Does my student need assistive technology (AT)? How to assess, and try AT for free


There’s a common conception that assistive technology (AT), defined as “devices and services to help those with special needs”, is only for the severely disabled. But there are many types of assistive technology, from a rubber pencil grip to the most sophisticated machine. In addition, in the United States, every student with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) must have AT consideration.

Source: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Happily, a clearly defined process is laid out for considering if and what AT is needed, a free way to try out AT, and funding opportunities for acquiring AT.

Process for considering AT

When considering AT for a student, make it a team effort. Involve parents or guardians, teachers, ancillary staff (especially AT experts at the school), and others involved in the student’s life. Then consider SETT (Student Environment Tasks Tools):

  • Student: What does the student need to do? What are the student’s special needs? What are the student’s current abilities?
  • Environment: What materials and equipment are currently available in the environment? What is the physical arrangement? Are there special concerns? What is the instructional arrangement? Are there likely to be changes? What supports are available to the student? What resources are available to the people supporting the student?
  • Tasks: What naturally occurring activities take place in the environment? What is everyone else doing? What activities support the student’s curricular goals? How might the activities be modified to accommodate the student’s special needs? How might technology support the student’s active participation in those activities?
  • Tools: What no tech, low tech, and high tech options should be considered when developing a system for a student with these needs and abilities doing these tasks in these environments? What strategies might be used to invite increased student performance? How might these tools be tried out with the student in the customary environments in which they will be used?

It would be great if there was a form to gather information, and guess what? There is! You can download it from The form also includes spots for listing and assessing AT, and creating a plan for AT use.

SETT form


Borrowing AT to try it out

It is highly likely that there is an assistive technology lending library set up to help you, particularly if you live in the United States. To find one, google “<your region> assistive technology lending library”.
For example, in Michigan there is Alt-Shift which supports Michigan’s K-12 schools with a wide variety of assistive technology that they will ship to Michigan schools for a free trial.

Understanding that AT assessment should be a thorough process, Alt+Shift lends equipment for 8 weeks but will extend the loan if requested. They allow students to take equipment home and are understanding if equipment gets broken. In general, the only time schools must replace the equipment is if it gets lost.

Anyone working at a Michigan school can create an account with Alt+Shift to start the lending process, and it is possible to borrow multiple items at once. If you know of an item that you want to try, but which Alt+Shift doesn’t have, let them know and they will procure it for you to test.

There are also AT support sites in other states, such as the Maryland AT Network (MATN), Texas AT Network (TATN), Georgia Project for AT (GPAT), Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI), and Wisconsin AT Initiative (WATI). There are many other sources as well, and a Google search on “assistive technology lending library” near you should yield helpful results.

Procuring AT for permanent use

Your school or district should have money budgeted for AT, but if this runs short there are other sources. See the AT Resources Funding Guide published by the Assistive Technology Industry Association ( and the Grants page on Westminster Technologies site (

Finding out more

In addition to the sites listed above, most websites for ISDs (Intermediate School Districts) or RESAs (Regional Educational Service Agencies have links to AT resources.


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