The transition study also reported that of the students that used AT in high school, 79.6% went on to engage in post-secondary education, but among those who did not receive AT, only 40.1% of students did. In addition, 80% of high school students with high-incidence disabilities who received AT access were able to hold a paying job upon graduating, compared to 50.8% of students who did not.
A concrete example of how AT helps students with high-incidence disabilities is found in this study. It showed that reading comprehension was much improved when students with reading difficulties read a passage using text-to-speech than when they read a passage without it. The theory is that when word recognition isn’t something that’s automatic, reading demands much in the way of working memory, reducing students’ ability to access the high-order processing needed for comprehension.
With more rigorous screening and improved diagnostic capabilities, high-incidence disabilities like ADHD and autism are being diagnosed at higher rates than ever…and we see this as a good thing, because once we identify a disability, we can support those who live with it. But students who live with these sometimes-invisible disabilities can be overlooked because their needs may not be as obvious, or because they do not self-identify as disabled. This poses enormous missed opportunities to not only improve students’ academic experience, but also the trajectory of their lives, with assistive technology.
It’s embarrassing to wear a seat belt. I don’t want my friends to see. They don’t wear seatbelts in their families.
Before one-to-one device initiatives, students with high-incidence disabilities often reported feeling embarrassed about receiving AT accommodations. Often, they were the only ones using a device, which singled them out. Going back to the Education Week survey, another potential positive impact of the pandemic is that many more students now have access to school-issued devices, devices that come equipped with features like speech-to-text that have traditionally been classified as assistive technology. As the line between ed tech and AT blurs, it is de-stigmatizing AT for students who can greatly benefit from it. Just as higher rates of diagnosis are helpful, we hope, too, that greater use of ed tech in the classroom will further open the door to the benefits of assistive technology use.