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Expert Q&A

Assistive Technology: Common Misconceptions

Are there some common misconceptions about assistive technology that you often encounter?

The biggest one is that it’s a form of cheating. That the technology is doing the work for them. So often a teacher will be reluctant to allow a child to use some technology, because they feel that by the fact that the computer is reading out loud to them, that suddenly they must have some great new understanding, that their intelligence is kind of giving them the answer. Again, that’s not the case. It’s kind of like the wheelchair. The wheelchair does not give a person who’s paraplegic, any great super powers. It just allows them to do the same activities that other people who don’t have mobility issues can engage in. So technology is not giving students answers, or increasing their intelligence. Students still have to do all that thinking for themselves. Our technology at this point is really good at doing basic skills. It’s good at helping students to decode. It’s helping to record their thoughts. They still have to have those thoughts.

The second misconception that I often get from parents is, “If I just give my child the right technology, it will teach them how to read, or teach them how to spell.” And again, that’s not what assistive technology does. The wheelchair does not teach the person who’s paraplegic how to walk. It’s a tool to allow them to do the similar types of activities that the others are able to do. The technology is just enabling an individual to do the same type of work that their peers are doing. It’s not teaching them the underlying skill that they have difficulties with, such as decoding, or spelling, or math calculations.

The third question that I often get is, “Is my child going to need this for the rest of their life?” The answer is probably yes. Most individuals who have reading or spelling, or some math difficulties, they often need that technology for the rest of their life. And that’s becoming increasingly accepted, and increasingly common — for all individuals who have a form of disability to bring their tools to work, or have access to the tools that they need to be productive within that work environment.