Assistive technology is designed to make hard, or seemingly impossible, tasks doable. For students with disabilities, writing can be the hardest task of all. Since difficulties in writing are wide-ranging — and technology is evolving — finding the right AT device to incorporate in your child's school accommodations can be an ordeal.
You should understand your child's challenges and match technology to his needs, says Joan Green, author of The Ultimate Guide to Assistive Technology in Special Education (Prufrock Press). A word-prediction program that requires a few keystrokes to generate word lists can help students with severe spelling problems, who do not benefit from spell-checkers. Graphic organizers, on the other hand, can be helpful to students who can't generate ideas and organize their thoughts.
Although Green encourages teachers to use online resources, she says that a digital pen, such as the Livescribe Pen, is a good investment for many students. "I use this with kids who can't take notes in class," she says. The Livescribe Pen (which starts at $99.95) captures the audio in the classroom, which can then be uploaded, and shared, online. Students can tap on the notes they took during class and hear the audio recorded at the moment they were writing. The pen is helpful for students who don't catch the main points during class.
WordQ is another tool that Green favors. In fact, she uses it herself. The software aids with typing and proofreading by providing such features as word prediction, highlighting, and auditory feedback. The program ($149) reads text aloud as the user types. "You're less likely to miss errors in your work if you hear your writing spoken aloud," says Green. "And if you get stuck on spelling, it provides help."
Debra Bauder, president of the Special Education Technology Interest Group of the International Society for Technology in Education, recommends a program called Inspiration, a graphic organizer to help students with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, aphasia, or who struggle with organizing their thoughts into written words. The software (which costs $59 for a single user) is meant to engage kids in the writing process through diagrams, outlines, graphics, video, and sound. Teachers can link the software to an interactive whiteboard to demonstrate it for the class.
Windows Vista has a word dictation function built into its program. If you want to take word prediction to the next level, Bauder suggests Co:Writer, developed by Don Johnston. It will help your student write papers that will catch the teacher’s eye.
Excerpted from Education Week Teacher Professional Development Sourcebook (edweek.org). Reprinted with permission from Editorial Projects in Education.