Student Engagement with AT: 5 reasons your students are reluctant to use AT

5 reasons your students are reluctant to use AT

By Rachel Kruzel

Rachel Kruzel is a RESNA Certified Assistive Technology Practitioner (ATP). She has nine years of experience working with students with disabilities in higher education with a specialization in Assistive Technology and Accessibility. Rachel is currently working at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota as the Accommodations & Assistive Technology Specialist in the Disability Resource Office.


As Disability Resource providers, we are being encouraged to rely more on technology to support our students than ever before.

Technology companies are constantly coming out with updates, new tools, and features to help support our students. As a result, it should be easy for us as professionals to find a tool that works for a student and to have these students buy-in to using the technology. However, more and more, this is not the case. Frequently, we hear questions such as: “how do I engage my students with their technology?” or “how do I get my students to take ownership of the tools I’m providing for them?”

We think of students as being tech savvy. Having grown up in an age where technology surrounds them, people assume they are technology literate. However, research is beginning to dispute this. Students are technologically savvy at the things they use every day to communicate with one another, but basic computer functions, problem solving skills around technology, and technology exploration are not characteristics that define the students we work with. As a result, many students need to be supported when implementing technology.

There are multiple reasons why a student may not want to engage with, use, or buy-into assistive technology use. Consider the following reasons when working with a student who is resistant to use AT:


1. Student’s background:

Many students we work with have little to no experience with assistive technology when they enter higher ed. These students have found their own methods of getting by throughout high school. Strategies consist of spending more time than peers studying or finding creative work-arounds. These strategies may be inefficient and time consuming but students have seen success with them in the past. This means they are ingrained in to their daily work and can be hard to replace. 


2. Past experience with technology:

Technology that was implemented prior to working with your office may have been a poor fit or the student may have had inadequate training. As a result, students may enter your office with a healthy level of skepticism. As a Disability Resources provider, you may have to work with the student to break down this skepticism and prove that these tools are beneficial. Once this skepticism is broken down, the student may quickly come around to the idea of using technology.


3. Stigma of use:

In the eyes of some students, using assistive technology will perpetuate a stigma around disability. They may have been a part of special education, or have used tools that made them different from the rest of the class. This can be especially true for first year students who are new on your campus. They may feel they need to make a good impression with their peers, and may be trying to leave their disability and this part of their identity behind them.


4. Not used to using technology:

For students who lacked support in K-12 for their disability, using technology to support them may be a foreign idea. Many students embrace technology in their day-to-day lives for staying connected, for pleasure and fun, and to get schoolwork done. However, taking the time to see and understand how assistive technology can benefit them in and out of the classroom may be a new idea for a student.


5. Do they see the benefit?

When implementing technology, does the student understand how the tool will benefit them in their academics and in their particular classes? If a student doesn’t see or understand the benefit, they likely will not take the necessary steps to use the technology actively in or out of the classroom. Taking the time to explain to the student how this will help them, in language they understand, can help make your case. While we aren’t sales people, with certain students, you may have to put this hat on and gently remind them of the positive aspects of the technology and what it can bring to their studies.

Getting student buy-in can be a hurdle in the assistive technology implementation process. However, if the process is carried out in a strategic and thoughtful way, students will be more likely to have continued engagement and use with their assistive technology. As a professional, you will see lower rates of technology abandonment or discontinuation of use. In part 2 of my blog I will discuss ways to overcome students’ reluctance to use AT and create buy-in.

Student engagement with AT: How to create buy-in

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