Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Is It A Bargain?

As some of you know, I write an article for work called "The AT Bargain Basement." It shows up in our "quarterly" newsletter The AT Messenger. You can see the current issue and back issues at

In the article, I try to find what I call assistive technology bargains--AT you can find for $100 or less. I started this undertaking because I often found people were looking for inexpensive AT. The biggest area where you see this is in magnifiers. You can get very inexpensive magnifying glasses at everywhere from your local dollar store to your local grocery store. Some of these magnifiers can be just what the doctor ordered (or would have  ordered), and sometimes, they're not quite strong enough. That's the way it can be when you're buying products untried and untested. One way you can test this stuff out is to contact your state's Tech Act project (sorry to my friends outside of the US) on the RESNA Catalyst Project web page at Just about all of the states (should) have projects that allow consumers to come in and at least try equipment if not borrow it. Borrowing equipment aside, some things just seem like bargains, but when we get them, we realize they aren't. That's what I'd like to look at right now-- what makes something really a bargain?

Typically, when we think about a bargain, we think about getting something for a lower price than you'd normally pay for it. So if you normally would get bananas for $0.69 per pound, but you can get them on sale for $0.39 per pound, that lower price would be a bargain. The same would be true of finding those shoes you wanted for half price. When it comes to assistive technology, we need to re-consider the bargain. We can't just look at cost, but we have to look at function. A bargain in "AT World" is one where I can get all of the functions that one device offers for a lower price. So if I need a 4x magnifier and I could buy brand X for $100, or brand Y for $50-60, the brand Y magnifier would be a bargain if it provides the same quality of magnification. I could pay less money and get a magnifier that's of lesser quality, but that wouldn't be a bargain. That would be a waste of money.

So how do I know what's a quality find? How do I know what's indeed a true AT bargain? That's where you need to do some homework both within and without. Honestly, the within part can be much more difficult than the without part.

Looking Within

Whether or not you're looking for an AT bargain, you should be considering what you needs are. Do you have a hard time reading your mail? Can you not hear what's being said in the classroom? Do you have a hard time remembering things? Do you easily get lost trying to get around when you're out and about? These are all the types of questions you should be asking. Maybe not these exact questions, but ones relating to what you're having difficulty doing. If you start to think about that, you're more than half way to finding what's going to work for you.

All too often, we begin looking for assistive technology by looking at assistive technology. I call this the "browsing" or "window shopping" approach. While it's a nice way to kinda see what's out there and new in the world of AT, it's not a a very productive way to find what may be useful. It can often eat up valuable time and it can lead you past some more simple and elegant AT solutions. If you're thinking about what it is that's giving you a problem, you can think more clearly about what will solve that problem because you will have to define that problem. Not quite making sense yet? Let's look at an example.

Suppose you have a tough time reading books, letters, the newspaper, worksheets, bank statements and bills, you name it because the print is too small. Your first reaction may be to find a magnifying glass. Maybe you see one in your local supermarket. Maybe it's in a bookstore or a dollar store. It's just gotta work right? So you get it and. . . it doesn't work. It's too weak. So you might look for other magnifiers, maybe buy some other cheap ones and find one that works for reading your bills, but not for the newspaper or books. After a while, you could end up with a bag of magnifiers that sorta do the job. If we rewind a bit and instead of heading for the magnifier, you go see your doctor about your vision, you can see just how bad things are. Just don't forget to tell the doctor what you are having trouble reading and what you can read fine. Maybe the solution is prescription eyeglasses? Maybe it's not. The thing about seeing the doctor is that it helps you see if there's a larger problem causing your difficulty with reading. Also, the doctor can tell you exactly how much magnification you need. That will give you a definite starting point when looking for a magnifying glass. If the doctor says you need at least a 4X magnifier, you can skip the ones at the dollar store (typically 1.5x to 2X) and even some of the ones in other stores (it can be really hard to find a 4X magnifier in your local we-sell-everything store). You will most likely have to look at the more quality magnifiers which tend to cost more money.

Looking Without

If we know what features we're looking for in a device, we can start looking for devices that have those features we need, AND we can also start looking at device prices. This is where we go apples to apples. The most important thing, though, is that I know what features I'm looking for in a device. 

So returning to our example from above, is there some way I can take care of my reading needs without having to buy anything? Could I look at my bills online and use the magnification capabilities of just about every web browser? Could I read my books online and do the same thing? What about the newspaper? Written correspondence gets difficult as can recipes on the packaging of different foods. So what do I do with those things I can't see via my computer but want to use a magnifying glass to read? 

Well, first things first, find the magnifier that works for you. Don't worry about the price since you haven't bought it yet. Just find the one that works. Once you know one works, consult the Internet. Let "The All Powerful Google" help you find that bargain price. What most people don't know is that Google has a feature called Google Shopping, you can find it at, which you can use to search for products you want to buy. 

Don't want to use The Google? Feel free to use the search engine of your choice. You can also contact your state Tech Act/RESNA Catalyst Project group for help. You can find the listing of the state projects at If your state Tech Act group has an equipment demo and loan program like we do here in Delaware, make use of that. That way, you can actually spend some quality time with equipment to really see if you want to make that purchase or not. You may be surprised that spending a little time with some equipment can help you make much more educated decision than reading lots of user reviews on a website.

The most important thing to remember when looking for AT bargains is that you can't skimp on function. If you do, you may quickly learn that what you thought was a bargain certainly isn't.