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8 Places to Test-Drive Assistive Technology

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Trying out assistive technology (AT) can help you find the right tool for your child. You may be able to test out devices at your child’s school or there may be an AT lending library near you.

Choosing an assistive technology (AT) is a bit like buying a car. Ideally, you want your child to spend a little time with it — take it for a test drive, so to speak — before you make a final decision. Here are some of the places where you can arrange a test drive to help you find out if the device is a good fit for your child.

1. Your Child’s School

If your child qualifies for special education services, a good first step is talking to the evaluator at school who is doing her AT assessment. (At some schools, there may be several people with this responsibility.) Evaluators often have relationships with manufacturers of AT equipment. Your child’s evaluator may be able to arrange a trial period for her to use the AT tool before the school decides whether to buy it.

2. Retailers

If you’re not working with an evaluator at school or aren’t sure what kind of AT will help, you may want to ask your child’s teacher or guidance counselor for suggestions. Depending on your child’s learning issues, a basic laptop or e-reader might be the only hardware she needs for assistive technology. Many retailers that sell tablet computers and other devices let shoppers play around with them in the store.

3. Colleges and Hospitals

Many community colleges and universities have AT centers for student use. You can contact a college’s disability support center and ask if your child can try out equipment in the college’s computer lab. Some hospitals, especially large teaching facilities, have AT centers as well. Call the hospital and ask if it has H.E.L.P.—a Hospital Equipment Loan Program. If so, the program’s coordinator can assist you.

4. AIM Explorer

AIM Explorer is a free downloadable tool that can help children with reading issues figure out which AT tools and supports will meet their needs. The program is part of CAST, which was founded as the Center for Applied Special Technology. It supplies learning tools to schools and has on its website free and low-cost learning tools for students.

5. Pass It On Center

The Pass It On program helps reuse AT tools that people with disabilities no longer need. You can find a center near you that participates in the Pass It On program and test out AT that is available for loan, purchase or giveaway.

6. Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA)

This group is a trade organization whose members make, sell and provide AT devices and services. You have to pay to attend the seminars at ATIA conferences, but the exhibit hall is free. You and your child can try out and compare products on display there. You can also talk with people who can show you all the features and answer your questions in-depth.

7. Your State AT Act Project

The Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs (ATAP) lists each state’s programthrough which you can try out or borrow devices. You can also get information about financing programs to help find ways to pay for AT.

8. Alliance for Technology Access (ATA) Centers

This network of community organizations and companies helps children and adults with disabilities find and use AT. There are ATA centers in nearly every state. Many of the centers have lending libraries so families can test out different kinds of tools.

Testing out different kinds of AT will give you a better idea about what works best for your child. Be sure to ask the school key questions before anyone buys anything. It’s also a good idea to make the most of the built-in features on your smartphone or tablet computer. You can get recommendations for apps and games that can help with learning in Understood’s Tech Finder.

Key takeaways

  • You may be able to test out different devices in stores.
  • AIM Explorer can help you figure out which supported reading software meets your child’s needs.
  • Talk to the school and ask questions to help get the right tools for your child.

This article originally appeared on Understood.org, a free online resource for parents of children with learning and attention issues. Reprinted courtesy of Understood.org © 2018 Understood, LLC. All rights reserved.

About the author

Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

Amanda Morin, Understood (2018)

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