older adult woman being helped with her ipad by lady and man

Assistive Technology and Helping Others

You may or may not be a technical whiz, or have personal disability experience. However, even casual interactions can make positive contributions to the world of assistive technology (AT) and the lives of its users. Here are a few ideas if you want to help others who use, or need, assistive technology.

man using tablet being assisted by 2 women

Raising the Subject

Close to home, you may recognize a loved one’s need for assistive technology before they do. It rarely helps to announce, “You need a hearing aid/speech app/screen reader, and this is the one I want you to get.” It’s even worse to surprise someone with an AT item they never heard of. Disability or no disability, no one likes the implication that they’re incapable of making their own decisions.

Alejandra Gonzalez, BridgingApps Digital Navigator, recommends introducing the idea of assistive tech by being “supportive and empathetic about struggles that loved ones might be facing. Bring AT up as an option, offer resources, and let them do the research and ultimately make the decision themselves.” As a Digital Navigator, “when I notice clients struggling to do something such as reading a screen, I ask if it’s a problem and then—after they agree that it is—offer possible solutions.

“I also think that the term ‘assistive technology’ can be intimidating. Many people are unaware that while AT can be high-tech, there is also low-tech AT—even glasses and contact lenses count. It makes people more open to talking about AT devices, if you relate it to something like getting glasses when you struggle to see.”

Using Technology as a Volunteer

If you want to help out on a wider scale, nonprofit disability-support organizations always need volunteers. You can find an array of options just by Googling “[disability of interest] volunteer opportunities near me.”

The organization you choose may have its own app or apps: ask for a briefing on using it. (Even if it’s intended for users with a disability you don’t have, learning how the app works will give you insight on what the disability community wants and needs.)

Other ways you can use apps as a volunteer:

  • Manage your schedule to use volunteer time effectively
  • Keep up with the latest news in disability research and AT development
  • Get to know your organization’s members/clients through social-media connections and shared interests
  • Write app reviews to help clients find the best assistive technology
  • Make financial donations through digital transfer

Technology-Assisted Human Interactions

When you know or meet someone who is already using assistive technology, it’s important to show that technology the same respect you would show anyone else’s private property—and then some. Grabbing someone’s voice-generating device to “see how it works” is as bad as snatching their eyeglasses from their face. Other things not to do are:

  • “Clear the way” by moving someone’s “unused” cane, walker, or wheelchair without permission. (Besides showing disrespect for their property, you risk stranding them by leaving their personal mobility out of reach, or even damaged.)
  • Show impatience with someone who is struggling to navigate a room, finish a sentence, or fill out a form. (Being rushed never improved anybody’s concentration.)
  • “Help out” before getting a clear answer on if or how help is wanted. (The absolute bane of anyone’s existence is well-meaning people who insist on taking over despite personal lack of understanding, and only make a worse mess.)

The number-one thing to remember is that assistive-technology users retain full rights to human dignity and respect, including the right to be treated as any intelligent and self-reliant individual wants to be treated. This is also the best way to get to know people as individuals—and their need for assistive technology as just another individual aspect of someone worth knowing for themselves.

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