Useful Tech for Back to School: From the Common to the Less So

By Aser Tolentino, Assistive Technology Instructor

As summer draws to a close and students of all ages return to the classroom, checkout lines – both virtual and real – fill up with shoppers on the hunt for tools to make the coming school year a success. This is no different in the world of assistive technology: be it a way for parents to keep track of their grade-schoolers or grad students tracking the revisions to their latest thesis draft. In that spirit, here are a couple of interesting accessible gadgets for the students in your life, whether they’re 8 or 80.

Google Chromebook

When wandering the aisles of your local big box store, it’s hard not to run into a display of these affordable, portable machines running Google’s Chrome operating system. What you might not realize is that these notebooks that often go for as little as $100 feature built-in accessibility tools including a surprisingly full-featured screen reader. Being entirely reliant on Google’s ecosystem of Chrome extensions and Android apps, it won’t completely replace a Windows or Mac laptop, but you’d be surprised how many productivity tools you can put in a child’s hand by purchasing something as cheap as a single textbook. Check out this accessibility series on YouTube for tutorials.


Somewhat on the other end of the price spectrum is a new refreshable Braille display from the folks at HIMS. Taking style cues from the Polaris note takers debuted last year, this device takes a further step in catering to the demands of more productivity-conscious users. With its Perkins-style Braille keyboard positioned in the middle of a traditional set of modifier and function keys, the QBRAILLE removes the need for users to learn sequential keystrokes to accomplish the same thing as well-known PC and Mac commands. This way, instead of having to learn a string of keys on the Braille display, the user can simply hold down the CTRL key and type the letter ‘S’ in order to save a document.

Republic Wireless Relay

With screen addiction a serious enough concern to warrant new time management features from the likes of Apple and Facebook, among others, it’s hardly surprising that there are serious concerns about giving cell phones to small children. Leaving aside the potential safety risks, giving a child free reign to operate a fully-featured cellular device seems like a bad idea. A company called Republic Wireless has offered an alternative that, because of its interface, appears completely accessible. This is because their new Relay LTE Walkie Talkie has no screen. With this simple device, children can have push button access to send voice messages to the Relay app on their parents’ cell phones, or other Relays connected to their device, by simply bumping the NFC-equipped units together and getting permission from the users’ respective guardians. Aside from voice prompted messaging, the device is expected to add Google Assistant functionality and some games in the near future. Did I mention it’s also a GPS locator? The device employs a cellular connection provided by Republic Wireless at a cost of $7/month. A single unit costs $99, with packs of two going for $149 and three for $199.