Identify what the user wants to do and options for accomplishing these tasks –no tech, light tech & high tech.

Start with the task—not the technology. For example, if an individual with vision loss wants to read, the solution might be a CCTV magnifier or it might be a scanner and a computer with software such as Zoomtext or Jaws for Windows. Or it might be Books on Tape and a friend or family member willing to share an afternoon helping with correspondence and bills. Which solution will work best depends upon the person and the person’s environment.


Research assistive technology options

Your goal is not to become an “expert” but to learn about options. Start with catalogues, websites and the Washington Assistive Technology Alliance Program (800 214-8731). They’ can provide the names of knowledgeable vendors and service providers. You can also search online databases such as ABLEDATA.

User centered selection – Questions to Ask

Think first and foremost about what will work for the user. No device is right for everyone. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What are the user’s preferences and desires? Is he/she comfortable with technology? Would a light tech or no tech solution work better? Will the individual actually use the device?
  • Does the person have more than one functional limitation? And if so, how will these be accommodated?
  • Is the individual “stable” or can you anticipate changes in functional capabilities?
  • In what environments will the device be used and what supports will the person have in those environments?
  • Will the device need to be moved from location to location? Portability is often an important consideration.

Focus on the details, details, details!

If the goal, for example, is selection of a wheelchair accessible vehicle – don’t stop there. You need to know if the wheelchair user will be the driver or the passenger or both? Will the individual be traveling with someone or will they need to be able to get in and out of the vehicle without assistance. Is the chair user done growing or or do you need to account for “room to grow” when selecting a particular vehicle. These are just a few of the questions that will impact the choice of modifications.


Get an AT assessment

The goal is to identify the best AT options taking into account the individual’s preferences and the environment in which the AT will be used.

  • Assessments should be done by people with specialized training and expertise such as a physical, speech or occupational therapist; or a rehabilitation engineer. The best assessments offer an opportunity to try out the equipment by borrowing or renting it & consider non-AT solutions.
  • Users should plan an active role in the assessment. Be clear about what works & what doesn’t down to the tiniest detail! Otherwise, you may not be happy with the results.

If possible—try before you buy

Contact the Washington Assistive Technology Act Program (WATAP) for device demo’s and/or loans. WATAP can loan devices for up to six weeks for a small administrative fee ($10.00). 1-800-214-8731.

Choosing among options

Consider the top four criteria identified by the National Council on Disability are: effectiveness, affordability, operability and dependability.

Here are a few questions to think about:

  • How easy is the device to use and learn?
  • Will you need to invest additional dollars in training or other services?
  • How effective and reliable is the device?
  • How long is the warranty and is an extended warranty available?
  • Are “upgrades” covered (sometimes called software maintenance agreements)
  • Is information available on the costs and frequency of repair?
  • Where will you have to send the device if it needs repair?
  • Will the vendor provide a replacement while yours is in for service?
  • Does the vendor sell more than one brand?
  • Do you “like” the vendor?
  • Simply put – which device do you like the “best?”
  • Do you enjoy using the device? Is it “fun?”
  • Is there anything about the AT that “bugs” you! Talk to the vendor about this and/or keep looking!
  • Do you expect your capabilities to change in the future? Can the AT accommodate those changes?
  • How much do the different options cost? Are the price differences “worth” it?

Remember that High-Tech is not always best. High-tech devices typically cost more and require more skill and training than low-tech. Start with easier-to-use, low-tech devices; then make the transition to more complex devices, as needed and appropriate.


Identify Needed Services

  • Training can be especially important. Ask how much time the vendor is willing to commit to set-up and training. Where can you go for additional training?
  • Find out what the vendor will do if there is a problem with the AT device. The vendor should be willing to repair or replace the device within a reasonable period of time or give you your money back.
  • Don’t forget about warranties. Whenever possible, get extended warranties that cover the time you expect to use AT. Find out how much extended warranties cost and whether they include upgrades.
  • Insurance! Make sure the AT is covered for theft or damage by your renters, home or car insurance.

Research Funding Options

  • Traditional funding sources have particular guidelines and criteria that must be met! Obtain a written copy & address each criterion in your request. Follow all agency procedures including required pre-authorization. Be patient and be prepared to appeal!
  • Consider alternative funding options: leasing; Assistive Technology Loan Funds; PASS Plans; IDA Programs; Used & Donated Equipment

Take the Plunge – Make the Purchase

If possible, try to negotiate with the vendor for a 30 or 60 day trial period – allowing return of the item without penalty during this time period!

After you buy—use immediately

Once you have purchased the AT, make an effort to use it immediately. If you have problems, contact the vendor. They may be able to help you figure out how to use your AT and/or refer you to other resources or users for advice!