Literacy Support and Assistive Technology

With the commencing of the school year there is increased interest in literacy and alternatives to handwriting supports available for use in the class room. These supports assist those who have difficulties completing tasks in class to participate and produce work that is to the best of their abilities. This article offers an overview of the types of assistive technology (AT) in this area and how it can be used in the classroom. As is the case with most AT there is new and improved editions, equipment and updates available throughout the year. It is important to review current strategies and equipment to ensure you get the most out of your AT and students.

Literacy encompasses the large range of skills needed to read, write and understand language. Literacy supports are those which support or supplement these skills. Examples of equipment areas are text to speech readers, scanners, word prediction programs, voice to text translators and thought planners. Of these equipment areas there are many different options and access methods which are outlined in this article. This AT is different to that which students who are having difficulty in literacy areas may use to assist in the learning of these skills.

Assistive Technology for Reading

Technology to assist with reading may include equipment such as reading pens and scanners with supporting or built in software or it may be an app on a tablet or device. These devices use software to convert letters, words and numbers into spoken words for users to listen to. This can be useful for students who struggle with reading or who experience increased anxiety or fatigue when completing reading tasks. Listening to information may also be a more successful learning method for these students as they are able to focus on the information and spend less energy on decrypting the message. Whichever AT is used it is important to consider the ease of use and clarity of speech of the equipment.

Reading pens scan text and convert it into spoken words using in built software. They are very portable and you can plug headphones directly into the device. However there are a couple of aspects which should be considered before purchase. Firstly the menu and transcription screen is small as it is part of the pen. This can make navigation tricky in particular for younger students as there is not space to outline what each button is for. The text to speech software is accurate and works well when using it to convert a few words or a line of text. It would not be recommended for use on large chunks of text or on equations, such as in math’s or science questions. A reading pen would be a good option for a user who wanted to use it check on specific words or assist in reading short sentences occasionally.

Portable scanning pens are able to convert large sections of text and number for speech. They require to be connected to a laptop or computer with supporting software. They are a quick and accurate option for students to scan text directly into an editable format and have it spoken back to them. An example of such a scanner is the IRIS. Other scanning options include tablets or computers with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) apps or software. For computers a standard page scanner is required to copy the text before the loaded software converts it into an editable and readable format. On tablets this is done via OCR apps which utilize the camera on the device to take a picture of the text for conversion. Examples of this equipment are outlined below. Tablets are portable options which are already in many classrooms and capable of running other literacy support apps. This is convenient for reducing the amount of equipment that is needed in the classroom.

IRIS Pen Express7
iris pen
A USB scanner pen that copies written text into an editable format on the computer. Text can then be read aloud.
OpenBook Scanning and reading Software

Software that can read aloud documents and images on screen. Text can be scanned using a standard image scanner.
An OCR app that identifies and converts text and handwritten language from an image and converts it into an editable format. This can then be read aloud.
Reading Pen 2
reading pen
A pen that scans text to provide a definition of a word or reads back highlighted text. Not suitable for those with vision impairment.

Assistive Technology for Writing

Expressing thoughts or collecting instructions in written form can be tiring and time consuming for some students. This can lead to missed information and unfinished work. Devices which include audio recording are beneficial in capturing information that can then be repeated. Dictaphones and voice recorder apps enable this type of information gathering. Smart Pens and apps such as AudioNote enable recording of information whilst linking it to text that is written or typed. This allows the user to check information that was noted at a later time, allowing them to keep up with verbal instructions.

Alternatives to handwriting AT is something which has expanded from simple Notetaker devices to laptops, computers, tablets and speech to text apps. A Notetaker such as the Forte is a simple device with a keyboard and small screen. It can only be used for typing text and completing inbuilt typing exercises. Work that is completed can be exported to a printer or via email for submission in class. It is a light weight option that limits the opportunity for distraction which is possible on laptops and tablets. As tablets and laptops are becoming more common in the classroom they are a more acceptable option for students with writing difficulties to use. If students will be using a typing alternative to handwriting it will be important for them to spend time learning to touch type. There is software available to further assist in typing in the form of word prediction software.

Word prediction software assists those with spelling, vocabulary and writing speed difficulties. Programs usually have a software and app versions to ensure multiplatform accessibility. This type of AT is used regularly by those with dyslexia as well as other learning difficulties which affect literacy skills. It is also used by those who have difficulty with handwriting and are looking for ways to increase their work output through typing.

Dragon is the most commonly referred to voice to text software that is available. This software uses the internet to translate speech and convert it into text on the screen. Whilst this is used successfully by many adults it is not always a suitable option for children. This is because of the rate, clarity and pitch of a child’s speech. For the software to understand and convert information it needs to be spoken at a steady pace and with clear pronunciation. As the software will pick up all that it hears it is important that you think about what you are going to say before you begin speaking. As it is a software program it will still make errors which you can edit after the text conversion. Being aware that these steps need to be followed and being prepared to practice your “dictation voice” is an important consideration before trying voice to text programs.

A portable note taker with built in lessons for touch typing, grammar and basic math’s. Features word prediction, dictionary and thesaurus. Links to a printer or email for exporting work.
Smart Pen
smart pen
A pen which records audio and links it to handwritten text on a page. The pen must be used with specific paper with micro dots to allow it to synchronise text and record. You are then able to listen back to audio by tapping on words on the paper.
Word Prediction Software/Apps
A range of apps with features to assist language output. Features include word prediction and text to speech for auditory feedback. The software programs have app versions compatible on iPads.
Dragon Dictate
A voice to text voice dictation app. Can be used to produce text that is then editable and exported. Requires internet connectivity.