No matter what kind of assistive technology you use, there are certain universally applicable things to keep in mind.
- Assistive technology itself is not universal. 2 people with the same disability will not necessarily be comfortable using the same devices — they may often be, but not always. Always try as many things as you can, or at least find as much information as possible, before you settle on something.
- Think ahead. Even if something looks like it might be doable straight off, how will it affect you in the future? That is, can your body tolerate operating the device on a steady basis without pain, fatigue or too much wear and tear? Try to find the most ergonomic option, so that the device is comfortable to use long-term and you don’t risk doing further damage.
- Assistive technology does not necessarily mean that you will be set apart from your peers. Assistive technology is primarily a tool of inclusion — something that will enable you to communicate and/or participate. It’s only a different means to accomplish the same task as your peers.
- Be careful with your sources. If your source specifically advocates one method as opposed to another specific method, ask him or her to explain why if that explanation hasn’t already been given. The preference should be supported by comparisons — that is, he or she should have at least tried or weighed BOTH methods before expressing a personal preference. Personal preferences are fine, but bad mouthing an alternative before you’ve at least discussed it is not.
- If possible, verify that the information is reasonably current. This is critical for websites, whose graphics may have been updated but whose words haven’t been altered for nearly ten years. That is at least a generation in computer years, and more if we’re talking about speech recognition. It’s good design to note when a page was last updated, but many people don’t. So, if someone claims to be an “expert” with “the best current information,” be cautious. Contact the expert if necessary.
- Beware of cyber sqatters when researching assistive technology on the web. A cyber squatter buys a domain name (or more than one) that ostensibly pertains to a certain product or topic, but then goes on to explain how inferior the product is or to shill their own product, thereby preventing more qualified individuals from using the domain in a relevant way. Alternately, a cyber squatter can create a domain name that is very similar to an actually relevant website, hoping that people will stumble on the scam site instead of the real one. (See “Domain Name in Bad Faith or Intent?”) So, for instance, someone might buy a domain about one-handed keyboards or other assistive technology, but then talk about how useless the technology was. This could be considered cyber squatting. It smacks of being desperate, and you have to wonder if they’re more concerned with self-promotion or making money than they are with providing information.
- If you find something that works for you, spread the word — if you come across something on your own, tell your relevant medical professional. That way, the professional has potentially learned something, and can suggest to other clients. Also, if he or she knows what you’re using, it may help with figuring out treatment options.