Let’s Talk Tech Tools: Gadgets and
Gear Help Turn Struggles Into Success
By Faith E. Berens
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant
Assistive technology tools can help make learning (and demonstrations
of learning) easier for students who have learning disabilities. So,
what do I mean by "assistive technology" tools?
Faith Berens helps HSLDA members homeschool their students with special needs. Learn more >>
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act
(Public Law 108-446) assistive technology is defined 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 children with
disabilities. The term does not include a medical device that is
surgically implanted, or the replacement of such device."
I would like to present five technology tools that can open up new
possibilities (not to mention lighten your load) and help your
children be more independent and successful learners this school year!
1. Dragon Naturally Speaking
Dyslexic students and struggling spellers can get their wonderful
thoughts onto paper without first having to learn how to type and
spell by utilizing the voice recognition software tool Dragon
Naturally Speaking. Users talk into its microphone, and the software
types what is said into the computer -- spelled correctly. The
software will then read out loud what it typed. If you want to change
anything, it's as easy as grabbing the mouse and editing it.
This software can even send and receive email. When a new email
arrives, Naturally Speaking can read it aloud. Users can then click on
"reply," dictate their response, and click on "send."
Investing in, installing, and learning to use Dragon Naturally
Speaking allows students with dysgraphia and dyslexia to work more
independently. The premium edition of Naturally Speaking costs only
$199, and runs on Windows-based computers.
To learn more, or purchase it online, click here.
Dragon Naturally Speaking is also availablefor Macintosh computers.
2. The Pulse Smart Pen
For many people who have dyslexia or other learning disabilities,
taking notes can be difficult. Incoming freshmen at Stanford
University who have dyslexia or other specific learning disabilities,
are encouraged to get and use a Pulse Smart Pen.
According to Susan Barton, the founder of Bright Solutions for
Dyslexia, this pen is very
easy to figure out and use. This pen is practical, affordable -- and a
really cool solution to taking notes -- whether you're at home, in a
classroom, a lecture hall, a business meeting, an interview, or
To watch short video clips of this amazing new tool, click here.
3. Audio Books and Textbooks
Students with dyslexia can learn content in books, even if they cannot
yet read at grade level, by listening to books on audio.
Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic) has
available over 200,000 textbooks already recorded by human narrators.
Parents can sign up for a membership and then download their child's
textbooks as audio files.
The audio texts can also be played on a iPad, iPhone or iTouch using
their app, called RFB&D Audio, which is available on the Apple iTunes
To learn more, click here.
Other sources of books on audio:
- Check with your local librarian. Many classics are available through
- You can also download e-books -- the text from books. Then, if you
have screen-reading software (such as a Kindle), the computer can read
the book to your child. For a list of sources of e-books, click here.
- Recorded Books rents current best-sellers, classics, and leisure
books recorded by professional actors.
- Books on Tape also rents current best-sellers and classics.
4. Kurzweil 3000: The Reading Machine
This combination scanner and software does more than just read any
book, magazine article, or set of notes to you. It is a fantastic
study tool. It will read definitions of words to you (or show you
synonyms and antonyms), allow you to highlight text in four different
colors (just like you highlight a real textbook), put virtual sticky
notes on a page, and even extract a study guide.
Many colleges also have Kurzweil 3000 "Reading Machines" available for
students with learning disabilities to use at no cost.
To learn more, or to request their free trial version, click here.
A similar product is available from Arkenstone, called WYNN. To learn
more, click here.
5. Intel Reader
Intel Reader is a fairly small, handheld device, which runs on
rechargeable batteries. It contains a high-resolution camera that
allows you to take pictures of handouts, articles, or even textbook
pages -- which are instantly converted to text that you can see on its
screen, and listen to them being read to you - out loud or through
You can choose from a wide variety of voices and the speed of reading
can be varied, as well.
You can also connect the Intel Reader to your computer's USB port and
download audio textbooks in DAISY format from Recordings for the Blind
and Dyslexic -- and any WAV or MP3 files, or ASCII text files.
Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D) works with leading
publishers to make their books accessible to more than 270,000
individuals with visual disabilities and dyslexia. RFB&D members can
use the Intel Reader to access and enjoy its entire collection of
62,000 digitally recorded, DAISY-formatted textbooks and literature
titles. RFB&D's digital library - the largest of its kind in the
world - provides current editions of state-adopted texts, ensuring
that students who struggle with reading can learn from the same
versions as their classmates and enjoy educational success. RFB&D
recently changed their name to Learning Ally.
It see how easy the Intel Reader is to use, and what it can do, watch
this very short video.
For a more in-depth demo, go here.
For a list of vendors, and links to their websites, go here.
Happy tech exploring!