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.


Writing Tools Found in Microsoft Word

With every new version of Microsoft Word, there are more and more wonderful accessibility options available. There are a variety of tools and utilities woven into Microsoft Word that may assist students who have writing challenges. Most students are familiar with Microsoft Word since it is common place in schools; however, not everyone is aware of the powerful writing tools built into the program that will provide various form of assistance.

There are many formatting tools, such as centering text, generating columns and tables, and altering font size and color. In addition, there are also valuable tools to help students facilitate and improve their writing.

Auto Correct: Located in the “tools” menu is autocorrect. There is an extensive date base of commonly misspelled and mistyped words that will be replace with the correct one when typed. You can add or delete from this list.

Consider adding those words that you always have difficulty spelling. You can also use this tool for abbreviation expansion. Enter a brief abbreviation that is not a word consider using a naming convention such as x(expand) in front of the abbreviation. Then you can use xUS to stand for United States. The abbreviation expansion can be used for phrases, sentences, or paragraphs. Use to reduce keystrokes. Whether a word is mistyped or misspelled, the auto correct feature can automatically correct certain errors. If the first two initial letters are capitalized, auto correct will capitalize only the first letter, as well as the first letter of a sentence. A correction can replace the error as the student types, if desired. Within the auto correct feature, a list of common mistakes can be added by typing in “replace ____” “with ____” in the table.

Auto Summarize: Auto Summarize is a tool that looks for keywords within your document and those sentences that contain keywords get put into a summary. In general it does fairly good job on reports, articles, scientific papers and Theses. It does not do well on fiction, most typical correspondence, and How-to instructions. With the document open go to “Tools” menu, then to “Auto Summarize”.

Auto summarize will do exactly that- summarize a document. (Example: If the text from a textbook chapter is scanned into the computer as a Word document, then the chapter can be summarized for the student.) When enabled, a window opens to question what kind of summary is needed, such as highlight key words in the document, create a new document with the summary, insert an abstract at the top of the document, or hide the document except for the summary. The student can also specify, with a percent, the length of the summary.

Auto Text: You can reduce typing by adding phrases, tables, or graphics to AutoText. Select the text you want to add. Go to “Insert” Menu down to “AutoText” then to new. Type in the name you want to give this item. This is a great tool to use to minimize keystrokes.

Creating Custom Ruled Paper: You can use the Tables and Borders toolbar in Word to make ruled paper customized to the needs of specific students. The lines can be drawn in different colors and thicknesses, grids can be created to help with lining up numbers for math activities, and enlarged graph paper can be easily produced for students who need it.

Display Readability Statistics: When Word finishes checking spelling and grammar, it displays information about the reading level of the document. This is a great tool for teachers to be aware of as it could assist in letting you know what level your students are writing and/or assist in knowing the reading level of a specific text. Use the right mouse click on a correctly spelled word to see a choice for synonyms. In the spelling and grammar preferences of Word you can turn on the readability statistics. Use a screen shot of this to document student’s progress. You will get counts and averages on words, characters, sentences, and paragraphs. You also get a Flesh-Kincaid grade level.

Forms Toolbar: Using the Forms toolbar in Word, you can create a form that can be used by a student to easily tab through the fields to complete a document. Text fields, check box fields, and drop-down lists (to specify choices for the user to select) can be inserted. It is possible to lock, or protect, the form so that it cannot be modified. This is a useful tool for setting up worksheets, tests, multiple-choice questions, letters, reports, etc.

Located in the “View” menu, down to Toolbars. Select the “Forms” toolbar. If you want to password protect your form, go to the “Tools” menu to “Protect document”. Choose the
“Forms” section and decide if you want to enter a password.

If you want to allow the students to do short essay and allow them to have access to the spell check you will have create the forms in sections. After creating the form you can go back and insert section breaks from the “Insert” menu. Then when you go to protect the forms you can designate which sections to lock. Don’t put a check mark in front of the section you want the individual to be able to spell check.

Graphics: For emergent readers who need pictures with text, the pictures can be inserted anywhere in the document. Using format painter (the paint brush in the standard toolbar) a word can be replaced with a picture, or picture and text. For example, =bike was replaced with the following picture and a text box was inserted. A good feature for utilizing universal design for learning (UDL) in the classroom.

Highlighting Text: In the formatting toolbar, there is an icon for highlighting text with a variety of colors. By highlighting important passages, a student can focus on important information when studying. This is a great tool to use in a variety of ways.

Hyperlinks: Hyperlinks can me made to link to web pages, email, newsgroups, to help direct where a student should locate information. You can also hyperlink to other Microsoft documents. Hyperlinks can also be added to imported graphic files, clip art, digital pictures, and object drawn using the WordArt tool.

Insert Comment: Under the “Insert” menu item, a student can insert a “comment” in a document where the cursor is positioned. This may be done by inserting a typed note and/or voice note with a microphone (see below.). When inserting a comment, a window opens in which a student can type a note. The location of the note is highlighted to show the student that a note exists. The note is displayed as the cursor is placed over the highlighted word. This is a great tool for teachers to use also! Use comments to have a way of annotating your document that doesn’t get in the way when you edit or format your document. To insert a comment, click where you want the comment to go or select the text. Go to the “Insert” menu then to “Comment”

Insert Voice Comments: If you want to you can insert a brief audio comment in the file. It might be easier to explain something verbally or to have to directions so the student can repeat them as needed. To record your comments choose “Insert” menu then “Comment”. Click the Cassette Tape icon at the top of the comments window. Click the Record button and speak. When you finish speaking, click Stop. Choose exit and Return from the File menu.

Spell and Grammar Checker: Anyone who has ever written documents in Word has encountered the ever-present red and green underline squiggly representing spelling (red) and grammar (green) errors. For each incorrect item, the program tools offer alternative solutions that can easily replace, or ignore the “incorrect” item with a right click of the mouse. A list of possible word choices will appear. Use the mouse to select the correct word.

You can choose the preferences to disable or hide automatic spelling and grammar Checking. Choose “tools”, Options, and click the spelling and grammar tab. Word’s grammar checker contains 26 fundamental rules. You can also choose the style of writing that Words grammar check will apply.

Text Boxes: Go to the “Insert” down to “Text box” This text box will float over top of the existing text and also pictures. Use it to label a graphic/picture. Multiple boxes could be set up ahead of time with the words already entered. The student can drag the text box to the correct answer.

Text-to-Speech: A universal text reader can be used with Word in order to provide text-to-speech capabilities. Speech output provides strong reading support as well as writing support. With speech output, students can monitor their writing by noticing omissions, incorrect grammar or misspellings as it is read aloud to them.

Thesaurus and Dictionary: In a first draft, students are encouraged to write their thoughts down regardless of errors before returning to edit and refine the draft. The thesaurus helps to refine writing as well as expose students to a multitude of new vocabulary words. Students often have great difficulty finding a word in a dictionary since they cannot spell the word. The dictionary provides an instant definition for a highlighted word, thereby eliminating the arduous task of using a traditional dictionary.

Visual Changes: We all learn differently. Students may need to adjust the way a document looks for various reasons. It is important that students know the possibilities so that they can make the changes to the appearance that best fits their needs.
  1. Zoom – The zoom does not affect the printing of a document.
  2. Background Color – Go to “Format” menu, down to “background”, select color to make the change
  3. Highlight Tools – Located on the Format toolbar, this tool is located next to the font color. Select a highlight color and drag over the text you want to highlight
  4. Changing Font Color – Allows for more control over preferred color combination. Colored font and a colored background. You can also be used to emphasize test, nouns in one color vowels in another.
  5. Line Spacing – increase visual white space between lines to assist in tracking. You can also increase the page margins to reduce line length. Many people find it easier to use keyboard commands that to constantly stop and use the mouse. Word for Windows accommodates these people by providing several shortcuts you can use to format paragraphs.
  6. Word Spacing – Use the “replace” feature located in the “edit” menu. In the first line have Word find all occurrences of a single space. In the second line type how many spaces you want to replace it with. Click on “replace all”.
  7. Expanded Replace – Use the expanded replace feature to take a string of text and have it set to replace font color so the words visually are showing the keyboard blends that are available.
Writing Templates: For those students who need additional writing support, a teacher can provide structured writing opportunities by creating writing templates that may or may not include specific prompt questions for the student to answer. New templates can be created and stored in the template folder. For example, a teacher can create a template for a science or book report, a compare/contrast writing assignment, or a topic report.

A few of my favorites are
  • Inserting voice in MS Word to create a talking assignment for students who can't read and get oral administration on tests, for the student who customarily uses a scribe they could insert their oral responses into a Word document.  
  • Built in Speech Recognition
A wonderful resource to explore is called, "The Wonders of Word".  "This course is intended to help participants learn of the power of Microsoft Word for creating documents and layouts. Participants must have working knowledge of Word and be comfortable using technology before beginning this course."