This year I’ve taken on a new challenge in a new role as an Assistive Technology Resource Teacher. It’s been incredible to be able to focus on the combination of two of my passions in teaching – special education and technology. I love the job and feel like it’s what I was meant to do.
I’ve been doing a ton of learning and growing as an educator and as a professional. I love how stepping into something that’s not completely comfortable forces you to grow. It also has me thinking and reflecting constantly. One thing I’ve been reflecting on a lot lately is how assistive technology is perceived.
On the part of students – it’s so incredible to see students light up as they use assistive tech for the first time or as they accomplish something new due to the power of tech. But there are also some students who are reluctant to use assistive technology because they perceive a stigma attached to its use. No kid wants to feel different.
It is my hope that technology in general will become part of the fabric of every classroom to the point that no one would bat an eye to see students using technology. This is already the case in many classrooms – but in many others, technology is still a “special event” rather than an everyday reality.
On the part of teachers – it’s also so incredible to see their eyes light up as they learn about assistive tech. To have them see the possibility that will open up doors for their students.
It’s interesting though how some (to be clear, a minority) perceive assistive technology as some kind of – for lack of a better word – “cheating”. Some kind of unfair advantage. Some kind of lazy “out”. That by using assistive tech, students won’t properly develop their reading and writing skills. That it wouldn’t be fair to assess reading or writing done with assistive tech because it wasn’t truly “reading” or “writing”. These perceptions are ones that I hope will change.
I tweeted this recently and judging by the reaction to it, it really struck a chord with many:
Writing with speech-to-text is still writing. Whether your fingers touched the keys or held a pencil or not is irrelevant.
— Erica Armstrong (@ms_e_a) October 25, 2017
The heart of reading and writing isn’t about how the words get to or from the page. The heart of reading and writing is all about ideas. Assistive technology lets students who have learning difficulties get past the roadblock of accessing the words and lets them focus on the ideas. It’s not cheating. They still have to think for themselves, interpret and organize their own thoughts, analyze information, structure and revise their compositions, etc.
Let’s look at it another way. I have astigmatism. It’s a condition that affects my eyesight. Imagine if certain people suggested I should really try working on reading without my glasses for a while before I put my glasses on. That it was unfair that I get to have glasses. That it’s okay if I don’t use my glasses – I don’t really need them. I’m being facetious but I think it’s clear that no teacher would ever think that way about glasses. We’ve come to understand and accept that some people need glasses to see their best.
For our students with learning difficulties, trying to read or write without their assistive technology is exactly like me trying to read or write without my glasses on. It’s not that I *can’t* read without my glasses on – I can struggle through it. But I’m slower at it, I get frustrated, I can only do it for a short amount of time and it’s uncomfortable.
There needs to be no shame in using assistive technology much in the same way there is no shame in wearing glasses. Let’s all reflect on ways we can make sure our classrooms and schools foster an environment where this is possible.