As you search for assistive technology that works for you, it might be helpful to think of it like the process you would use to buy a car (thanks to our colleagues in Wisconsin for this analogy).When you look for a car, different people have different key features they want. Some go for safety, some go for sleek looks and maneuverability, some are looking at fuel economy, my brother who is 6’7” first checks to make sure he can actually fit in and drive the car, others go simply looking for something that fits their budget.
Assistive technology is the same way—different people are looking for different features, with the added complication of funding sources on top. Another way that purchasing assistive technology is like buying a car is the “used car salesperson” approach that some vendors take. There are good and bad car salespeople and good and bad AT vendors. A bad car salesperson can get you in a car that might break down as soon as you drive off the lot. A bad AT vendor can get you a device you don’t need or a device that doesn’t fit you and actually causes you physical harm due to the lack of fit.
Our colleagues have found that a person that would never put up with a broken television from the store down the street might get by with a broken piece of AT or a poorly installed home modification. We need the tools we use to be good consumers of other products in our purchase and use of AT.
How can you tell if your vendor is a good vendor?
Do they ask you about your disability, what you need to be able to do, what you can do, what you can’t do? Good vendors do extensive work getting to know you and your situation, the how, why and where of using your device. If they immediately jump to telling you what they can do without looking at you/your situation, this is a red flag.
Do they have a reputation and education and background in what they are doing? Good vendors have relationships with area service providers and have spent years studying or practicing what they do. Your local center for independent living may have vendors they know do good work in your community.
Good vendors are focused on meeting your need before they focus on what they have as a product they can sell you. Good vendors want to make sure what they have will work for you. Good vendors will tell you if there is something else on the market that will work for you that is free or cheaper.
Good vendors are transparent about what they can and cannot do and about the costs involved and if they can work with your funding source.
Good vendors have opportunities for you to try devices before you purchase them in most cases. Devices should be user-friendly with clear and simple ways to operate them. More complex devices should come with plenty of support for you to learn to use them in a way that works for you.
Good vendors also provide deliver, fitting, training and support for the products they sell/the improvements they make.
Good vendors do not try to convince you to use devices you think aren’t working or don’t fit.
Smart Shopper Tips
Shop local when possible — if your vendor has a business storefront in the community, the chances that you get good service and follow up increase dramatically. Some products are not available locally. Just like buying a car from far away online, you have to be extra diligent in these cases.
Asking other people with disabilities and other professionals about the equipment and service providers and vendors that have worked for them is a good way of finding out about options—just like you might ask around about people’s experience with a particular brand of car, its service record and reliability. You may also want to do an internet search for customer reviews.
Trust your gut — if you think the person selling you the device is trying to pull something over on you, stop the process. Don’t work with someone you don’t trust. Kick the tires, take the equipment for a test drive, and don’t fall for hard-driving sales techniques.
Find out about warrantees, technical support numbers and access to service providers.
Have high expectations when you buy AT. Expect that vendors will be transparent; make referrals when their equipment won’t meet you needs; use tools and measurements and interview you; provide delivery and set up and training; provide maintenance and repair; and keep you up-to-date about eligibility for an equipment update. When you set these expectations, you are in the driver’s seat, making decisions on equipment that will work for you.
The contents of this web page were developed under a grant from the Department of Education. However those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.