How to: Devices and connectivity on a shoestring

Images of pound coins
Photo By: Images Money

One of the intentions of the Autism Card project is to look at cost-effective technologies. Although much of what we’re investigating revolves around devices that can be  substantially cheaper than existing assistive devices, ‘cheap’ could in practice still mean hundreds of pounds either one-off costs for buying a device or for a rolling mobile phone contract, for some this will still be prohibitively expensive, especially if you are an out-of-work adult.

“only 15% of adults with autism are in full-time paid employment.”

– The way we are: autism in 2012 [PDF],  National Autistic Society

Are there cheaper ways of getting some of the same benefits of the more expensive devices?


eReader devices are specialised devices helping you to read electronic content. They are often cheaper than tablets but are more restricted in what they can do. As they are generally simpler to use and have fewer options to choose from, these ‘restrictions’ may be helpful if you get easily confused trying to make a choice. The cheaper devices will also usually be greyscale (black and white) rather than colour and some don’t have sound but they are usually much more tailored to reading text easily than an average tablet. Because they tend to use less power you can normally go longer between needing to recharge the device than a tablet.  Examples

eReaders  do usually have touchscreens and WiFi, WiFi enables a device to wirelessly connect to the internet and from there you can download  content directly to the device via online ‘stores’ (there may be charges depending on the kind of content). The range of content available will depend on the store. Some eReaders offer apps  allowing you to browse the web and read web pages. And when you have an eReader you can read eBooks, there are ways of getting free eBooks  including

Second hand

The pace of change in hardware the technology sector is ferocious. Those who can afford to buy the newest devices might be selling or getting rid of their older devices every year or two, especially with phones. You might want to keep an eye on online auction sites like eBay for sales of cheaper used equipment or budget new devices.


Particularly in the Tablet category you’ll find lots of new but unbranded devices or brands you’ve never heard of – normally manufactured in the far east and imported to the UK. Maybe a good analogy is running shoes: you could buy labelled brands with a certain reputation  ‘Nike’, ‘Reebok’ (like Apple/Samsung)…or you could buy ‘trainers’ with no big name brand, usually cheaper and maybe not the same build quality but they can still serve a purpose and be more affordable. In technology where cheaper unbranded devices might be more restrictive is in things like resolution of screen (seeing sharp pictures), and storage capacity (how much content you can store) and generally less robust (cheaper connectors/materials more likely to break/scratch) so take good care of these devices and invest in strong cases to avoid damage.

Free WiFi

WiFi logo
WiFi logo

Lots of buildings/venues offer free WiFi these days so keep your eyes peeled and look out for the WiFi logo.

A simple way to find places that have free wifi is simply to go to Google and search for your town name along with the phrase “free wifi” e.g.
Aberdeen “free wifi”

Watch out! If you are out and about and have a phone that allows you to download apps try and make sure you do wireless downloads using a WiFi connection rather than 3G/4G in your phone. Apps can be several megabytes in size – particularly those containing video, on a 3G connection you may get a bigger phone bill or use up your phone data quota too quickly. So if you don’t have WiFi in your house, seek out a WiFi hotspot to save money.


A local library may offer access to WiFi in their buildings to registered members e.g.

Library staff are also usually very helpful if you need a bit of training getting started using IT, some places will even offer free courses.


Buses: Companies such as Stagecoach and Firstbus have WiFi available on some routes


Commercial venues

Some places you might need to get a particular password to use a venue’s connection so don’t be afraid to ask. You might find WiFi hotspots in commercial venues like cafes, fast food outlets and shops. Commercial places are more likely to ask for some personal information like a mobile phone number, so check the fine print on their terms and conditions or you might end up on their mailing lists.


If you are attending a college or university there may be particular places on the campus where you can get a WiFi connection perhaps using an account at your institution or using a service called ‘eduroam’ – see eduroam: participating organisations.

Via your ISP

If you have a broadband internet connection at home and your modem/router has been installed recently you might already have WiFi available or may be able to upgrade for a small charge  but you might need a bit of setting up to use it the first time and to set a password for your own WiFi network. Having WiFi at home will make it cheaper to use your mobile device and easier to keep your device and data up to date.

Larger companies can offer access to hotspots elsewhere outside your house. Examples

Tesco’s £119 Hudl tablet hits stores | Technology |

Tesco’s £119 Hudl tablet hits stores | Technology |

Used to be the only tablet you could buy in a supermarket was in the confectionary aisle… Should point out that right now this Android tablet is one of the cheapest and highest specification tablets available from a major mainstream retailer in the UK. Worth a consideration if you’re on a tight budget.

Hudl – Introducing the new 7″ tablet from Tesco –