Is using assistive technology in the classroom cheating? 9 professionals respond

Student in classroom using a tablet to help them learn.

“The technology is doing all the work.”

“It’s a crutch.”

“It’ll keep them from learning how to read or write on their own.”

“It’s an unfair advantage.”

“Every student should have to work just as hard.”

Speech-to-text, text-to-speech, word prediction…. should students be able to use assistive technology in the classroom? Or is it cheating?

What about if they have a learning disability that interferes with reading or writing, like dyslexia or dysgraphia? (Which is approximately 20% of all students). They’re already working harder than many students to complete their schoolwork…

What if they’re English language learners?

What if they simply struggle with reading?

What if we give it to all learners?

Is assistive technology cheating?

We posed this very question to nine professionals who work in assistive technology or an adjacent field, and this is what they said:

Kathy White

Co-chair of the AT Forward Project for the State of Wisconsin & retired Assistive Technology Specialist

Kathy White

“If you didn’t have hands and I handed you a book, and I said, ‘Alright, you’ve got to turn to page 25,’ how do you do that?

It’s easy to see that that’s not possible without assistance. But for students who have invisible disabilities, I think people have more difficulty assigning assistive tech.

They think it’s unfair, or they’re worried about laziness.

But kids inherently really do want to learn. It’s just that they all can’t learn the same way.

I think that you need to challenge them and ask: what is your end goal? What is your purpose? If your purpose is for learning then how do we learn if we all learn so differently?

If you are in a ninth grade English class, there is nothing in there that says you have to be able to decode. That is not a standard. It’s not the goal. The goal is for you to be able to comprehend the material to think deeper.

People say, ‘If you read it to them, they have an unfair advantage.’

I say, ‘But they still have to understand it. I can read it to you in German, and unless you’re fluent in German, you’d be like, what?’

But I still read it to you.”

Check out Kathy's recent webinar:

Included and Thriving: Kathy White’s Inclusion Playbook

Andratesha Fritzgerald

Consultant, Author, Advocate at Building Blocks of Brilliance

Headshot of Andratesha Fritzgerald

“When students use assistive technology it is not cheating. It is actually like finding a key that unlocks a bridge to their brilliance.

Speech-to-text, for example, eliminates the barrier that a blank page can cause a reluctant writer. It empowers learners to allow their words to paint a picture on the page the same way a pen or pencil does.

If a pen or pencil is not cheating, then neither is speech to text [sic]. Same outcome, different tool.”

Paul Auger

Assistive Technology Specialist at Brookline Public Schools in Massachusetts

Headshot of Paul Auger

“Technology does not do things for us; we do something with technology.

A good example is Co:Writer. Yes, Co:Writer will generate a list of words; if you click on random items in that list, you will produce an absurd sentence, a Mad-Lib gone wild!

Co:Writer only helps if the individual is in the driving seat, choosing their words and editing their work when necessary.

Assistive technology is only as valuable and powerful as the individual using it.

Assistive technology does not determine who a person is or do the person’s work; instead, the user, the human being, uses technology as a catalyst to express themselves and share who they are with the rest of the world.”

Check out Paul's recent webinar:

Integrating Tech & SEL: Tech Instruction as a Mechanism for Social Emotional Learning

Drs. Brock and Fernetter Eide

Authors and founders, The Dyslexic Advantage

Headshot of Drs. Brock and Fernetter Eide

“Assistive technology does not give an unfair advantage to students who have writing difficulties whether it’s due to dyslexia, dysgraphia, or anything else.

Technology can be life-changing for individuals but also world-changing for society if it allows everyone to contribute their knowledge and ideas to solving the world’s problems.”

Ptahra Jeppe, Esq.

Disability rights lawyer with dyslexia

Headshot of Ptahra Jeppe

“Assistive technology doesn’t level the playing field. But it does allow me to play.”

Read Ptahra's recent article:

Integrating Tech & SEL: Tech Instruction as a Mechanism for Social Emotional Learning

Dr. Paula Kluth

Consultant, Author, Advocate at Inclusion Rules

Headshot of Paula Kluth

“Is using a fork cheating? Is utilizing GPS cheating?

Should we be typing on our devices if we can write with a pencil or perhaps carving messages in stone?

We use better tools when they become available, not just because it saves time, but because better tools can change how we work.

The use of speech-to-text, for instance, has made me a faster writer, but has also helped me to shut off my inner editor and write more freely and more creatively.

Listening to audiobooks has boosted my comprehension of complex texts as I gain the benefit of a talented narrator.

The use of AT is not cheating, it is a savvy way to learn and create.

Furthermore, all students should be aware of these tools in order to become experts in their own education and to learn how to learn.”

Read Paula's recent article:

Supporting Inclusion in the Classroom: Paula Kluth Talks UDL in Education

Amanda Morin

Neurodiversity expert, special education advocate, author & consultant at Amanda Morin Consulting

Headshot of Amanda Morin

“All of us use assistive technology daily, whether or not we think about it or not.

We use the built in spell check and word prediction features on our devices. We use pictures to help us make decisions about the foods we order in a restaurant or which door to use to enter a store.

Making it through our day with multiple ways of accessing information isn’t cheating, it’s a way to supplement and support the skills we already have.

The same is true for the specific assistive technology supports and accommodations that students with disabilities use in the classroom. Assistive technology isn’t doing the work for them, it’s making it possible for them to show what they know.”

Kevin Johnston

VP Engineering North America at Don Johnston Incorporated

Kevin Johnston smiles off camera in front of white background wearing bright blue shirt

“Are glasses cheating?

I wear glasses. If I woke up one day and somebody took away my glasses or contacts and said, you have to spend a whole day without them, it would be terrible. I can barely see without them. I can’t think straight.

For me, it’s really important that students have the tools that they need to access the curriculum and to participate in school.

For some students, that means wearing glasses like me. And for some students, that means using assistive technology.”

Marianne Sunderland

Creator of Homeschooling With Dyslexia

Headshot of Marianne Sunderland

“When I first started teaching my kids with dyslexia, I had no idea what I was doing!

What I did know was that if I didn’t do something differently, we were going to be filling out my son’s reading comprehension worksheet all day. So I just asked him the questions in lieu of having him write them and we had a fabulous discussion!

I realized then my son really was smart but simply learned differently. Still, I wondered if somehow we were cheating by changing the way he showed his learning.

Fast forward to high school biology. My now teenage son’s reading was much improved and he was able to slog through the complex sentence structures and unusual vocabulary in his biology textbook but learning was slow and his comprehension poor.

When I discovered that there was an audio version for the textbook, he immediately started listening to it. His learning took off! Again I was reminded that he was a smart young man who learned differently.

With the right tools, he was able to perform at his intellectual ability despite his weak reading skills.

Today as a successful entrepreneur, he uses assistive technology every day.

I wish I had relaxed all those years ago and looked at assistive technology for what it really is, a tool for learning that can take the individual from below average to excellent!”

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