In the world of education, the concept of equity has been catapulted to the forefront. Thus, it is our mission to ensure that students receive the interventions they need to become academically successful.For some students, interventions needed may include additional resources or instructional time.
Everyone agrees that equity in our schools provides each student with the ability to achieve success in school and life. Unfortunately, some teachers, students, and parents portray envy, jealousy, and downright hostility at the subject of providing assistive technology (AT). Why complain when AT is critical for the academic success of students with disabilities?
AT tools are devices that assist students with disabilities in performing tasks that may be difficult or impossible without the tech. This technology ranges from something as simple as a pencil grip to an advanced intervention, such as a motorized wheelchair. Applications such as Microsoft Immersive Reader, Flipgrid AR, and Audible audiobooks (to name a few) can make the learning experience for the student with disabilities much more accessible.
Using AT devices, students with disabilities have discovered the way to learn and successfully complete their work in a general education class while bolstering their confidence and self-esteem.
The question then becomes: Why are so many teachers, students, and parents calling the use of assistive technology “unfair?”
Let’s examine these long-standing complaints that are continually levied against the use of assistive technology:
Myth 1: Using assistive technology is cheating.
I believe that this complaint comes from the fact that people do not understand what AT actually is. In her Edutopia article, author Jennifer Sullivan (2019) defines it succinctly as she discusses how the use of AT “makes things possible.” The author refers to the fact that eyeglasses are also AT. Dictation software is AT. Listening to an audiobook is AT. Educating people on what AT is clears up this misunderstanding.
Myth 2: Using assistive technology provides an unfair advantage.
This complaint is the one that disturbs me greatly. AT is not offered to students with disabilities to give them an edge. AT is necessary so that there is leveling on the educational playing field.
Here’s a perfect example: Let’s imagine a student has an upcoming test. Upon arrival at the test center, the proctor informs her that she may not wear her glasses as it would give her an unfair advantage in reading.
I’ve worn glasses since the 2nd grade because of poor vision. Corrective lenses are essential for seeing and places me on a level playing field with those whose eyesight is perfect. The student who is unable to read or write due to dyslexia or dysgraphia is in the same boat.
Now, I hear those reading this post saying, “That’s preposterous. You need those glasses to see. That would never happen.” So, how is the student who uses a word processor to take notes because of dyslexia or dysgraphia any different? To keep that ship sailing, the AT fills in the gaps needed.
Myth 3: Students who use assistive technology become unmotivated and rely solely on the technology to succeed.
This complaint stems from a lack of knowledge of the student.
No student comes to school wanting to do poorly. When schools provide students with disabilities with the AT needed, they can become academically successful. Success breeds motivation.
Plus, there is not one piece of AT that will help anyone succeed if they do not put in the time to research and intellectual effort necessary to acquire knowledge.
For schools to be on the path to educational equity, the myths about the use of AT need to be quashed and replaced with research-based pedagogical practices, not an assumption, bias, or conjecture. It is time for the mindsets to change and for equity for the disabled student to occur.
Recently, I read a story (though I cannot remember where I read it) about students who complained that another student was provided an unfair advantage during an exam due to the use of a typewriter and a quiet room.
The student was Helen Keller.
I would implore teachers that, if you truly stand for equity for students with disabilities, place yourself in the shoes of these students and visit the Misunderstood Minds website (WGHB Educational Foundation, 2002). Participate in each of the simulations. After doing so, it may become clear that the complaints about the use of AT are unfounded.
Pencil grips, anyone?
Sullivan, J. (2019). Rethinking assistive technology. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/rethinking-assistive-technology
WGHB Educational Foundations. (2002). Misunderstood minds. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/misunderstoodminds/