Function vs. Hype in Assistive Technology

I just got back from attending part of the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference in San Diego, CA. While on the trip, I saw a social media ad for a braille smart watch. It looks pretty cool. The idea of having phone notifications sent to the wrist and being able to read them instead of having an electronic voice shout them out to you seems like a terrific idea. But is it functional?

One lecture during the conference focused on feature matching, and devices and services that meet functional needs. I asked the instructor at the end of the two-day conference session what he thought about this new braille smart watch. His response went back to the lecture; is it truly functional? We will have to wait and see.

Function versus Hype

The initial problem I see with this braille smart watch is whether or not such a small display will be functional for reading braille notifications. My instructor was skeptical of braille be functional in such a small form factor (in his experience, it typically does not work so well). This conversation served as a reminder that many people get caught up in the hype, or “cool” factor, of a piece of technology to the point where they disregard the functional applications.

T-46Assistive technology exists to improve or maintain quality of life for individuals with disabilities. It is not intended to be something cool that can make a person’s life more entertaining. Parents and professionals may want to obtain a device for an individual because it is the latest and great product with all the bells and whistles. However, there are times where an individual with a disability does not need all the bells and whistles. What that individual needs is a device that contains the features to meet the functional goals of independence, employment, communication, etc.

Consumer Buy-in

I will discuss consumer buy-in in greater detail at another time. For now, it is important to remember two things: 1. consumer opinions should always be considered, and 2. professionals have the responsibility to give thorough rationales for why a device is or isn’t a good match for an individual. Trials should always happen before a device is purchased. Research also needs to be done to see what features a device has and what prior consumer experience has been with the device.


Companies that sell AT devices want to sell their device. This means they will hype it up to be the greatest invention and the answer to all your problems. Be careful of the marketing trap these companies are out to set. If you turn your eye to features and function, you will still clear of all the hype and pitfalls that come with it.

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