Low Tech Assistive Technology

If I say the words “assistive technology,” what comes to mind? An iPad with autism apps? Or maybe Stephen Hawking with his thought-activated chair and voice modulator? When we hear the term Assistive Technology (AT), we often imagine kids with disabilities mastering previously challenging assignments with the help of the latest and greatest high-tech gadgetry.

And with that high tech often comes a high price tag, which can be why schools are reluctant to implement AT. But there are plenty of low-tech assistive technology options that can help your child achieve their goals.

low tech assistive technology

In fact, we may be doing our children a disservice by thinking of AT in such narrow terms.

History of Assistive Technology

In 1988, the Assistive Technology Act passed in the United States. According to the Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs, the law was passed to “support State efforts to improve the provision of assistive technology to individuals with disabilities of all ages through comprehensive statewide programs of technology-related assistance.”

As defined by the Assistive Technology Act of 1998, AT is “any item, piece of equipment, or product that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.” There have been attempts and developments to support people with disabilities for centuries. The first school for deaf children opened in 1817. New organizations emerged throughout the 1900s to service the disabled.

The 2004 Revision states: “to direct the Secretary of Education to make assistive technology (AT) grants to States to maintain comprehensive statewide programs designed to: (1) maximize the ability of individuals with disabilities, and their family members, guardians, advocates, and authorized representatives, to obtain AT; and (2) increase access to AT.”

Technological assistance for people with disabilities varies based on their specific needs. Let’s deep dive into some key low and high tech assistive technology examples to understand how each can make a difference.

Low Tech Assistive Technology

Surprisingly, low-tech devices can often make the biggest difference for a student.

According to Georgia Tech, low tech devices for students with disabilities “are devices or equipment that don’t require much training, may be less expensive and do not have complex or mechanical features.”

Examples include:

  • walking canes
  • binder clips that make it easier to turn pages
  • sensory input items such as fidgets and squishy balls
  • writing things down instead of speaking
  • Low tech assistive technology in the classroom includes printing assignments in larger fonts, pencil grips, adapted pencils, and using colored highlighters to better organize information.

Definition of AT

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.

Yes, that means a highlighter is considered AT. And it might be just what your student needs to help visually organize information.

Choosing appropriate AT solutions—whether high tech or low tech—depends on a number of factors: What is impeding success; how is it getting in the way; and how can a student best compensate are the first questions to consider. Other factors might include level of fatigue, strain, physical limitations, and how long it would take to complete work (e.g., to write a paper) without the use of technology.

Who uses Assistive Technology?

A typical assistive technology user has a disability that requires a compensatory tool for increased independence. The level of the ability or disability of the user can vary. It can range from someone who had a spinal cord injury and can only move their head to a person who has pain when using their mouse due to carpal tunnel syndrome.

Both adults and children can benefit from technology use.

What is the difference between low and high tech?

Low tech does not require a power source. Sometimes this can be the easiest and most practical of solutions in assistive technology. Examples of low tech are a pencil grip for children with grasp issues, a cane to assist with walking, or a reacher to assist an individual with picking up items off the floors.

According to Georgia Tech, low tech devices for students with disabilities “are devices or equipment that don’t require much training, may be less expensive and do not have complex or mechanical features.”

Examples include walking canes, binder clips that make it easier to turn pages, sensory input items such as fidgets and squishy balls, and writing things down instead of speaking. Low tech assistive technology in the classroom includes printing assignments in larger fonts, pencil grips, adapted pencils, and using colored highlighters to better organize information.

Low-Tech AT Options For Reading 

  • Tachistoscopes (e.g., an index card with a cut-out showing a few words)
  • Highlighters
  • Colored overlays
  • Changes in lighting
  • Dictionary pens
  • Audiotapes and CDs
  • Low-Tech Help For Writing
  • Slant boards
  • Pencil grips
  • Adapted paper (e.g., colored, raised line, and with portions highlighted)
  • Word banks
  • Dictionary/thesaurus

Other Low Tech AT Options for Students

  • Alternative keyboards
  • Digital recorders
  • Spelling devices, and even computers with word processing software
  • Graphic Organizer
  • Visual Schedules
  • Adapted Pencil (weighted, fat, skinny, triangular, golf etc.)
  • Adaptive Paper (graph, special spacing or texture, HWT etc.)
  • Pencil Grip
  • adapted eraser
  • Slant board
  • post-it’s
  • highlighter
  • squishy ball or sensory input (fidgets)
  • tactile ruler
  • velcro
  • electrical device
  • screen magnifier
  • audiobook
  • adapted cd player/music player
  • voice amplification
  • scooter
  • gait trainer
  • wheelchair
  • braille translation software
  • switch adapted games or toys
  • adapted switches
  • adapted seating (a bouncy ball, chairs with seat belts, wiggly butt cushions)
  • adapted keyboard
  • calculator
  • electronic speller or dictionary
  • word prediction software
  • page protector or colored transparency
  • binder clip (for grip for turning pages)
  • jumbo anything (text, materials, paper, etc)
  • manipulatives

Who Can Perform an Assistive Technology Evaluation?

An Assistive Technology evaluation can be performed by an individual that has demonstrated a skill level in the field. A qualified professional will perform a comprehensive evaluation focusing on the individual’s goals and needs. After the evaluation is completed, the student will trial technology options and participate in the best selection to meet their goals.

Typically, individuals that are certified are also occupational, physical, speech therapists, or engineers. ATPs can work in various settings including rehabilitation centers, outpatient clinics, schools, or universities. If the individual is also a licensed therapist, many insurances may cover the evaluation and follow-up treatment sessions. They may also assist with obtaining funding for the needed equipment when appropriate.

Funding Options for AT

Many schools recoil at the thought of purchasing assistive technology for students. Hey, I get it, schools operate on very limited budgets. And there’s this weird notion out there that all AT is expensive, and that one student (or parent) is going to see another student’s AT device, and want the same for their child.

My advocacy experience has taught me quite the opposite. These are a few commonalities that I’ve observed over the past decade.

  • Many specialists (such as Teachers for the Visually Impaired/TVI) are connected with other professionals in their field and often know little secrets to getting AT funded.
  • AT seems to be a very common grant opportunity, if you’re willing to search for them.
  • Many community charities will often scholarship a piece of AT for a child if it fits with their mission. Or, they may house and recycle/redistribute pieces of AT.
  • Parents networking with other parents about topics like this can be a great resource of information of how to secure AT for your child.
  • Many times, the AT device does not cost nearly as much as expected.
  • If you’re willing to do insurance appeals, you may get it funded that way.

I hope this helps. As always, there is much more information on this site about this topic and incorporating it into your IEP.

Similar Posts