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

Dear Teachers:

First, let me say that you are awesome. Having spent many years in a classroom, I know that some days are great and some days are difficult, but most days bring a tremendous amount of satisfaction because you are playing such an instrumental role in your students’ lives.

Some of you may have chosen to focus on special education; but because learning disabilities (LD), such as dyslexia, affect so many of your students, all of you work with kids who have difficulty reading, writing, organizing, remembering, and paying attention in class. I’m sure you have worked hard to address the needs of those students, but for various reasons, you haven’t adopted assistive technology (AT) as a learning tool. In order to do your best, you need to start welcoming AT into your lives and into the lives of your students.

You may think that AT gives an unfair advantage to your students with learning disabilities. After all, not everyone can use word prediction or dictation software to complete a writing assignment. Well, why not? The most effective assistive technologies complement the principles of Universal Design for Learning, so they can be helpful to all of your students. A simple solution to the fairness problem is to just let everyone in your class use the technology. It doesn’t even have to be the same technology for every student. In this day and age, it is part of your job as responsible educators to help all of your students, regardless of skill level, find the technology tools that work best for them.

You might also have your students’ best interests in mind, and you might not want to over-accommodate the kids with learning disabilities. Your reasoning is that you don’t want them to become too reliant on AT and give up on other learning strategies that have worked for many years. Let me assure you that AT only complements those strategies. It allows students with LD to reach new academic heights and achieve greater things. In my years of experience working with assistive technology, I have seen students only use the AT that they need. They still want to complete academic tasks on their own, but they realize that certain technology tools level the playing field for them.

Lastly, you may be worried that assistive technology will replace the effort that you put into teaching your students with learning disabilities. Rest assured, technology will never replace good teaching. You are the ones who can read your students’ moods on any given day. You know what motivates your students to work hard, and you know how to boost their confidence when it is low. Assistive technology cannot do any of that. What it can do is make your LD kids more independent — and isn’t that the ultimate goal we have for all of our students?

If you do not have a complete understanding of assistive technology, that’s OK. Reach out to other educators and the families of your LD students, both of whom may be able to help you learn more about it. There are also many Web-based resources to check out. I’m a believer that the best teachers are the ones who continue learning along with their students and who are not afraid to try new methods in their classrooms. Because you are awesome, I know that you are willing to do just that.

Best Wishes,

Jamie