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.


Free Program Supports for Your Computer

In California it must be free if we want anything new in our classrooms these days. Sad but true as every year continues to be more and more challenging. As you know, I have a detailed list broken down by subject of free programs available on this blog but thought I might provide a top 10 list also. So, if you have the ability to put things on your computer or your school tech trusts you enough, here are 10 programs that are completely free that you might want to consider. (You might also want to share this list with the parents of your students so your students have access to appropriate tools at home also.)

  1. Audacity Sound Recorder and Editor can be used to create narrations and sound files that can be linked in Word documents and in PowerPoints. With a computer microphone/headset, you can record voice mails and memos and email them, students can do an oral report, and so much more. This is a free open source program that allows you to record live audio, convert tapes or records into digital recordings or CD’s, edit MP3 and WAV files, cut/copy/splice/mix sounds, change the speed or pitch of a recording, and so much more. You can record with a microphone or import files. (Audacity does all of this better than you can do with some of the programs that costs.) This is software that you can also use to create high quality podcasts.
  2. Bruce’s Unusual Typing Wizard is a full featured downloadable typing tutor. It offers introductory lessons, practice exercises, and games. It records progress and statistics that can be kept for multiple users. There is also fairly extensive help available. This is an excellent typing tutor more appropriate for older students. (See the "Keyboarding" posting for more programs available on the Internet.)
  3. ReadPlease has a free and downloadable program that will read e-text aloud. For students that have reading challenges, this will be a great support to have available on the desktop. All you have to do is copy the text you wish to hear and paste it in. You can adjust the reading rate, as well as the size of the font. There are several basic reading voices to chose from. The free version will not stop working after the trial period. (If you know that you will not be purchasing the commercial version, you can choose not to have the trial version installed during setup.) (More text-to-speech postings are listed in a separate listing.)
  4. Word Web is a free and downloadable comprehensive dictionary and thesaurus that can be used to look up words from within other programs. I use this program daily. It is great for finding a list of synonyms, checking spelling or looking up a definition. You simply highlight the word you want to know more about or click on the icon in your system tray to bring up the dictionary/thesaurus, no matter what program you are working with, or even if you are reading from a website. (Free is based on how much flying you do each year and of course, you do not fly much, do you?)
  5. Bookshare has been developed for students that have a print disability. If they qualify for a Bookshare account, you can access free downloads of latest literature and periodicals in a variety of file formats. The account includes a free download of Read Aloud by Don Johnston so your computercan read the files. (To learn more, look at the posting under "Bookshare".)
  6. OpenOffice is a full productivity suite very similar to Microsoft Office. If you can’t afford Microsoft Office you will want to explore this open source suite. OpenOffice is a free full featured office suite that includes word processing, presentation, spreadsheet, and database programs. All of the programs are fully compatible with Microsoft Office. The user interface in Open Office is extremely easy to learn, especially if you are already familiar with MS Office.
  7. Google Calendar is just one of the Google tools that are very creative, free and useful. I could go on and on (and if you haven't explored some of their other tools, you may want to) but we will stick with talking about Google Calendar, which is an on-line resource. This one is an amazing calendar program that you can use to keep track of whatever your needs are: appointments, birthdays, class projects, school activities, etc. You have the option of making your calendar available to anyone else who may need to know your plans or your whereabouts. Do you have several students, colleagues, or family members that you need to keep track of? With Google Calendar, you can set up multiple calendars – what a great idea for a classroom! If you need to send out invitations to an event that you have scheduled, with Google Calendar you can conveniently do so via e-mail. You need to set up a free Google account in order to use Google Calendar but then you have access to so much more (Google Docs, gmail, Picasa and Google Notebook to name just a few.)
  8. iTunes is a downloadable program from Apple which is designed to enable you to download songs and movies that you buy from Apple. This program is also a great and effective “podcatcher” that allows you to subscribe to podcasts and to hear and/or view them on your computer (now those iPods out there can now become wonderful educational tools) or even burn them to CD. (I have several that I subscribe to and listen to in the car as I commute.) Apple has put together some helpful video tutorials on using the iTunes Podcatcher software. What a great way to support all those auditory learners!
  9. Photo Story 3 is a free stand alone program from Microsoft for Windows XP offers a convenient way to create impressive multi-media slide shows with digital images. The step-by-step and wizard-driven process for creating slide-shows is straightforward and extremely easy to use. You simply import the photos or other images that you wish to use, and then add text, special effects, audio narration, transitions, and music as appropriate. It can be as easy or complex as needed. I could go on and on about this amazing program but I would rather you explore it and let me know what you think.
  10. Cool Timer is a completely free program you download to your computer that is a simple but effective countdown timer that is very easy to use. An alarm sounds to indicate that a specified time period has ended. Any sound file such as a WAV, MP3, or MIDI file can be used as the alarm. You can watch the countdown from a window on your screen; or the program can be minimized to the system tray while counting down.

Enjoy your computers and remember: computers are there to help bring learning alive and to provide that extra support that many of our students require. They should be used as a resource in your learning environment not as a reward or extra time filler. It is a tool to support learning. Have a wonderful school year full of wisdom and health.