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Students with learning difficulties and/or dyslexia often demonstrate deficits in the academic tasks that involve reading, writing and spelling.   Many of these students find success when the correct Assistive Technology (AT) tools are put in place.


Assistive Technology is defined by IDEA  2004 (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) as “Any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of student with disabilities.”   This definition  encompasses a variety of tools and strategies that can be used to support student performance.   AT tools range from items that can be considered  “low tech” and relatively inexpensive  to tools  that can be described as  “high tech” which may carry relatively higher costs. 


Assistive technology is a compensatory approach to maintaining or improving capabilities. A compensatory approach tries to bypass or “compensate for” a deficit. If a student is having trouble learning to read, a remedial strategy might focus on phonics to improve reading skill. In contrast, a compensatory strategy might provide a book on audiotape or an OCR system that reads the text, so that the student is still able to access the material despite the reading difficulty.


Providing assistive technology  does not mean that the student can not also receive remedial instruction.  In fact, it is often best for students when both remedial and compensatory approaches are used.  There is, however, research that indicates students who use AT solutions frequently improve their skills.  For example, the use of a speech recognition system that converts spoken language to text on a computer screen may also improve a student’s reading comprehension and word recognition skills through consistent use of the system.


An overlooked, but important,  benefit of assistive technology is that it can help to reduce the stress that is often experienced by students who have difficulties.  Struggling to keep up with assignments;  needing frequent support from parents, teachers, and tutors; and  feeling  frequent frustration of not being in control can (and often does) contribute to a sense of helplessness and  a reduction of self-confidence and overall self-worth. Assistive technology  can often be an effective means to improve a student’s  positive self-image  by empowering  them with the tools to compensate for specific disability-related limitations.


Assistive Technology solutions are determined based upon the  identified needs of each individual student rather than by disability.   There are four major areas that should be considered:

Assistive Technology for Reading, Writing and Spelling

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Christine W. Swaim, M.Ed., CCC-SLP

Assistive Technology Facilitator, Forsyth County Schools

  1. What task do we want this student to do, that she/he is unable to do at a level that 

reflects his/her skills/abilities (writing, reading, communicating, seeing, and hearing)?


• What accommodations or modifications are currently used and/or is there a form of AT (devices, tools, hardware, or software) that is currently used to address this task?


• What is the student’s level of success using these tools?


• Is the student currently able to independently complete tasks with current strategies or accommodations? If so, AT is most likely not indicated.


• Would the use of AT help the student perform this task more easily or efficiently, in the least restrictive environment, or perform successfully with less personal assistance.

Reading, Writing, & Learning Software

Software that bundles multiple supports for reading, writing, and studying.

Kurzweil 3000 – a software program that provides a reading, writing and study platform aimed at people with learning disabilities or other disabilities that make reading or writing difficult. Kurzweil 3000 can read aloud web-based, digital or scanned print material, convert web-based, digital or scanned print materials into mp3 to provide audible files to listen to on the go.

SOLO Literacy Suite -  a software suite that provides reading, writing and phonetic spelling support

Read:OutLoud

Draft:Builder

Write:OutLoud

Co:Writer

Spelling Aids

Ginger - contextual spellchecker. This software will correct spelling errors but use the context of the sentence to select the right word  (example where or were)

Co:Writer - a word prediction program that recognizes phonetic or invented spelling errors and provides auditory support to help students hear correct spelling choices.

Simple text-to-speech, text-to-MP3 applications

NaturalReader – a free text to speech program that reads  what is displayed on the computer screen

Write:OutLoud – a text to speech program that includes talking spell checker, homophone checker, and a dictionary to help students confirm their word choices.

Word Talk -  a free software download that provides text to speech support for Microsoft Word.

Read:OutLoud-Bookshare Edition – a free software product provided by Don Johnston to provide text to speech or audio support for students who have a Bookshare membership. This edition only reads NIMAS  files.

Listening to Recorded Audiobooks

ReadHear-Learning Ally Edition - Learning Ally ReadHear is a Section 508 compliant software player that provides complete access to Learning Ally DAISY Audiobook content.   You must have a membership with Learning Ally (formerly Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic)

Kindle Fire and Immersion Reading ( highlights e-text while listening to narrated audiobook)


Graphic Organizer and Mind Map Software

Outlining and mapping software to help organize writing, notes, instructions, checklists, concepts, and any other information that benefits from a structure.

Inspiration

Kidspiration

Draft:Builder

Portable Word Processors

Laptop alternatives that provide word processing ability in a portable and lightweight manner.  It can be helpful to those students who may have trouble writing by hand and prefer to use a keyboard.

The Writer Plus

Fusion

Forte

Notetaking

Microsoft OneNote - digital notebook  built into MicroSoft Word. This software can import notes, pictures, audio files and allows the user to organize them by notebooks or files.

Portable word processors or laptops with supporting features

Resources for Alternatives to Printed Text

Bookshare.org

Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic-RFB&D)

Project Gutenberg

Accessible Book Collection

GIMC (Georgia Instructional Materials Center)



Resources for further information

Georgia Project for Assistive Technology (www.gpat.org)

Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (www.wati.org)

Bookshare (www.bookshare.org)

Don Johnston, Inc. (www.donjohnstoninc.com)

There are a large variety of  Assistive Technology tools that are considered to be supports for different academic areas.  They range from low tech (simple) solutions to high tech (more sophisticated) solutions. This article will  focus on the AT solutions most commonly used in Forsyth County Schools.


It is best practice to start with low tech solutions  and build AT support  as needed.  A good  example of  this concept is the example of someone having a sprained ankle.   When you have a sprained ankle, you typically start with ice and keeping your foot elevated; then if not better,  a different support such as an ankle wrap may be used.  If that does not help,  the next level of support may be necessary, such as a brace.   More involved or complex supports may include  the use of a boot,  and then possibly crutches.   It is rare to go straight to crutches.   In the same sense,  the goal of AT is to not to over accommodate a student , but rather to identify the right balance of support to enable  the student to complete assigned  work,  at the most independent level as possible.


Some “low tech” solutions for reading and writing include highlighting main ideas or vocabulary words within the text; colored overlays for reading;  reading windows to support attention and focus to a selected section of the text;  different pencil grips or various size writing implements;  writing grids;  slant boards; and customized word lists.


“High tech” solutions for reading and writing include more complex devices or software. Many of the assistive technology  software tools perform multiple and similar functions; therefore,  it is difficult to list technologies truly by category such as "Technologies for Reading" and "Technologies for Writing." There can be a significant amount of overlap across some tools.