What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.


AT for the LD Population (including iDevice Information)

  1. Discussion on AT for the LD population
  2. AT Tools by subject concern
  3. Low tech to high tech
  4. Listing of sites for further information
  5. Parent Resources
  6. Free Supports 
  7. AT ideas for executive functioning and ADHD
  8. Apps to support LD needs
Assistive technology can play to a student's strengths to support or work around their learning challenges. The use of technology to enhance learning is an effective approach for many students.

AT is defined as any device, piece of equipment or system that helps bypass, work around or compensate for an individual's specific learning deficits. A number of studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of AT for individuals with LD. AT doesn't cure or eliminate learning difficulties, but it can help to reach potentials because it allows you to capitalize on strengths and bypass the areas of difficulty. AT is compensatory. For example, a student who struggles with reading, but who has good auditory listening abilities might benefit from text-to-speech programs rather than reading the text in isolation.

AT compensates for a student's skills deficits or area(s) of disability. It does not mean that we should discontinue trying to teach these areas of concern, but it does mean that we shouldn't hold them back from learning as independently and fully as possible.

AT can address many types of learning difficulties. Examples:
  1. A student who struggles with memorizing math facts can use a handheld calculator while learning the processes that it takes to figure out the problem.
  2. A student with dyslexia may benefit from a tool that will text-to-speech that can read the Science textbook to him/her while s/he follows along.
  3. A student who has difficulty writing may be able to compose a school report by dictating it and having it converted to text by specialized software.
There are AT Tools to help students who struggle in all areas of the school curriculum. The main areas of focus for the LD population consist of:
AT comes in basically 3 categories:
  1. Light tech - i.e. pencil/pen with adaptive grip, raised line paper, MathLine, changes in text presentation, highlighters
  2. Mid tech - i.e. books on CD, talking calculators, talking dictionary/spell checker, portable word processor
  3. High tech - i.e. voice recognition software, text-to-speech players, scanners
What types of learning problems does assistive technology address?
AT can address many types of learning difficulties. A student who has difficulty writing can compose a school report by dictating it and having it converted to text by special software. A child who struggles with math can use a handheld calculator to keep score while playing a game with a friend. And a teenager with dyslexia may benefit from AT that will read aloud his employer's online training manual. There are AT tools to help students who struggle with:
Assistive Technology Can:

  • minimize the extent to which individuals with LD need to ask for help (enabling them to be more independent learners)
  • improve the speed and accuracy of work
  • reinforce effective classroom instruction and strengthen skill development
  • help students to 'fit in' with classroom learning and routines
  • motivate students with LD to set high goals for themselves and to persevere

Assistive Technology Cannot:

  • compensate for ineffective teaching
  • make a learning disability go away
  • be expected to provide the same benefits to different users
  • automatically promote positive attitudes toward learning
What kinds of assistive technology tools are available?
The term "assistive technology" has usually been applied to computer hardware and software and electronic devices. However, many AT tools are now available on the Internet. AT tools that support kids with LD include:
  • Alternative Calculators (i.e., talking or enlarged)
  • Alternative Keyboards
  • Audio Books (i.e., Podcasts)
  • Concept Map Programs (i.e., Inspiration)
  • Digital Recorders (i.e. Echo SmartPen)
  • Electronic Text (i.e., Bookshare)
  • Electronic Math Worksheets (i.e., Panther Math) 
  • Personal FM Listening Systems
  • Portable Word Processors (i.e. Neo)
  • Speech-to-Text Programs (i.e. WordQ)
  • Spell checker (portable or built in word processor such as Ginger)
  • Text-to-Speech (See separate listing)
  • Word-prediction programs
For more information, visit the following sites:
  • LD OnLine has a section entitled, "Assistive Technology for Kids with Learning Disabilities: An Overview"
  • Great Schools is a great site for parents. They have quite a few articles on Assistive Technology for the student with learning disabilities.
  • Georgia Assistive Technology Grant Program provides a comprehensive and practical guide, incorporating AT evaluation, and information on specific difficulties (e.g., reading, writing, memory organization and math) and providing success stories of adolescents and adults using assistive technology to help them live more independently.
  • Landmark College AT Pages is a very practical guide for college students who need to use all kinds of assistive technology. Each kind of technology is evaluated, strengths and weaknesses mentioned, and tips for success provided.
  • LD Resources lists description and sources for AT in the following categories: Keyboarding Resources, On-line Resources for Assistive Technology, Listening/ Note-taking Resources, Variable speed control tape recorders, listening aides, talking calculators, Text-to-speech, screen-reading software, portable reading pens, optical character recognition software, audio books, math software and hardware, Studying/ Organizing Resources, Spell-checkers, "talking" word processors with speech synthesis, word prediction software and word processing packages, speech recognition software, Software for brainstorming, organizing and bringing out creativity. 
  • On Time, On Task and Organized: Using Technology to Build Executive Function Skills, by Shelley Haven
  • South Carolina's "AT and Learning Disabilities" is a very rich site full of resources. 
  • Techmatrix - From the National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) offers a Techmatrix, a "Review of Technology-Based Approaches for Reading Instruction: Tools for Researchers and Vendors." This matrix is intended to serve as a resource that matches technology tools with supporting literature on promising practices for the instruction of reading for students with disabilities. It is organized into the following areas: Building Skills and Comprehension, Convert Text to Speech, Providing Text in Alternate Formats, Providing Electronic Resources, Organizing Ideas and Integrating Literacy Supports.  
  • Web Toolboxes for Educators compiled by Dr. Cheryl Wissick at the USC College of Education, has descriptions and comparisons of Alternative Web Browsers, Speech  Recognition, Reading Skills, Talking Word Processors, Alternative Word Processors, Creative Writing, Text-to-Speech Tools, Word Prediction, Text-to-Speech Combinations, Reading Comprehension &Expression, Comprehensive Programs and Homework and Reading Tools  
  • The University of Washington’s “Working Together: Computers and People with Learning Disabilities” provides a concise summary of the challenges and tools available to people with learning disabilities.  
  • The University of Washington also offers a twelve-minute video demonstrating key points in this handout. Purchase information is at 
Parent Resources:
A few to free supports to explore:
  • ATbar is free and allows you to change the look and feel of web pages, have text read aloud and spell check forms. It is a simple tool which is available for most popular browsers. There are three versions of the ATbar toolbar to explore when looking for the one that best fits your needs. 
  • The Freedom Stick contains the full Open Office suite (comparable to Microsoft Office), the Balabolka Text-To-Speech system, an on-screen calculator which allows students to paste their math work into homework or test documents, a "mind mapper" (similar to Inspiration), the Audacity audio recorder/player, and many more supports. There are 2 versions. You chose what you need, download it to an USB flash drive and Voila! Yours to use wherever you go. 
  • 2 wonderful programs that help you understand more of what you read, faster. Rewordify will translate hard English into easier English and TextCompactor will provide you with an Automatic Text Summarization Tool. Quick, easy tools.
  • SimpleOCR converts your scanned images to text files or Word documents, the only OCR (Optical Character Recognition) application that is completely free. SimpleOCR is also a royalty-free developer toolkit that you may use to add OCR to your custom software application. SimpleOCR features include TWAIN scanning, ability to manually specify text and image zone's output to plain text or RTF (MS Word) formats and more. It provides all of the most commonly used OCR features and competitive recognition rates for many types of documents. If you just need to convert a few documents to text to save retyping, SimpleOCR will save you hours of time without the high cost. Developers can use the SimpleOCR API to add OCR capabilities to their custom software. If your application deals with document images, SimpleOCR will let you add full-text searching or automate the indexing process with zone OCR.
  • 60 Second Recap is not AT but I still had to share as this is a technology resource worth sharing. 60 Second Recap will help students to better understand those core books they are reading in their general education settings. This site is worth getting to know!
  • As part of the pre-writing process, planning is essential. Students often use graphic organizers or create outlines. Webspiration offers the capability to do both with one click of this online tool.It will also allow a student to demonstrate their knowledge without having to write a paragraph or a report.
  • WordWeb is a thesaurus/dictionary that can be used to look up words from almost any program. In addition to displaying definitions and synonyms, WordWeb can find sets of related words. The database has more than 150,000 root words and 120,000 synonym sets, many proper nouns, pronunciations, and usage tags. WordWeb works off line, but when online you can also quickly view Web references such as the Wikipedia encyclopedia. I use this program on every computer I access. Couldn't live without it.
  • Global Spell Check is a tool for checking spelling or meaning of words from any application using Microsoft Word. You can copy the word to be checked to Clipboard by pressing Ctrl+C and invoke Global Spell Checker using hotkey Ctrl+Alt+S.
  • Graphic Organizers of every kind. 
  • Do you have a student who struggles with reading text, but they have a lot that they need to read through for a project? You might try this website: Tools 4 Noobs-  You have to copy/ paste text in but I find it does a good job of getting to key points.
  • Virtual Magnifying Glass Portable is the handy Virtual Magnifying Glass utility packaged in PortableApps.com Format so you can easily use a screen magnifier on any PC you use.
  • Click n’ Type with Word Prediction is an on-screen virtual keyboard designed for anyone with a disability that prevents him or her from typing on a physical computer keyboard. As long as the person can control a mouse, trackball, touch screen or other pointing device, this software keyboard allows you to send keystrokes to virtually any Windows application that can run within a window.
  • Speech Recognition in Windows 7 empowers you to interact with your computer by voice, significantly reducing the use of a mouse and keyboard, while maintaining or increasing your overall productivity. Speech Recognition is particularly useful for people who have difficulty with dexterity or have limited use of their hands and arms, because it reduces or eliminates their need for a mouse and a keyboard while enabling them to maintain or increase their productivity. With Speech Recognition, you can dictate documents and e-mail, fill out forms on the web, and command applications and the operating system by saying what you see.
See Free AT and Support Programs on this blog for more supports. 

Shelley Haven (www.TechPotential.net) put together this amazing list of AT ideas for executive functioning and ADHD that included apps:
Visual distractions, visual clutter on computer
  • Isolator (Mac) - dims or hides all but the front-most app and the Dock
  • Ghoster (PC) - dims or hides all but the front-most app and the TaskBar
  • AdBlock (available for most browsers) - extension blocks ads
  • Readability.com (reformat webpage, removes images)
  • Hide Images function (available within most browsers)
Auditory distractions
  • White Noise app + headphones
  • Instrumental music + headphones
Internal distractions (like the temptation to check websites, surf the 'Net, etc.)
  • SelfControl (Mac) - block access to websites for set time, or only allow access to certain websites
  • Cold Turkey (PC) - same as SelfControl, but also blocks applications and has finer time controls
  • LeechBlock (Mac or PC) - Firefox add-on that blocks access to distracting websites for set time
  • Parental Controls (Mac, PC) - included in the operating system
  • Freedom (Mac, PC, Android) - blocks access to distracting websites
  • Anti-Social (Mac, PC, Ubuntu) - blocks access to social media sites and other "Weapons of Mass Distraction"
  • StayFocusd (Chrome) - limits time you can spend on selected websites
Task timers
Time awareness
  • Time Tracker (Firefox add-on - "I've been online HOW long?!")
  • RescueTime - tracks time spent on productive or distractive apps and websites, provides insight into how you use time, allows you to set goals (all with the intent of helping you modify your computer use); premium (paid) version also includes "Get Focused" function to block distracting sites for a selected time
  • Watches with vibrating alarms to help one "snap back" to being on task (WatchMinderVibraLite)
iDevice Apps for the student with Learning Disabilities
Students with learning disabilities may have problems with reading, math, reasoning and recall. But given the appropriate tools, learning disabled students too can achieve academic success.The iPad may be a tool they could use to provide those extra supports. There are  numerous apps that can help learning disabled students compensate for their particular challenge.  
  • Audiobooks allow downloading and streaming of the free audiobook library from Librivox. They have quality free audiobooks of many of.the classic literature.
  • Bookshare has developed as app called Read2Go. It is a Daisy reader that will read Bookshare books on iDevices.
  • Reading Machine helps students pronounce words they cannot read. It has two keyboards - a color-coded alphabetical and a qwerty for older students.
  • American Wordspeller  is a phonetic dictionary.  A student can type a word and the dictionary will figure out the word:  foto- photo.  Turn on the Voice Accessibility and it reads the word aloud.
Memory Supports:
  • AudioNote is a notepad and voice recorder that allows you to record audio through your computer's microphone while you take notes.  You can later click on your notes to hear the audio that was recorded while you were typing.  It works similar to the Echo SmartPen, but with your keyboard.  You can even use the drawing tool to doodle notes as well.
  • Evernote lets you create notes, snap photos, and record voice memos that you can then access any time from your iPhone, computer, or the web. Powerful program!
  • Noteshelf allows you to insert a picture which adds emphasis for visual learners.
  • PhotoMind allows you to quickly take a picture and set a reminder for it. The reminder will appear along with any note you’ve saved with it, without the need of an Internet connection. Just select “View” and PhotoMind will open right to your picture.
Mind Mapping:
  • The applet allows users to record  thoughts, explore ideas, and collaborate with peers.
  • MindMeister applications give you instant access to your mind maps wherever you are. Create, edit and share mind maps directly on your device and seamlessly sync them with your online MindMeister account.
  • Kind of a blend with memory supports and time management. iNOV8 have an amazing listing of apps for dealing with Organization supports. Please visit their site to see the 9 supports they discuss and recommend.
Time Management:
  • Awesome Note allows you to keep a unique note of your own. Memo, Diary, Important Info, Check-list, Shopping-list, Travel itinerary and some To-dos that you must keep in mind. These are all capable of being managed at once with Awesome Note.
  • Calendars and Tasks- You can easily sync your iDevice with Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendars, plus many others. Like all Google tools, Google Calendar is a very simple but very effective calendar app which has a huge number of features to help you remember important dates, create schedules and synchronize them across multiple devices. In a school environment, this is a great choice. 
  • Remember the Milk is a veritable Swiss Army knife of to-do list management.It allows users to create multiple task lists.
  • CALL Scotland has produced a 'wheel' of apps for learners with dyslexia, as an A3 poster that can be downloaded free. (Note that they are based in Scotland, the links accompanying the apps are in the UK iTunes site, but it should still be easy to find apps that you may be interested in wherever you are.)
  • Brevity is a word prediction program.  
  • Nuance, makers of Dragon Naturally Speaking has developed Dragon which is a free speech-to-text program for the iPhone (only). "Forget the typing and just talk to your phone and it will transcribe it." To dictate on the iPhone you have just launched the app, press the record button, and start talking. You can dictate a brief sentence, or as much as you want. Then you have the option to email it, send it as a text message, or put the result in your clipboard. After recording your message, you can edit the resulting text before you send it off for others to read. I am loving this, but what an impressive and invaluable text-to-speech tool that can prove a magnificent convenience and aid to many, especially those with physical needs.  
  • Evernote is an award-winning app, which helps you stay organized through, among other features, voice-recorded notes. 
  • Essay offers text formatting options in an intuitive user interface to keep you focused on your text. Documents can automatically be synchronized via the free Dropbox service.  
  • AbiliPad offers speech-to-text in the word predication format. A must see for writing on the iPad. Spectronics has a nice full description of the program.   
  • App Writer US  is an app which is a text editor for the iPad with word prediction, text-to-speech, OCR, and a special font for people who are Dyslexic.   
  • PaperPort allows you to import pictures, documents, items from Dropbox, etc. and then either type, write or use speech recognition into text boxes. A digital note taking tool, allowing the user to combine documents, web content, audio, typed text, and handwritten notes into a single document that can be shared.  
  • Typ-O HD does more than just predict words. This intuitive technology understands how you misspell words and can work through even the most challenging typos.
Apps for Literacy Support provided by Greg O'Connor, offers a wonderful listing which is provided by Spectronics. It is divided into apps for reading, writing, reference and organization/study skills.These may not be assistive technology but they are supportive.

Apps for Students with LD: Organization and Study National Center for Learning Disabilities, "Students with learning disabilities often have trouble with study skills like getting and staying organized—a crucial executive function skill—and remembering what needs to happen and when. My daughter (who has dyslexia) and I have researched and/or tested the following apps, and she’s found them especially helpful. We know that every person has slightly different needs, but it’s worth taking the time to find out which apps work for your child." 

My Favorite: iNOV8  have a wonderful site with wonderful information on apps for students with learning difficulties, categorized beautifully, but start with their listing of 68 apps for students with learning disabilities and then explore their site from there.

A site you MUST bookmark is the UDL Toolkit! This site will give you many tools at your fingertips that you just MUST have or at least know about.