The impact of assistive technology use for students with disabilities in higher education: a systematic review.

Peer-reviewed article
(2021 Feb) Disabil Rehabil Assist Technol, 16 130-143


McNicholl A, Casey H, Desmond D, Gallagher P



This systematic review examines the impact of assistive technology (AT) on educational and psychosocial outcomes for students with disabilities (SWDs) in higher education.


Qualitative, quantitative and mixed method studies were identified through systematic searches of five databases: PsycINFO, PubMed, CINAHL, ERIC and Web of Science (Social Science Citation Index). The search was conducted in January 2018. Thematic synthesis was carried out to collate findings across papers and the methodological quality of included papers was assessed using a Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool (MMAT).


Twenty-six papers were included for analysis. Four analytic themes were identified; "AT as an enabler of academic engagement"; "barriers to effective AT use can hinder academic engagement"; "the transformative possibilities of AT from a psychological perspective"; and "AT as an enabler of participation".


This systematic review identifies that AT can promote educational, psychological and social benefits for SWD. However, AT users and AT officers must be aware of certain factors, such as inadequate AT training, inadequacies of devices, availability of external support and the challenge of negotiating multiple information sources, can hinder effective AT use and thus restrict engagement in the higher education environment. Future AT practices should focus on harnessing the potential of mainstream devices as AT for all students, thus facilitating inclusion and reducing stigma.IMPLICATIONS FOR REHABILITATIONStudents with disabilities face academic, psychological and social challenges within the higher education environment.Assistive technology (AT) use can enable academic engagement and social participation and be transformative from a psychological perspective.Disability support staff in higher education should ensure that the AT needs of students with disabilities are met in order to enhance the educational experience.Harnessing the potential of mainstream devices as AT for all students will facilitate inclusion and reduce stigma.