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.

Wednesday

Full-Feature Demonstration
Programs on the Internet

There are many free demos (also known as Evaluation CD’s) available on-line or by requesting a free CD version of the software. (Most are good for 30 days.) Always ask companies if they have this option before you purchase their software. Here are a few of my favorite full feature products for trial:

AAC Support
  • Overboard is a communication board design package containing over 5,500 high-resolution communication symbols. (A Boardmaker alternative.) It includes speech output and page linking. A version is available for both Mac and PC. This is a 14-day demo.
  • REACH Interface Author has a communication software component that comes with a vast assortment of assistive technology tools (see the list at their website). It was designed to help a person use a computer more easily and augment their speech if that is needed. Other programs available for trial also. This is a 30-day trial.
  • Boardmaker is a program that is good to use to support language and communication but do not limit it to only that! There are many ways to use the program and by searching the Internet, you will find activities that others have developed. (You must have Boardmaker to use them however.) If there was one program that I would recommend for moderate to severe teachers, it would be Boardmaker 6 Plus. Explore these programs more at www.mayer-johnson.com and download a 30 day trial of their latest version.
Access
  • QualiLIFE is a comprehensive software platform designed to help people with any type or degree of disability gain access to today's technologies. Simplify virtually every daily task, like writing a letter, preparing a document, communicating verbally, surfing the Internet, sending and reading e-mail messages, making phone calls, controlling the household environment and watching a movie all on a computer. To read about each individual program, EnableMart has clear descriptions. 30-day trial versions available on site.
Cursors
  • RJ Cooper has the program Biggy which is a software program that will enlarge or animate cursors for better visibility.
  • Mouse & Caret Buddy helps you find your mouse cursor and text caret by showing pictures next to them. You can choose from a variety of pictures that come with it or use your own graphics.
Graphic Organizers
  • Inspiration and Kidspiration which are graphic organizer tools students use to plan, research and complete projects. With the integrated Diagram and Outline Views, they create graphic organizers and expand topics into writing. 30-day full-feature downloads available.
  • MindMap, unlike many other products that draw the MindMap for you, allows you to create completely organic freestyle looking MindMaps. Comes complete with online access to 1million of the best quality animations, 3D images, photos and clipart available. Free for 7 day

  • MindMeister supports all the standard features of a classic mind mapping tool - only online, and with as many simultaneous users as you like.
  • Gliffy makes it simple to organize your thoughts and share them. When you take your ideas and organize them visually, it's easier for you and others to really understand them. Plus, you can move things around on paper, test different options, and find the right solution. Trial for the basic version available.
Keyboarding
  • Sunburst provides 30-day trials of Type-to-Learn 3, Type to Learn Jr. New Keys For Kids, Kid Keys and Type-to-Learn Assessment.
Math Support
  • MathType is an interactive tool for Windows and Macintosh that lets you create mathematical notation for word processing, web pages, desktop publishing, presentations, and for TeX, LaTeX, and MathML documents. 30-day trial provided.
  • Virtual Pencil is software (arithmetic and algebra) to teach mathematics to people who are Pencil Impaired. This is not a tutorial, although tutorial mode is part of the arithmetic package. Think of it as a virtual pencil, a tool that can be used to interactively solve a math problem. You need to fill out a form; you are then immediately sent a password that allows you to download their demos.
  • InspireData applies the proven strategies of visual learning to data literacy, inspiring students to discover meaning as they collect and explore data in a dynamic inquiry process. Students formulate questions and make connections between data and its visual representations to interpret information, solve problems and draw conclusions. As a result, students develop deeper content knowledge and stronger critical thinking skills. 30-day trial available.
  • Sunburst has several of their instructional programs, such as Math Blaster (for various ages), Math for the Real World and Learn about Numbers and Counting available for 30-day trials. (Also programs to support Science and Language Arts are available for trial.)
On-Screen Keyboards
  • REACH is an on-screen keyboard software that comes with a vast assortment of assistive technology tools. It was designed to help a person use a computer more easily and augment their speech if that is needed. Designed for people who have trouble using a standard hardware keyboard but can use a mouse or other pointer. Also provides support for single switch or two switches users by using a REACH keyboard in "scanning" mode.
  • Cubewriter is an on-screen keyboard and writing program that meets all computer user needs. 45-day trial available. CubeWriter is an on-screen keyboard for typing with a mouse, touchscreen or switch/scanning. Types directly into any text based document you choose.
  • Softype is a customizable onscreen keyboard with scanning and dwell options.
  • ScreenDoors is onscreen keyboard from Madentec.
  • KeyStrokes 4, is an on-screen keyboard with multilingual word prediction, adds LayoutKitchen, which allows users to design their own virtual keyboards. Such virtual keyboards can be used not only for typing, but also to launch applications, speak, run AppleScripts. Try-before-you-buy download available.
  • OnScreen – by RJ Cooper is an on-the-screen virtual keyboard.
  • "Sounds Like" is software that helps you spell, it is a special on-screen keyboard with word prediction. The on-screen keyboard has three types of functions: A special phonetic keyboard for finding and typing words by reporting how those words sound, a standard keyboard typing letters, a numbers and functions keyboard for typing numbers and all those other unusual characters and functions you can select with a hardware keyboard. In all three types of on-screen keyboards, you will be selecting keys displayed on the keyboards by pointing-and-clicking on them with your mouse. 30-day trial download.
Reading/Writing Support
  • Ginger is an great tool for students with dyslexia since it provides the supports they need when proofing their written work. Ginger provides a full feature 14-day trial. This is worth checking out!!
  • Browsealoud will read websites out to you and highlight words as they are read.
  • Premeir Assistive has trial versions for the following products: Scan and Read Text Cloner, Scan and View Complete Reading System, Talking Word Processor, Text-To-Audio, Talking Calculator, Universal Reader, Universal Reader Plus, Ultimate Talking Dictionary, PDF Magic Pro, Talking Checkbook and others, including support for literacy, low vision, ESL and educational solutions. This is a site to always explore as they seem to be offering more and more tools for trial. You may also request a CD with all of their Demo versions.
  • Kurzweil offers demo CD’s of two assistive technology products. Their products help to empower students to take control over their reading and writing disabilities and establish their independence. Kurzweil 1000 is an advanced scanning and reading solution for the blind or visually impaired. Kurzweil 3000 is their scanning, reading and writing solution for people with learning disabilities or reading difficulties. This is available in Mac and Windows versions now. Be sure to compare this product with WYNN, as WYNN might fit your needs better but has very similar attributes.
  • Check out the Clicker 5 software. Clicker is an easy-to-use writing support and multimedia tool, which enables you to write with whole words, phrases or pictures and has text to speech capabilities. (Switch accessible also.) Demos available for Clicker 5, ClozePro, Penfriend and Wordbar upon request only.
  • SymWriter provides the a tool for simple word and symbol processing for emergent writers. It enables users to see the meaning of words as they write. The symbols appear automatically in a side panel, illustrating the word just typed or chosen. Non-keyboard users can write in very flexible ways by selecting from grids and buttons. You must fill out a form online to ask for a demonstration CD.
  • Freedom Scientific has 2 products available for downloading to try before purchase: WYNN (literacy software tool designed to enhance success for individuals with reading challenges and writing difficulties) and TestTalker (provides a computerized version of a test, worksheet, or other form that can talk.)
  • IntelliTools offers their IntelliTools Suite for a 90 –day trial. You can also trial their Overlay Maker software.
  • Texthelp requires that you request a 30-day trial for Read & Write products. They do not have an easy to download system for trial on their site. (BrowseAloud is available Free for both PC and Mac at this site.)
  • Thunder R-J by RJ Cooper is a portable and simple, but powerful screenreader, that is tailored for blind persons (and LD/early readers) that may be new to using a computer, or need a simpler, less expensive alternative to more costly (and comprehensive) programs available. Works almost entirely by the standard keyboard navigation controls and the arrow keys.
  • ReadPlease 2003 is a free version that never expires. ReadPlease Plus 2003 has a free trial period of 30-days after which you may purchase a registration code to unlock the software. This download includes both versions of ReadPlease. ReadPlease is a text-to-speech software that allows students to listen to text that has been copied and pasted.
  • Sunburst has several of their instructional programs, such as Reading Blaster (for various ages), JumpStart Phonics and Learn about ABC’s and Letter Sounds available for 30-day trials. (Also programs to support Science and Creativity are available for trial.)
Special Needs Support
  • Demo to help you choose the programs you need. You'll find an overview of Laureate's seven-stage Linguistic Hierarchy with software suggestions for each stage. The CD includes 17 interactive demos of Laureate Software, including 7 Sterling Edition programs. You must request a FREE CD Demo.
  • RJ Cooper makes special software products for persons with special needs. Almost all of his software programs can be downloaded for trial before purchasing. Moderate to severe population. (There are many programs designed to teach cause and effect.)
Switch Support
  • SwitchXS 2.5, provides virtually complete access to Mac OS X and all standard Mac applications for people who can only use one or more switches. It offers full mouse and keyboard emulation by means of a so-called scanning mode. Demo available.
  • CrossScanner by RJ Cooper is a universal way to run *any* software by 1 or 2 switch(es). With the switch(es) plugged into any switch interface, the user is able to perform mouse moves and clicks, double clicks, drags, operate menu's and even enter text (with optional OnScreen keyboard). The user interface is incredibly intuitive. All operation is supervisor-controllable to fine tune CrossScanner to the needs of the user. Demo available.
  • RJ Cooper has a huge array of demonstration software programs available for switch users and special needs students. There are 13 programs available to try that are designed to work with switches (but can be used with a mouse also- basic cause and effect programs.)
  • Judy Lynn offers 9 of her programs for trial before purchasing. They are all to support switch users.
  • Simtech Publications has several of their switch software programs available for trial to support and encourage switch use.
  • Overlay Maker is wonderful to have if you use IntelliKeys It has the ability to transform IntelliKeys into a customized keyboard tool and communication device. With Overlay Maker 3 you can create an overlay to personalize a keyboard for individual preferences, such as size or color of keys. Or you can program keys for specific functionality, such as shortcuts to applications, email, or the Internet.
Text-To-Speech
  • CyberBuddy has Microsoft Agents that are animated characters that can move around the screen and talk to you. Keep reminders and get your attention when a reminder is due, Instant Message (like ICQ) with speech and animation, Send Voice Messages and more.
  • TextAloud 2.0 uses voice synthesis to convert text into spoken audio. Listen on your PC or create MP3 or WMA files for use on portable devices like iPods, PocketPCs, and CD players. Also check out the TextAloud for the Visually Impaired or TextAloud Low Vision Software. Use TextAloud to convert text to mp3 for use on portable devices like iPods. You can listen to audio books, email, web sites, articles, documents, and more wherever you are. AT&T Natural Voices are also available at this site.
  • At any time you have the choice of typing with the keyboard, using word prediction, or speaking straight into your text. Speech recognition and word prediction are integrated to enhance the effectiveness of each other. You can train SpeakQ to recognize your speech using texts provided that match your reading level or you can write your own training texts. An innovative training interface makes training pretty simple.
  • NaturalReader is a Text to Speech software with natural sounding voices. This easy to use software can convert any written text such as MS Word, Webpage, PDF files, and Emails into spoken words. NaturalReader can also convert any written text into audio files such as MP3 or WAV for your CD player or iPod.
Tools
  • Unitedstreaming is a digital video-on-demand service brought to you by Discovery Education. K-12 digital video/video clip library and standards-based video-on-demand application. 30-day trial available.
  • Compass software for access assessment measures users' skills in various kinds of computer interaction. It is designed to help clinical and educational professionals perform computer access evaluations with their clients. A 30-day trial is available.
  • Test Me Score Me by Softouch allows you to create tests with yes/no or multiple-choice answers. Use pictures, movies, text and speech. Use items that are familiar to the student, or use new items to check for generalization. Set up the questions, ask them, and then let the computer keep score of the answers.
  • RJ Cooper offers ICanEmail which is a simple, talking, large print, email program.
Visually Impaired
  • Freedom Scientific provides JAWS for Windows with speech technology that works with the Windows operating system to access popular software applications and the Internet. Connect Outloud is an easy-to-use tool offering Braille and speech output to the web and gives the user the ability to send and receive e-mail. MAGic helps those with low vision view information on their computer screen with magnification up to 16 times, while hearing it through their speech synthesizer. OpenBook was developed for individuals to read, edit and manage printed media by scanning it and converting it to digital information. It includes speech as well as the ability to customize on the screen for those with low vision.
  • Blind Software This site offers free trial demos of many programs. Funk in the Trunk is a free full-version download of a virtual car stereo, which teens will love.
  • Kurzweil 1000 provides blind users access to printed and electronic materials. Scanned print documents and digital files (such as eBooks or email) are converted from text to speech and read aloud.
  • RJ Cooper offers: Find The Buttons - For blind children, a fun activity for learning about the mouse and KeyRead - a portable screen reader, which is designed to be the “simplest in the world.”
Word Prediction
  • Wordq provides demo software, which is a writing tool; used along with standard Windows word processing software to provide spelling, English grammar and punctuation assistance. It uses advanced word prediction to suggest words for you to use and provides spoken (text-to-speech) feedback.
  • SoothSayer Word Prediction by AHF is a software program that can help you type faster and more accurately. It works in conjunction with other programs such as off-the-shelf word processors, web browsers, databases, spread sheets, etc. 30-day trial available.
Go to Educational Resources for many more educational downloads, including keyboarding, Language Arts, Geography, Cross-Curriculum, Math, Phonics and Literacy, Science, and Creativity.

Always remember, it is best to try it before you buy it. Ask the company if they provide a free full-feature demonstration before you commit to buying. You never know, it may not be what you were thinking and on teacher budgets, you cannot afford to buy something that does not fit your students' needs. Tell this to the company if they do not provide a full-feature demo!