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.


Electronic Text Information and Resources

Electronic Text or "E" text is text that has been saved in a form that can be opened on any computer, netbook, eReader or tablet. There are many sites on the Internet dedicated to providing e-text and there are resources that specialize in e-text.

Finding text on the computer and having the computer read it to you as you follow along, is just one way that e-text can be so powerful for individuals with special needs. Another powerful reason to use e-text is being able to manipulate the text by enlarging it, having fewer words per page; this provides access to text that many would otherwise not have.

In most classrooms books or handouts are the main media in which teachers deliver content to students. Adjusting a standard print format to accommodate different learners can be time-consuming. NIMAS is a technical standard used by publishers to produce source files (in XML) that may be used to develop multiple specialized formats (such as Braille or audio books) for individuals with print disabilities.
The flexibility of digital text makes it a great option for customizing text to fit the needs of different learners. Digital text can be searched, rearranged, and read aloud by a computer. And because it is so flexible, it is often a perfect option for individuals with disabilities. The National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) guides the production and electronic distribution of digital versions of textbooks and other instructional materials so they can be more easily converted to accessible formats such as Braille and text-to-speech.

Who does e-text help?
Think of one or more of your students who would benefit from:
  • the text being larger or easier to see
  • hearing the text read aloud
  • highlighting or cutting and pasting the important points, or marking words that are unclear
  • having a summary of the article that could be read before reading the whole piece
  • searching for key words 
  • a different access mode than heavy books and turning pages
These adjustments can be easily done with electronic text and will help you differentiate instruction for a wide range of students.

Free Text-to-Speech
Some of the book sites above provide text-to-speech, others are strictly text only. If you want to turn your e-text into an audio format, i.e.,text-to-speech, here are a few sites. (Please note that there are many free sites for this purpose and most are very much alike.) 
  • iVona MiniReader or the free version of NaturalReader both involve selecting text and clicking a button on a mini-toolbar to have the text read out. Text remains highlighted as you read it, though there is no word-by-word highlighting.) 
  • If you need word-by-word highlighting, Balabolka is an option, allowing lots of adjustments to font size, style and color (text, background, highlighting). The disadvantage of Balabolka is the need to copy the text from its original location into the Balabolka window, which can mean losing the original context of the text. 
  • If you are wanting to read text primarily from Word documents, WordTalk utility is probably a great option.
  • How-to-Geek offers a listing of more to consider and explore.  
  • Using Text-to-Speech in Word depends on the operating system and version of Office you are using. This guide will help you!
  • Apple has always had text-to-speech built in and made it very user friendly.
  • 2 free full office suites, Open Office and LibreOffice, have free built-in text-to-speech available.   
Quality Text-to-Speech
Free will work but may really be difficult for most individuals. The free versions are much more robotic. This is one place where you really do pay for what you get. Consider one of the following for quality programming-
Interested in an eReader? There are an abundance now. Increasingly, students are using e-books to access content. It is important for both the e-book (content) and the e-reader (delivery system) to be accessible. The National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials has provided resources can help to determine whether or not each element is accessible. Another great source to research is the Accessible Technology Coalition which has published an article, "Accessibility and E-Readers".

Check out a quick eBook Reader Review to get all the specs and price comparisons. Don’t despair, if you don’t want to invest in a reader, you can easily read on your computer or laptop. With portability comes a plethora of FREE eBook options sure to educate, entertain and enlighten. Here are a couple of other resources that I like:  
Tablet eText

iPad Books and Magazines There are an endless number of books and magazines available on the iPad. Some are free, some are minimal, some are more. Some have voice recordings beyond what is built into the Apple device, some have text-to-speech, some will highlight the words as they are read and some you will need to highlight and click on speak (see above). This listing could go on forever but I just wanted to bring it up as this will be an area of growth for years to come. Something worth exploring with your child. 
  • All “I Like” Picture Books contain stories written by Miranda Paul and stunning crisp photographs. Words are highlighted as they are being read to optimize the learning curve. Literally everything is customizable; add your own voice, your own photos and even your own story line!
  • The Ladybug's Bookshelf app offers stories with animation and sound so that kids can either read on their own or have the story read to them, along with other interactive features. 
  • KidsMag is an iPad app that includes a collection of informative and educational games, such as number and letter games and an interactive audio-based story about firefighters.
  • National Geographic Kids is a free app where you can subscribe to the magazine.
  • The app Timbuktu is an iPad news magazine developed for kids that offers news in fun ways. With text, videos and graphics developed by a global group of contributors, the app is cleanly designed and offers creative presentations of news for children.
  • The app Book Creator lets you publish books directly to iBooks.
Apple- Just Books
You can certainly find free e-books at the Apple iBooks store and the Kindle store, but the sites below are great finds for free e-books that you must check out.  
  • BookBub - This is like a search engine that finds promotions that are available through Amazon, Nook Store and iBooks. You choose the types you'd like to get notified about -- with categories ranging from mysteries to cookbooks -- and they send great deals in those genres to your inbox. For your Kindle or Amazon App only, you might want to sign up for Digital Book Spot.  They will send you weekly Free Kindle Books once they begin their promotion.  
  • Bookyards – Over 800,000 ebooks and a ton of ways to search for what you’re looking for.
  • eBooks Directory – Food, wine, non-fiction, outdoors and even children’s books.
  • eBooks Download Free – Variety of categories from business to computer and fiction. 
  • Epic! - An award-winning service which includes unlimited digital access to fiction and non-fiction books from leading publishers such as HarperCollins, Macmillan and National Geographic.  
  • Free Book Spot – A huge variety of dictionaries, encyclopedias, kids, do-it-yourself, and several languages available.
  • Free eBooks – A great site that very professional, well organized and categories galore.
  • Get Free eBooks – Something for everyone.
  • Hundred Zeros – A list of the best selling ebooks that are FREE on Amazon. It is frequently updated so check back often. This site is a personal favorite of mine to download free ebooks.
  • Many Books – The biggest selection of ebooks in different languages — over 35 languages and growing.
  • Planet PDF - A wonderful selection of all the old classics – Oliver Twist, Paradise Lost … the list goes on.
e-Reader Alternative Access
If you have a student who needs alternative access to an eReader- 

  • PageBot by Origin has switch access for the Amazon Kindle. This can be used with one switch (page forward) or 2 switch access (page forward and back). 
  • Switch access on the iPad allows for iPad access. There are various makers of iPad switches. 
Texts Available to use with TTS
There is quite a bit of material available in electronic text (e-Text) format. Text from the Internet and from processors can be used by TTS software.

Scanners sold for personal computers today come equipped with OCR software that can be used to scan printed documents, interpret the text, and transfer it in digitized form to a computer file. The file can then be displayed on a computer screen and read aloud using the built in Adobe Reader software. Scanning is not always your best option, however as it can be very time-consuming, especially when long passages, such as textbook chapters or entire books are involved.  

Publishers must make their textbooks (learn more about AIM) available in digitized format to schools. This allows schools to provide TTS capabilities to struggling readers, who then have access to digitized versions of the same print-based texts being used by their peers.

A variety of websites now make extensive collections of digitized texts available. These consist largely of materials that were published sufficiently long ago that they are now in the public domain (therefore are not protected under the copyright laws).

Project Gutenberg has spearheaded efforts to put text materials on the Internet for free use. They have a wide range of public domain materials available online.
Other Considerations and Tools to Know about

  • Bookshare provides the world’s largest online library of accessible reading materials for people with print disabilities. Individuals can sign up for membership and access the library on their own. Organizations that serve individuals with print disabilities (schools, libraries, community centers, etc.) can sign up and provide access to their students or clients.A Bookshare membership offers unlimited access to accessible books, textbooks, newspapers and magazines. Additionally, free access technology makes it easy to read books with a computer.
  • MyStudyBar is a tool which helps overcome problems that students commonly experience with studying, reading and writing. The tool consists of a set of portable open source and freeware applications, assembled into one convenient package. Easy to install, simple to use, handy and effective, MyStudyBar provides comprehensive learning support at the desktop, where it is needed. And if this is not already attractive enough, a further eye-catching feature of MyStudyBar is that it is completely FREE to download and free to use.
  • CC Prose is dedicated to making classic literature accessible to people around the world.  By combining high quality audio, large print text, synchronized closed captions, and machine translations in multiple languages.
  • 60 Second Recap will help students to better understand those core books they are reading in their general education settings. It will literally provide a 6o second recap of various books we are used to seeing as core literature. 
  • Audiobooks and Podcasts 
Resources for e-Text
This is a listing of sites that may be useful. Note that this is only a partial listing and by no means meant to be a complete listing...
  • Accessible Book Collection - Provides Digital Text to Persons with Disabilities. They have a ton of books available in Classroom Suite versions as well as others. 
  • Adapted Books by NYC Department of Education, "These are adapted books and materials created with Boardmaker, Writing with Symbols, Smartboard's Notebook, and MS PowerPoint. Some have also been converted to Adobe Acrobat (PDF)."
  • Aesop's Fables - Collection of over 655 online versions of Aesop's fables.  
  • America's Story from America's Library is a website by Library of Congress that contains many non-book items such as letters, diaries, records and tapes, films, sheet music, maps, prints, photographs and digital materials. Stories about America's heritage are presented through a variety of subject areas. 
  • Bartleby - Preeminent Internet publisher of literature, reference and verse providing students with unlimited access to books and information on the web, free of charge.
  • Bibliomania - Free Online Literature with more than 2000 Classic Texts. Research Reference Books, Dictionaries, Quotations, Classic Non-fiction, Biographies and Religious Texts.
  • BookBoon may have what you're looking for if you are looking for a particular educational textbook or business book. The site offers more than 1,000 e-books, it's easy to navigate and best of all. 
  • BookBub provides you with great deals on best selling ebooks. You must sign up with them, let them know what your favorite styles of books are then they will send you the deals as they come available. BookBub alerts you to limited-time free and discounted e-books matching your interests.(I love this program. I am signed up with it and often buy full books that are 5 star rated books for $1.99.)
  • Children's Literature - Resources for Teachers provides links for children’s literature.
  • Children's Story  website has quality stories for young children, older children and young adults.  This site only has fiction books and is very easy to use.
  • CandleLight Stories is a subscription site for downloading a library of MP3 audio stories produced by Candlelight Stories. Access over 30 MP3 downloads plus all updates and added stories. 
  • Classic Kids Books – Library of Congress  site includes 51 classic children’s books for free.  There are many classic novels like the Jungle Book, the Secret Garden and the Adventures of Huck Finn.  These are scanned in copies of good quality with color illustrations. 
  • eLibrary is a digital archive of books, encyclopedias, maps, newspapers, magazines, photographs and other information. 
  • Free Kids Books.org is a great collection of kids’ books written by independent authors.  All of the books are fiction, although many are about science and health type of topics.  You can read the books on the screen or download a PDF version.
  • Giggle Poetry - it's just that. Have fun! 
  • In the free section of the Google eBookstore, you'll find a ton of free books from a variety of genres. Look here for bestsellers, favorite classics and more. Books are available in several formats, and you can also check out ratings and reviews from other users. 
  • IFLANET: Internal Federation of Library Associations and Institutions is an international and non-profit organization that provides access to digital libraries.
  • Internet Libraries for Educational Use
  • Poetry4Kids - enjoy poetry for children.
  • The National Academies Press allows you to read more than 3,600 books online free and have access to more than 1000 PDFs for sale.
  • Electronic Text Center - Enormous global use of online texts and downloadable e-books. 
  • Free eBooks offers books from romance to mystery to drama. When you're making a selection, you can go through reviews and ratings for each book. If you're looking for a wide variety of books in various categories, check out this site. 
  • Fullbooks offers thousands of e-books with full text. 
  • International Children's Digital Library offers free access to children's books from around the world. This site has free online kids books in multiple languages including Arabic, Spanish, French and Danish.  There are multiple books in each language and they can be sorted by language and genre, as well as age range.  There are even multiple bilingual books in their library.
  • Internet Public Library offers newspapers, magazines, information by subjects for kids and teens. If you're looking for out-of-print books in different languages and formats, check out this non-profit digital library. The Internet Archive is a great go-to if you want access to historical and academic books.
  • Key News - A newspaper for new readers. The Key provides reading material for adults with limited reading skills. 
  • Kids Click Web search for kids by librarians. Includes a wide assortment of categories to browse.
  • The Library of Congress: Print, multimedia and online resource.
  • ManyBooks.net has more than 29,000 free e-books at your fingertips. You have the option to browse by most popular titles, recent reviews, authors, titles, genres, languages and more. These books are compatible for Kindles, Nooks, iPads and most e-readers.  
  • MeeGenius has a Library of #700 stories, including classic kids’ stories as well as books written just for this website.  There are fiction and nonfiction books available.  You can read 5 of their books for free. To have access to all of the books, there is an approximate cost of $50 a year.
  • The Online Books Page  the on-line books page includes more than 25,000 English works in various formats.
  • The Open Library has more than 1 million free e-books available. This library catalog is an open online project of Internet Archive, and allows users to contribute books. You can easily search by the title, author and subject.
  • PDFoo – An enormous list of categorized PDFs – from e-books to recipe sheets and the biggest selection of e-Magazines that I’ve seen. 
  • Project Gutenberg was the first producer of electronic books. More than 45,000 e-books with many others available through Project Gutenberg partners and affiliates. Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to create and share e-books online. No registration or fee is required, and books are available in e-Pub, Kindle, HTML and simple text formats.
  • Raz-Kids is part of the Reading A-Z package, this is a gigantic collection of leveled books with a listening, reading and recording option for all books.  There are also comprehension quizzes for all of the books.  There are great fiction stories, but also amazing non-fiction connections for most school subjects. This is not a free site: approximate cost is $100 a year per classroom. 
  •  Adapted Literature available through the Sherlock Center Resource Library. These resources are provided for teachers to help students with severe disabilities participate in the general curriculum.
  • Tar Heel Reader, a collection of free, easy-to-read, and accessible books on a wide range of topics. Each book can be speech enabled and accessed using multiple interfaces, including touch screens, the IntelliKeys with custom overlays, and 1 to 3 switches.
  • TumbleBooks are animated picture books, complete with text, music, sound and narration, which teach kids the joy of reading in a format that they'll love. You can read at your own pace or sit back and let the TumbleReader read to you. 
  • We Give Books provides books that are of great quality, with illustrations and high caliber writing.  There is a large variety of fiction and non-fiction books. You can sort the books by content and age appropriateness.
Other Resources
Open-source/Open-content digital textbooks are free and available to all students. As an example, look at CK-12, which grew out of California's Open Source Textbook Project.School and educators can use entire books, or lift only certain sections.