The Three Biggest Misconceptions About Assistive Technology

teacher and student, with student at computer wearing headphones

Are students who use assistive technology getting an unfair advantage? Will AT fix a student's learning challenges? Here are the top three misconceptions about AT and how it is used in the classroom and at home.

Misconception #1: Students who use AT are getting an unfair advantage

Psychologists or other AT decision makers only recommend and prescribe AT for students who have learning or other challenges accessing the curriculum at the same grade or level as their peers. AT is prescribed to overcome specific deficits and level the playing field in a classroom, not privilege a student. Providing AT to students is situated within an equity model, which ensures that every student gets what they need to be successful, rather than ensuring that every student gets the same resources. Without AT, students who have learning or other challenges would be left to work at much lower academic levels than they are capable of given their other cognitive strengths.

Misconception #2: AT will “fix” the student’s challenges or deficits

Many parents and teachers believe that AT will not only help students to manage their specific deficits, but also that it will actually improve those deficits over time. While some students may learn more quickly using the AT and therefore may acquire better skills over time, AT is not designed to target and fix a specific deficit. Rather, AT is designed to provide a substitute and bypass the skill or ability the student is struggling in. It allows students to access the curriculum so that they don’t fall behind in other areas.

Misconception #3: Training is critical to students’ success with AT

In working with teachers, we have heard again and again that their biggest problem with AT is the lack of student training on the programs. This is also shown in the research literature (e.g., Morrison, 2007). However, students learn to use AT very quickly, often faster than their teachers. The focus of training should be on instructing teachers how to implement AT tools effectively in order to encourage and facilitate students’ use of these tools in the classroom. Many AT products are composed of a number of tools (e.g., text-to-speech, optical character recognition, voice recognition) and students usually aren’t required to use every tool at the same time. Identifying the specific skill deficits, providing AT tools to overcome those specific deficits, and planning an effective way to implement those tools in the classroom is critical for student success with AT — more so than training the student how to use the AT.

References

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Morrison, K. (2007). Implementation of assistive computer technology: A model for school systems. International Journal of Special Education, 22, 85-97.

Bronwyn Lamond, Todd Cunningham (2018)

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