Assistive technology strategies for those with learning differences


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Mainstream and specialist technologies used to support coping strategies for specific learning difficulties or differences including dyslexia.

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  • ADD/ADHD Dyslexia Asperger’s Syndrome Dyscalculia Dysgraphia Dyspraxia
  • Alternatvie Methods of Communication 15/11/06 E.A. Draffan In this model Assistive technology would be placed as an external support. It would be seen to provide not only communication support but also: Compensatory strategies as advocated by Raskind (1994) Greater independence and relief from anxiety as noted by Barton & Furmann (1994) Heightened self-esteem when competency is gained (Raskin 1994) Reduction of reliance on others and move towards independence (Brown 1981) Regain a sense of control leading to vocational success (Reiff Gerber & Ginsberg (1992) Additional information about this functional approach and how it relates to education and technology applications can be found in articles by Blackhurst, A. E., & Cross, D. P. (1993). Technology in special education . In A. E. Blackhurst & W. H. Berdine (Eds.), An introduction to special education (3rd ed., pp. 77-103). New York: HarperCollins. However there appears to be very little research into the outcomes of specific technology strategies in relation to young adults when given a wide variety of devices to be used in very different situations
  • Assistive Technology triangle – from Access technologies to Productivity then free, portable and online. Hierarchy of Tools
  • Most suitable input method Does the individual prefer one over another – e.g. speech recognition or a QWERTY keyboard? Growth potential User abilities change, situations change. How easy will it be to upgrade or adapt the aids? Reliability Must have very good back-up and the aids are often depended on to such an extent that the user is unable to work without them. Durability Is the technology suitable for the environment Portability Where is the equipment going to be used, does it need to be portable? If portable is it light enough? Speed Very important when considering communication systems and access to computers. Ease of learning and use Is it going to be difficult to use and how much training will be necessary. Compatibility Make sure the system is compatible with those used in the work place or study situation. Cost Do the material benefits weigh favourably against the cost? Preference Time to think carefully about how the user feels about the equipment and what is available in the circumstances. Notes adapted from Technowledge-able printed by the University of Wolverhampton (1996)
  • Various Types of Tools READING Talking books, e-books, DAISY Scanner + OCR-program (=Optical Character Reading; transforms the image of a text into editable text) Scanner pens Translation tools Speech synthesisers SPELLING AND WRITING Spell-checkers Grammar checkers Digital dictionaries Speech recognition Word-prediction systems STUDY ENVIRONMENT Digital note takers Digital recorders and organisers Digital whiteboards ” Visual Thinking” – mind mapping On-line tools
  • Handheld Devices – Make and use voice notes if writing is difficult. Recording devices include examples such as the Olympus DM-5 which has very good tactile buttons, good LED and easy connection to PC works, well with speech recognition. The ipod and Zune offer audio storage and PC/Mac links. Recording and notes storage. Treo and smart phones offer added PDA type organisation support with diaries and address lists etc. Dragon NatuarllySpeaking can be used for notes, assignments and all writing but there is a cognitive overload and sentence structure as well as the realisation that not all words will be accurately represented is important.
  • New terminology but it is important to begin to categorise the activities that are undertaken in order to evaluate the type of assistive technologies that can be useful - Text and colour changes along with text to speech or screen reading may not work with Flash and Javascript often associated with on-line drawing and mind mapping programs. There may also be problems with keyboard only controls. Some web sites can be de-cluttered others depend on Browser knowledge to gain added functionality.
  • Examples of links for Inspiration mindmapping software taken from EmpTech Database There are several free mindmapping programs such as Freemind ( that can be downloaded, but it is also possible to work and share ideas on-line with applications like Mindmeister .   If a diagram needs to be created using art work or maps think about the Visual Understanding Environment as a teaching tool as well as a method of explaining ideas. Right Brain Workouts Iansyst’s examples of mindmapping software inc. Inspiration with more details MindManager software resources
  • Voices are improving TextHelp Read and Write and The Chislehurst cave entrance will entrance you, with Roman and Druid remains. There you’ll lead us with great effect, but watch it, as the compass will be affected by the red lead in the rocks. Also, particles will not diffuse in this atmosphere, it’s too diffuse. Do you think you’ll be all right? Voice files taken from TextHelp Read and Write speaking aloud in Word and PowerPoint.
  • Donna Montgomery ( has written about those with specific learning difficulties using spell checkers. Her paper illustrates the type of mistakes that fail to be corrected, the importance of flagging phonetic mismatches and achieving a correction within the first three possible replacements. It appears that only 53% of the misspellings had replacements and only 26% were found in the first word on the list. Montgomery suggests that students need strategies to learn to untangle their error types and this is what Keyspell offers with its banks of words that can be divided in various ways to help the user find the mistake. This type of support requires explanation and when used independently may not always be an easy or quick solution. The Call Centre's chosen group of spell checkers included Write Outloud, which performed best, Word 97, Keyspell, and TextHelp 98. The chapter in Supportive Writing Technology ( describes the programs in detail and offers some useful advice. All the checkers mentioned above offer alternatives within 5 words in their latest versions. However, after five or more attempts very little is gained from having a longer list of corrections available. The lists can become confusing, and time is wasted making choices, but if the words are complex or very bizarre in their misspelling TextHelp is able to find even the most obscure ones. A comparison chart has been designed by Iansyst ( provides an overview. Write Outloud uses the Franklin spellchecking dictionaries but when checking the same words through a hand held spell checker the options offered varied and were often more complex on the DMQ440 plus at times being in US spelling which was not what was expected with the UK dictionary. Write Outloud will not work with Mac OSX - only in classic mode. TextHelp spell checkers for both Mac and PC are able to learn from a user’s errors and thus improve accuracy over time as well as provide reports on the mistakes made and improvements. TextHelp also offers a customisable calculator and other features for teachers. Spell Catcher uses the word 'curious' to alert the writer to a spelling mistake but does not read out the word at any stage on PC ヨ the Mac version has speech. It has a UK dictionary for Mac and PC and access to a thesaurus plus foreign language and technical words. The latest version of Spell Catcher due in UK soon will work with Mac OSX. Keyspell allows for sections of the dictionary to be partitioned into subject or assignment specific words, has a homophone checker and speech as well as good customisation.
  • Word prediction programs offer different prediction strategies with word lists based on: spelling and frequency of word usage in the English language word lists based on word recency, association, and grammar. word lists based on topic words. If Word Prediction Can Help, Which Program Do You Choose? The Ace Centre have a PowerPoint slide show on Word Bank and Word prediction software issues What are the differences between wordbanks and predictors? How do you choose between them when assessing a pupil's needs? March 2002 Don Johnston have a new version of their word prediction software Co:Writer that runs on the AlphaSmart 3000. It has a 6000 word UK dictionary and features abbreviation expansion and grammatical prediction. Up to five topic dictionaries can be externally created and installed. Penfriend, CoWriter, Soothsayer, WordQ, Aurora and TextHelp all offer Wordlists, pointer & keyboard interaction, supportive speech output From Illegible to Understandable: How Word Prediction and Speech Synthesis Can Help Writing: Word Prediction from Landmark College.
  • Scanning and OCR Kurzweil 3000 may maintain the documents in the best format with all elements in place. TextHelp Read and Write Gold and AbbyReader may be best with PDF output. ClaroRead Plus with Omnipage Pro may be best with Word output. Scanning and Optical Character Recognition Check the program can automatically orientate the document Select the document style which matches your original document Check to retain all font settings and formatting for identical reproduction, or to have one column of continuous flowing text ideal for using with a text-to-speech program. Scan using at least 300 dots per inch (DPI) for the document to be recognised and if there are faint or broken characters then increase up to 600 DPI. More notes on the technicalities of scanning are offered by Scantips ( from Wayne Fulton. He covers aspects of graphics scanning
  • The FREE Blio eReader software is the new touchstone for the presentation of electronic books & magazines. Stunning, full-color pages come alive in brilliant 3D. Even image-rich books are now at your digital fingertips — because Blio preserves a book’s original layout, fonts, and graphics. Different tools for different tasks/moments Multiple tools for tasks
  • Assistive technology strategies for those with learning differences

    1. 1. Assistive Technology Strategies for those with Learning Differences E.A. Draffan
    2. 2. The Overlapping Nature of Specific Learning Differences/Difficulties Dyslexia Dyspraxia Dyscalculia Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Dysgraphia (Thanks to Dr Amanda Kirby, Medical Director of the Dyscovery Centre, Cardiff) Asperger’s Syndrome
    3. 3. Explore Options Functional Response Personal Changes Evaluations and Feedback Personal Perceptions Functional Demands Environment and Context Home Education Community External Support Personal Resources Making Choices Adapted from the Human Function Model (Melichar & Blackhurst, 1993). <ul><li>Task </li></ul><ul><li>Environment </li></ul><ul><li>Skills </li></ul><ul><li>Tools </li></ul>
    4. 4. Access, Productivity, Free, Portable and Online Assistive Technologies
    5. 5. Points to Consider <ul><li>Most suitable input method </li></ul><ul><li>Growth potential </li></ul><ul><li>Reliability </li></ul><ul><li>Durability </li></ul><ul><li>Portability </li></ul><ul><li>Speed </li></ul><ul><li>Ease of learning and use for each task </li></ul><ul><li>Compatibility </li></ul><ul><li>Cost </li></ul><ul><li>Preference </li></ul>
    6. 6. Various Types of Technology <ul><li>Reading </li></ul><ul><li>Talking books, e-books, DAISY </li></ul><ul><li>Scanner + OCR-program </li></ul><ul><li>(Optical Character Recognition transforms the image of a text into editable text) </li></ul><ul><li>Scanner pens </li></ul><ul><li>Translation tools </li></ul><ul><li>Speech synthesisers </li></ul><ul><li>Spelling and Writing </li></ul><ul><li>Spell-checkers </li></ul><ul><li>Digital dictionaries </li></ul><ul><li>Word prediction systems </li></ul><ul><li>Speech recognition </li></ul><ul><li>Class and Project work </li></ul><ul><li>Digital note takers </li></ul><ul><li>Digital recorders and organisers </li></ul><ul><li>Digital whiteboards </li></ul><ul><li>Mind mapping or outliners </li></ul><ul><li>On-line tools </li></ul>
    7. 7. Organising time and communication
    8. 8. Finding information - Get to know your Browser! <ul><li>Remixing content, wikis, blogs, YouTube,, tags, Flickr, pod and vodcasts – interaction and social networking </li></ul><ul><li>Accessibar (Firefox), Web Accessibility toolbar (IE) for changing text size type, colours, background, zoom. </li></ul><ul><li>ieSpell and similar Firefox add-ins </li></ul><ul><li>for editing. </li></ul>
    9. 9. Organising information.
    10. 10. Reading and Understanding. <ul><li>The Chislehurst cave entrance will entrance you, with Roman and Druid remains. There you’ll lead us with great effect, but watch it, as the compass will be affected by the red lead in the rocks. Also, particles will not diffuse in this atmosphere, it’s too diffuse. Do you think you’ll be all right? </li></ul>Text Help Read and Write Gold with Daniel with Charles Dspeech
    11. 11. Spell checking <ul><li>Fail to pick up around 15 - 30% of our errors – choose carefully! </li></ul><ul><li>Text revised on screen tends to be less concise - print out a double-spaced copy of your draft </li></ul><ul><li>Words spelt the same (homonyms) or differently (homophones) but sound the same vary depending on geographical area and word type – use a spell checker with a dictionary. </li></ul>
    12. 12. Word Prediction <ul><li>Word completion and word prediction liberating or limiting? </li></ul><ul><li>Know first few letters </li></ul><ul><li>Word retrieval difficulties </li></ul><ul><li>Poor keyboarding skills </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Increases cognitive and perceptual load - searching the list of words </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Looking up at the screen from keyboard – tracking and flow of ideas flounder. </li></ul></ul>Penfriend
    13. 13. Scanning and OCR <ul><li>Kurzweil 3000 may maintain the documents in the best format with all elements in place. </li></ul><ul><li>TextHelp Read and Write Gold and AbbyReader may be best with PDF output. </li></ul><ul><li>ClaroRead Plus with Omnipage Pro may be best with Word output. </li></ul>(ViOi - b(6i)) /foft, <p) = exp [Igg m)) + c{Vi, 4>))
    14. 14. Decisions Decisions for Text to Speech
    15. 15. Thank You E.A. Draffan, ECS, University of Southampton. [email_address]