop app that can read any text aloud with the help of a computer-generated text to speech voice. You can turn any physical or digital documents into speech with a few clicks of a button.
Here’s an overview of Speechify’s key features:
Scans printed text
- Text to speech functionality
- Natural human voices
- 60+ languages support
- Saves content across devices
- OCR technology
- No speed limit
- Note-taking tools
You can try Speechify for free and enjoy transforming any book into an audiobook and much more.
What are the most common types of assistive technology?
Low-tech AT, high-tech AT, computer hardware, and software AT are some of the most common types of assistive technology.
What is the difference between an assistive technology device and a medical device?
An assistive technology device is a piece of equipment that increases, maintains, and boosts the functional capacities of a person with disabilities. An AT device isn’t a medical device that gets surgically implanted to help a person deal with their difficulties.
What type of devices can be used to improve hearing?
Cochlear implants, hearing aids, hearing loops, and various Bluetooth systems can help people with hearing loss or impairments improve their hearing abilities.
What is the most popular assistive technology for people with disabilities?
Screen readers, screen magnifiers, and braille displays are some of the most commonly used AT tools for people with disabilities.