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Can generative AI improve access and inclusion?

In this article, Amy Aisha Brown discusses how GenAI can facilitate inclusion by being an assistive technology for students in higher education.
In the previous step, you saw how there are many issues, tensions and debates surrounding generative AI. In this step, you will recognise and be ready to advocate for the uses of generative AI as assistive technologies in higher education.
When looking at generative AI from inclusion, access and accessibility perspectives, talk often centres on exacerbating existing issues, such as how they could increase the so-called digital divide between those that can use (or access or afford) them and those that can’t. There is, however, another aspect to this, and that is the real potential, already realised by many, of how generative AI (and ChatGPT for me) can be an aid to inclusion.

We’re on a mission

On this point, together with a former colleague of mine, Kerith George-Briant, I am on a bit of a mission. To make higher education more personalised and inclusive, I plan on dragging you into it.
Our mission: to get the higher education sector to recognise that generative AI is serving as an assistive technology (and then plan for and support it).

Defining assistive technology

Assistive technologies that you’ll be familiar with include wheelchairs and hearing aids, tools that have been specifically designed to promote inclusion and participation. Here, though, I use the term to refer to any tools that can be used in an assistive capacity, whether they’re made for that purpose or not, and below we’ll take the case of ChatGPT, which is proving to be invaluable for neurodivergent individuals like me in higher education.
Decorative image Created by Wes Cockx as part of the Visualising AI project

Using generative AI as ’personal’ assistive tech in higher ed

I’ve long used tools to help me complete tasks, but ChatGPT has been a game-changer. One way I’ve been using it is to help me write emails. For me, being direct is easy. Ensuring the tone is right and the language correct, not so much.
So, as shown in the quotes below, I type the key info into ChatGPT, without worrying about how it sounds. I then ask ChatGPT to ’humanise’ it for me. Yes, I use that word. I recognise the irony here – the AI doing the humanising for the human – but it works!
ChatGPT prompt
The following in an email to my colleague. Can You humanise it for me?
Hi Tom,
I need to take holiday on Friday. You usually don’t work in the office that day, but could you cover for me?
ChatGPT response
Of course! Here’s a more humanised version of your email:
Hey Tom,
Hope you’re doing well. I’m looking to take a day off this Friday. I know you’re typically not in the office on Fridays, but if it’s not too much trouble, could you possibly cover for me?
Appreciate your help in advance!
Warm regards,

I also use ChatGPT to help beat procrastination. I tell ChatGPT what I need to do, what I am struggling with and ask for a plan. If the plan doesn’t look right, I continue, asking for revisions. I don’t always follow the plan, but having the ‘conversation’ is often the push needed to get me started.

Excuse the humanising we’ve been warned against, but this new, ever-present, ever compliant, reasonably competent ‘colleague’ has been genuinely freeing and I am by no means the only one who’s noticed.

An academic with ADHD, Maggie Melo, likens ChatGPT to ‘body doubling’ [1], a productivity strategy where you get another person – traditionally a real one – to sit next to you to keep you on task. While Liss Chard-Hall, an academic study skills tutor, uses ChatGPT to ‘personalise’ the learning experiences of the neurodivergent students she works with [2]. Her example of asking ChatGPT to explain vaccine hesitancy in the voice of Shrek is one you must try!

Concerns and roadblocks

One current problem is that much of the discussion around this topic is just what I’ve given you above: compelling anecdotes. What is missing is official recognition that generative AI tools are already being used in an assistive capacity.

On the one hand, this silence makes some sense. There is still much research needed before we can be clear on the benefits of these tools as assistive technologies. On the other hand, not recognising the ways people are or could be using generative AI tools as assistive technologies could be a barrier to their use, even when the tools could be of benefit.

University students who have heard that using generative AI tools could be considered cheating, for instance, could be fearful of even having conversations with their lecturers or others in the university about such tools. Even if a student does ask, if their lecturer has not come across the idea that generative AI tools can act in an assistive capacity, could we be sure that the student would get the support they might need?

The problems around this lack of recognition are exacerbated when put alongside the usual barriers to accessing assistive technologies, which have a crossover between the barriers to accessing generative AI. Think cost, the need to have up-to-date devices and an internet connection, the need to have the training to be able to develop the digital skills needed to be able to use them and so on.

Your move

To ensure inclusivity, more needs to be done to plan for and support the uses of generative AI in universities as assistive technologies, including working out how we get students access to and training in the use of such tools. But as a first step, help Kerith and me in our mission. Smooth the path for those of us with disabilities by acknowledging the use of AI in an assistive capacity when you see it and initiate conversations around its potential.

Now that you have completed this step, you have been introduced to some possible uses of AI in higher education from an assistive technology and inclusion perspective. In the next step, you will go deeper into the sustainability concerns and potentials of generative AI.


  1. Melo M. ChatGPT as an Assistive Technology. Inside Higher Education; 2023 Mar 1.
  2. Chard-Hall L. Using AI with neurodivergent students [Video]. Digitally Enhanced Education Webinars; 2023 Aug 24.

Join the conversation

Have you or someone you know used generative AI tools in an assistive capacity? Please share examples here. If not, share your experiences and thoughts on its potential as a personal aid in higher education.

© King’s College London
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