Thesis: Artificial Intelligence and Disability
Children are known to be quick learners. They pick up new-found skills quickly and build on them. Some of them are better at this than others. If you are above average you are known as a prodigy, and they are commended (as they should be) for these amazing skills. However, what about those who are below average? Those who do not learn as quickly as others tend to have what is called a learning disability. Disabilities tend to have a large negative connotation to it, that they are helpless, and they NEED special classes in order to survive the public education system. But in today’s world, there are plenty of adaptations especially with the use of technology. Combining technology to help those in need with everyday life tasks, in which adapts to a person who has a disability such as a learning disability in order to ensure they are fully adapted and accommodated. AI can and has made a number of pathways to help those who currently feel like they cannot do it, feel more “normal”, in a society where anything BUT normal is accepted. But before we can talk about how technology can help learning disabilities, we must know what they are.
Learning disabilities are described as a person or people having a difficult time acquiring/understanding knowledge. Disabilities come in all shapes and sizes, however are most often placed into simpler categories such as“perceiving thinking, remembering or learning” (Tucker 12). Those who have one or more of these disabilities tend to have a harder time processing the information that is given to them compared to the “average” person, who often looks over this common, daily activities and processes. For most children, disability or not, they are sent to public schools from kindergarten to 12th grade. With public schools comes all different types of kids, who learn and develop in a number of different ways. School is a place designed to teach students how to receive and retain a vast amount of information. For these same reasons, those who need a more directed learning approach and who need more help learning than the “average” student, to them it is one of the worst places. Disabled students have a hard time keeping up with their peers, which makes passing their classes and other daily tasks more difficult. In society, those with physical disabilities are looked to with respect and care. But cognitive disabilities are harder to see unless the person who has one flat out tells you. This can lead to them being looked over, not treated properly, and other things such as lack of accomodation in schools for those who need it.
One example of a cognitive disorder is the one of the most common, however not necessarily talked about:dyslexia. Dyslexia can be defined as a person who has a “lack of proficiency in reading, spelling, and writing” ("Dyslexia"). The founder of this impairment goes by the name of Rudolf Berlin, a german ophthalmologist, who coined the term "Dyslexia. The main signs to look out for that indicate that somebody is afflicted by dyslexia can range from: reading at a slow or broken pace, not showing interest in reading, having a limited vocabulary, and a noticeable stutter or lisp. It may be hard to detect these hardships due to the fact that this impairment is not physical, it cannot be seen just by looking at a person. However, tests such as doing a neuropsychological evaluations which measures to see how long they take to respond and process information. Most often these tests are done using done by doing read alouds, writing, and small brain games to observe the patient to find the results.
Students with dyslexia often struggle and fall behind specifically in reading and writing classes for not understanding or being interested in the texts compared to everyone else in the classroom. They often have trouble with mixing up letters such as b and d; As well as most struggle with following sentences becomes tough when their eyes begin to wonder, and read sentences quickly while their brain is still struggling to process information that had been given to them beforehand Students who have these symptoms will read letters that look different in shape and can have a hard time fully understanding the phenomenon since their visual preference of letters is different than others.
This form of dyslexia is known as “visual dyslexia”, where the brain does not properly interpret visual signals.” (Perlstein). A good example of this phenominon using a real life scenario can be seen as: two students in a classroom have the same book, have to read the same two chapters and have the same task which is to write a 500-word essay in a time span of an hour. The only difference between the students is one has dyslexia while the other one does not. An hour lapses, and the time is up. The average student would have been finished while the student who has dyslexia, would have picked up the pencil and started the essay, finally comprehending what the words on the page went. This conflict for me is very realistic. I am that student: the student with dyslexia.
For me, I was one of the kids that had to ask a lot of questions about the topic we were learning, had to go to a separate room, or take the longest during tests, and had teachers help me out greatly just to understand the content. Before highschool, it was not as bad as some kids have it. I was able to do a lot of stuff on my own, but after having to go through surgery for an injury, I was forced to deal with a long recovery process, that is when everything flipped around. I was scared at first. I was always self conscious, thinking I was that annoying kid who stayed after almost every day and always came up with a lot of questions causing teachers to think about how I was not paying attention. But as years went on and teachers gained a better understanding of why I ask all of these questions, and adjusted the way they taught so students like me feel less like an outcast compared to the rest of the class. After a while the nerves of asking a million questions faded away because at the end of the day, I needed to pass. My mindset went from scared, timid, and insecure to, if you wanna pass, don’t be afraid of help. I understood that because some people do not understand 100 percent, I still need to focus on how I learn best regardless if it’s annoying. In the long run, it made a huge impact on my learning. As a college student looking back, I realized that it was a bumpy road for a while but turned around and worked out in the end for the best.
Whether a student needs it or not, schools incorporate special education classes, separate from the rest of the school to help accommodate students needs. These classes give students the following: extra time on tests and quizzes if needed, small notes to be used on tests if they have trouble remembering certain content, and group testing where they have the assisting teacher read with them and help them understand the content more carefully. The class where I struggled most during high school was English class. Whenever I had a reading assignment where I had to annotate and quote I would take longer than everybody else and would need help from a teacher to help me understand what was going on with the story.
Fortunately for us, we live in a world where we have special accommodations outside the classrooms, and science is always producing more and more findings. The focus on a solution for those who have mild to severe disabilities in recent years, has gone from what they can do in the classroom, to how technology can serve us. This tends to occur through a very controversial topic: artificial intelligence. Before breaking down its role of AI in disability, the dictionary definition of artificial intelligence is “the ability of an artificial mechanism to exhibit intelligent behavior by modifying its actions through reasoning and learning from experience.” It may seem hard to process just how AI really can help with learning disabilities and special education courses. However, we tend to use these things everyday. Software and websites used such as BudenBender which teaches those with a learning disability that adapts to the student the more the student uses it to ensure a positive learning experience and environment.
The benefits of a disability are far more than people give credit. Going through a lot of struggles and hardships both in and out of class to understand any type of new material, we learn new tricks to make understanding and learning easier while in class and in our personal day to day lives. Seeing those who have overcome these “hardships” such as famous actor and media icon, Keanu Reeves who is a member of the dyslexic community. Keanu Reeves is known for being a hard working and famous actor who has starred in many world-renowned franchises, although he had a hard time starting off he managed to take a career that mainly consists of reading and memorization, two things most people with dyslexia mainly struggle with. After dealing with issues such as reading and writing as well as consistently being discouraged and lazy, which caused him to get expelled in high school. He eventually took up acting discovering it was an activity he enjoyed. He began to take classes and also discovered “his love for Shakespeare'' ("Keanu Reeves"). He put in a lot of hard work and effort into that goal and became the amazing, kind and inspiring person he is known as today. Keanu is a role model for me and other people who also have dyslexia. No matter how bad dyslexia can affect the person, there is always a way to work around it to get better. One of the things to note about having disabilities though is that you are not alone. In my class, everyone had their own personal disability and we would all work together to help one another. As we helped each other we would learn new ways and methods to see how we can get through the work at a faster pace and more effective way.
“Dyslexia.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 22 July 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dyslexia/symptoms-causes/syc-20353552.
“Keanu Reeves.” Dyslexia Help at the University of Michigan, dyslexiahelp.umich.edu/success-stories/keanu-reeves.
Perlstein, David. "Dyslexia Symptoms, Signs, Types, Tests, & Treatment." MedicineNet, https://www.medicinenet.com/dyslexia/article.htm#what_are_the_different_types_of_dyslexia.
Tucker, Elijah, Artificial Intelligence and Disability: An Academic Study of AI Use In The Classroom For Students With Disabilities, Fitchburg State University, 2016.