Why Using A.T. Isn’t Cheating

Five students around table talking and smiling

Students and teachers are becoming increasingly comfortable with assistive technology in the class, and in many schools, AT is viewed as being a permanent fixture in the classroom environment. However, among some students, there is a perception that using AT is “cheating”, and this perception sometimes leads to AT abandonment. Of course, with any emerging technology, there will always be some individuals who are reluctant to embrace the new. In this case, most of that reluctance is based around misinformation and negative stereotypes surrounding assistive technology and those who use it. In today’s e-bulletin, we are going to attempt to tackle those misconceptions, and dig deeper into why using AT isn’t cheating.

AT is a Tool

AT is not meant to give students an advantage, it’s meant to level the playing field. Just like how individuals who wear glasses don’t have any kind of advantage over those who are normally sighted, AT is designed to remove or mediate the disadvantages that their disability presents. This perception is probably based in part around the relative newness of technology, and of assistive technology specifically. While glasses have been in existence for close to 1000 years, AT has only existed in its modern form for a few decades, so it’s not too surprising that there are still some hold-overs. In those cases, it’s important to keep in mind that assistive technology is a tool, and the technology itself is only part of the solution. We might think of building a house as a metaphor for education. A hammer does not build a house, it is merely one of the many tools which the builder uses to complete the project.

Different Learning Style, Same Content

Sometimes those who are resistant to assistive technology forget that AT users still learn the same content, they are just forced to do it differently. Would we want every artist to paint a landscape in the exact same way, using the exact same colours and technique, every single time? No! In fact, we tend to look for the exact opposite. We appreciate and value variability in our lives. This concept can be extended to the process of learning. In education, there is great value in doing things differently, and the fact is, not everyone learns the same, and attempting to teach students as if they do is an exercise in futility. Rather than relegate students to a rigid and uniform educational framework, flexibility is needed in order to ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn in the ways that are most suited to them.

Using AT is a Skill

Learning to use assistive technology is a skill, and depending on the level of technology being used, it might take an AT user several hours, even days, to learn how to properly use their technology. But the benefits of learning to use new technologies extends past the intrinsic value in learning one specific piece of AT. When we learn a new skill, our brain matter actually becomes denser, and our capacity to learn is increased. Not only does learning a new skill increase capacity for intelligence, it also increases self-confidence and gives students a positive framework for future self-improvement and problem-solving. Thus, the process of learning AT is beneficial both cognitively and emotionally, and the acquisition of AT-related skills becomes part of a larger framework for success that can be applied both within, and outside of the school system.

In the end, AT is a positive and necessary component of the educational process, but it is merely one piece of the puzzle, and because AT is nothing more than a tool, it will only be as effective as the individual who wields it. AT is not in itself a solution, it is merely one part of the scaffolding that makes up a larger educational framework. Using AT is a skill, and it requires learning, patience, and practice, therefore, it should not only not be thought of as cheating, it should be celebrated as an integral component of the learning process.