There is good news for students who must have tests read aloud (and the staff responsible for this time consuming task). There are a growing number of software supports and apps (iOS and Android) on the market that allow for easy adaptation of tests to offer recorded or digitized speech output. Some programs allow students to respond via keyboarding, but not all. Here are just two of my favorites…
As more districts more toward the use of Chromebooks for 1:1 device use, there are always questions about how these devices can provide the accessibility supports needed by our students with physical and/or learning disabilities. Since Chromebooks don’t allow for installation of software programs (the usual source of specialized reading/writing support), assistive tools must come from apps and extensions that can modify the user interface. These tools, many of which are free, are available from the Chrome Web Store and offer accommodations for visual needs, reading, writing, studying, note-taking, web navigation, etc. Be sure to check out user reviews and give a number of options a trial run before deciding which work best for the intended user.
My colleague, Karen Moffatt, CCC-SLP, and I presented an educational session on this topic at the 2016 Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) National Conference earlier this month. As expected, there was a large amount of interest in the subject as educators and administrators across the globe try to figure out how to tap the full potential of this device in the classroom. We feel like everybody should be skilled users, but they’re still relatively new and upgrading all the time. As Karen put it so clearly during our session, ” iPads have only been with us for about six years, but it feels like forever.”
It’s hard to find time to get away from the classroom for training, so webinars make it easy to keep up with what’s new. HelpKidzLearn is an excellent resource created by Inclusive Technology and they have some wonderful online sessions coming up this week. Sessions are 60 minutes long, interactive, and (best of all) free! Register even if you can’t attend the live session…you’ll be sent a link to the archives so you can catch it later when you have time.
Beginning Tuesday, April 21, topics include:
- iPad Access for Physical Disabilities
- Creating Personalized Eye Gaze Activities with Chooseit! Maker 3
- Using Technology to Support Reading
- Using Technology to Support Writing.
Gone are the days when we had to purchase expensive technology supports and install from a CD to every computer a student might use. With the growing number of Web 2.0 tools, there are now many free resources available to provide students the accessibility and support features they need, whenever they need them and wherever they are. EduApps is one of my favorite resources and offers some outstanding web 2.0 tools for students who need added support for reading, studying, writing, or using the internet.
EduApps creates accessibility software and offers them as free downloads for the desktop computer and/or Android market. They can be saved to a USB drive as well, allowing students to take the support they need home with them. The popular MyStudyBar (one of my favorites) is a floating toolbar equipped with a range of reading, writing, and organizing tools. Many of the features found on this tool are allowable accommodations on the new PARCC online tests. Use of this tool in the classroom would benefit students who need these supports throughout the year and for participation with online evaluations.
The times are changing …
When Tennessee adopted the Common Core State Standards we accepted the challenge to change what we will teach and how we will teach it to reach new academic heights. Along with that, we also changed how we will test for it and that part has made things a little scary in the world of special education…
When PARCC designed the new tests to evaluate student learning of the CCSS material, they elected to administer them in a brand new computer-delivered format. That’s what is making special education teachers across the country a wee bit nervous.
While nobody is arguing with the move toward technology-based assessments, teachers are overwhelmed by the secondary demand of preparing our learning disabled students to actually access the tests and navigate through them unaided. Students must be able to read the directives, follow the prompts and input the responses without the hand-on assistance of a teacher. There is the real possibility that students may actually become smarter from instruction using the new standards, but might not be able to demonstrate that if they’re are so overwhelmed by the navigation and access issues related to the test that they can’t focus on the content!
The good news… according to the newly released PARCC Accessibility and Accommodations Manual, students will have access to all word processing functions as well as a wide range of integrated assistive technology supports during testing. Examples include text-to-speech, voice dictation, word prediction, spell checkers, pop-up dictionaries, translators, text adjustments, screen magnification and more. If it’s included as a learning support in the IEP, they will be allowed to use it on the test. Now, that’s progress!
The not-so-good news… most of our teachers don’t know how to use these tools, so their students don’t know how either. For students that do, they’ve never been allowed to use them during a high-stakes test. This IS change for the better. These access supports really do level the field for a lot of our kids. We just need a plan for teaching them what they need to know to access and make the most of them.
More good news…as part of my graduate level work with Western Governors University, I have taken on this topic for my courses in instructional design. I will be posting information and links for Web 2.0 tools that replicate those we’ll see on PARCC tests. As I gather information and ideas, create new materials and find new resources, I will be sharing them here. We have been advocating for the increased use of AT and this is the best thing to happen to our LD kids in a very long time! Let’s turn ‘scared’ into EXCITED!
I am always excited when our trusted special education software manufacturers make a program available in app format. I am REALLY excited this week, as Don Johnston just released an app version of Co:Writer®!!
This is a word prediction tool that reduces the number of keystrokes required to type and that makes it a great tool for students with physical disabilities or just poor typing abilities. Since it provides support for spelling and grammar with writing tasks, it’s an amazing tool for our LD students who know what they want to say but can’t seem to think of the right word or struggle with spelling. As the first letters are typed, Co:Writer predicts the intended word and presents a selection of word choices. The program uses ‘inventive’ spelling to predict words, even if the student misspells the word or omits vowels.
Word suggestions can be read aloud with a swipe; selecting the intended word places it into the document. Built-in text to speech will read letters, words, sentences, and the entire document using the Heather voice. Control settings allow for adjustingt the font, text size and color contrast for improved readability.
Co:Writer has access to a main prediction dictionary (that includes core words) and an endless range of Topic Dictionaries (that includes topic specific words). Available today on iTunes, it will be the best $17.99 you’ve spent in a while!
I already have it and absolutely LOVE it.
I have just fallen in love with another web 2.0 support to add to our technology toolkits! The Mada Assistive Technology Center in Qatar has created an amazing array of web 2.0 supports packaged in a single toolbar for improving web accessibility. The “ATbar” contains tools for font magnification, text-to-speech, word prediction, background and font color changes, pop-up dictionary, spell checker and readability adjustments (to reduce visual clutter).
There are three versions of the ATbar:
- The download version stays available when you move between web pages and is made up of the standard functions.
- The lite version acts in a similar way to a bookmark or favorite and has to selected each time you visit a new web page – it also has the standard functions.
- The marketplace version allows you to build your own ATbar, by choosing the plug-ins to suit your needs then save the custom made bar as a bookmark.
- Other software is available on a USB flash drive with an accessible menu system as a Portable Accessibility Toolkit and there is a desktop version of the ATbar on the download page.
These supports are available for download onto any PC for personal use or directly onto your own website or WordPress blog as a plug-in for those who visit your site.
And…best of all…they’re FREE!!
For more information, visit their site https://www.atbar.org
I keep a million notes on student and classroom needs, assessment findings, etc. and I have begun to lean heavily on my voice dictation tools to get it all written down before I’ve forgotten it all. If you’ve never used Dragon Naturally Speaking, you should give the free version a trial run. I have the Dragon Dictation app on my iPod and use this for making notes throughout the day. Once back at the office, I upload the notes through my wi-fi onto the software on my desktop for transcription. We use it for our students with writing difficulties and also for our teachers who need to keep notes throughout the day without taking their hands off the students. It’s easy and it’s accurate! For more information on the full range of Dragon programs available, visit http://www.nuance.com/for-individuals/index.htm