2 people walking together, one with a white cane

Popular Misconceptions about Assistive Technology

We round off National Assistive Technology Awareness Month with a look at some common-but-untrue assumptions about AT.

Misconception: Assistive technology is limited to wheelchairs and other bulky devices.

Facts: Any “assistive” item counts—including digital apps. You can carry dozens of assistive-technology options on a smartphone.

Misconception: All assistive technology (AT) is “high-tech.”                                                                                                                     

Facts: “Assistive technology” can be as “non-technical” as a cane or magnifying glass: the term covers all forms of equipment (except implants) used to compensate for disability-related impairments. Nor was assistive technology invented in the twenty-first, or even the twentieth, century. The first read-by-touch Braille system was developed in 1824, the first electric hearing aid in 1898.

Misconception: The purpose of assistive technology is to “correct” or “cure” a disability.

Facts: Not really, although it may seem that way once everyday functioning becomes significantly easier. Whether a disability is temporary (such as a broken leg) or permanent, it’s the user (or their body’s natural healing system) that does the real work.

Misconception: Students shouldn’t be allowed to use AT in class, because it constitutes an unfair advantage.

Facts: Perhaps this idea grew from controversies regarding general use of personal technology in schools. (“If students can use a calculator app during math exams, what’s to stop them from looking up whole answers on the same device?”) Legitimate assistive technology (which anyone with diagnosed disabilities has a legal right to) is designed to let individuals learn at the same challenge level as their peers—not to confer special advantages, but to remove unfair disadvantages.

Misconception: All screen readers/wheelchairs/speech-to-text apps are alike.

Facts: Not in today’s multiple-choice marketplace. And no one should feel limited to the most obvious option, unless it meets their unique needs.

Misconception: An AT item that’s perfect for one person will be perfect for everyone with the same disability.

Facts: No more than everyone in any other demographic opts for the identical car, computer, or coffeemaker. Everyone deserves a choice that fits their unique preferences, temperament, and abilities.

Misconception: If you need assistive technology, you need it all the time.

Facts: Just as many people wear eyeglasses only part of the time, many people need AT in some situations but not others. For example, someone with speech difficulties may use speech-to-text software only among acquaintances who are unfamiliar with the user’s natural voice.

Misconception: “High-functioning” people don’t need assistive technology.

Facts: Just because a disability is categorized as “high-functioning” (i.e., the person who has it can function like a “typical” person in most situations) doesn’t make it easy to manage. “High-functioning” people work hard mentally to stay in the “functional” zone, so any technology that reduces stress fills a legitimate need.

Misconception: If you reach adulthood before being diagnosed with a learning disability, it’s too late for AT to help.

Facts: Much better late than never. People don’t “age out” of the ability to learn.

Misconception: Assistive technology is prohibitively expensive for most people.

Facts: Many assistive apps are free to download; few cost more than $10. Even with wheelchairs and other genuinely expensive equipment, going through a disability-services organization can significantly reduce cost. There are also programs where you can borrow and/or test AT, to pinpoint the right app or device before committing to a purchase. (Check out options from Easter Seals Greater Houston, also the Texas Technology Access Program’s demonstration centers and loaner items.)

Misconception: Once someone has the right AT, they don’t need any other accommodations.

Facts: Even the best assistive technology can’t fully duplicate natural human abilities, nor change a brain to match a “standard” teaching approach. This misconception does the most damage when non-AT users take the attitude, “You got your extra help, so don’t go thinking I owe you any special favors.” (There’s another thing that only humans can provide: empathy and understanding.)

Misconception: Assistive technology isn’t much use to people without disabilities.

Facts: It depends on the technology. Many apps/devices/everyday accommodations are popular among people without disabilities:

  • Captions or headphones let you work (or watch a video) in public areas without annoying others.
  • Reaching aids let you get things off high shelves without searching for a stepstool—or fish things out of a corner without moving heavy furniture.
  • Voice-operated smart devices provide an extra “hand” when you’re driving or your arms are full.

One final fact: assistive technology needn’t be a “burden” to anybody. Providing the right AT may be a little extra trouble at first, but it pays dividends to all of society once the user is free to make his or her maximum contribution.

See also: BridgingApps App Search Tool for locating the right AT for your needs.

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