Eighth grader advocates for better classroom accommodations for those with disabilities


Part science-fair, part convention, the South by Southwest Education Expo is a free event that brings educators, students, and education corporations together at the Austin Convention Center.

It is also an opportunity for speakers to discuss a variety of topics in education, such as music, STEM, health and software.

One of Tuesday’s featured speakers, Ben Cooper, is a 13-year-old eighth grader with dyslexia. Like many others attending SXSWedu, Cooper was advocating for improving accommodations in early education classrooms.

“Having dyslexia is like someone who needs glasses reading without them all the time,” Cooper said.

For Cooper and others with dyslexia, new classroom technologies are incredibly important. Apps like Dragon, which translate speech to text, are incredibly useful, as are other text-to-speech apps, which help level the playing field for students with dyslexia.

Cooper believes that tests define the school experience, and since tests treat all students as equals, those with disabilities are at a disadvantage without accommodations.

Cooper, who was comfortable in front of the crowd, added that not all students are as good at self-advocacy at such a young age, which often means they are left behind in the classroom.

Instead, they need teachers who understand and who are willing to keep checking in to ensure that students’ needs are met. While improving accommodations and improving technology help, to Cooper, it was the teachers helping him meet his needs who really made the difference between getting left behind and being successful in the classroom.