Dear Students, Why Not Use Assistive Tech in the Classroom?

Dear Students:

By now, you’ve probably heard about all the great things that come with minds that learn differently. You may be talented in the arts, have awesome problem-solving skills, or be a gifted athlete. If you have identified at least one advantage that is associated with your learning disability (LD), let me give you a high five: The world needs people like you.

Still, it can make you bummed out to have difficulty reading, spelling, and staying focused on your schoolwork. I know that you have given your best effort, and with the help of your teachers and parents, you may have developed strategies to make learning easier. But there’s one thing you’ve been resisting: assistive technology (AT). I’m sure there are various reasons for your reluctance, but in order to realize your academic potentials, you will need to open the door to AT and discover how it can give you a fair shot at learning the same stuff everyone else is learning.

Growing up with a learning disability is hard. It makes you different than most of the other kids at school. So I can understand if you think using AT will just make you feel even more different. The good news is that most students these days, regardless of how they learn, use some type of technology to help them be successful. On top of that, many of today’s AT tools are designed to be helpful to both LD and non-LD students, so everyone can use the same technology. A perfect example of a helpful AT tool is Apple's iPad, which every student can use effectively in school. If you have difficulty spelling, you can dictate your words on an iPad while your friend types his on the keyboard (or dictates them like you because it’s kind of cool). The thing to know is that AT does not make you different — it makes you successful.

You might also be worried that if you use assistive technology, your teachers will start to expect more from you. You have always appreciated their understanding that you have difficulty with certain things, and you may have asked them for alternate assignments or readers and scribes for tests. You might be nervous that if you start using AT, your teachers will raise the bar for you. But you know what? They should! The great thing about AT is that it allows you to reach your potential in school and get to heights that you never thought possible.

One of the most important lessons that all students need to learn in school is how to do things on their own. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ask for help when you need it, because that’s important, too. What I am saying is that you should try to be as independent as you can, and assistive technology can help you do that. Instead of having a teacher read test questions aloud to you, you could use text-to-speech technology on a computer to do it yourself. You could also use a technology tool called word prediction to help you spell words correctly instead of having a parent write down what you dictate for homework. I know that sometimes it can be scary to be on your own, especially when you’re not used to it, but think about how good it will feel when you can start doing more of your schoolwork independently.

If you don’t know a lot about assistive technology, now is the time to learn more. There are many kids like you, with the same struggles, who use AT to be successful in school. Find them and talk to them, or ask your teachers what they know and if they can help get you started using AT. I know that if you give technology a chance, you’ll spend less time being bummed about your learning disability and more time celebrating it!

Best wishes,

Jamie