Abigail began her first semester at college this past September and has been an assistive technology user for years. While attending high school, she used various software programs to help her with reading, an area she struggled with throughout school due to dyslexia. Abby also found spelling very difficult, never finding standard spell check tools helpful enough. Despite these challenges, Abby is a very intelligent student who has always done well in school. In preparation for college, Abby was provided with the opportunity to re-look at various assistive technology tools in order to determine what would best meet her needs.
An Assistive Technology Evaluation
While still in her senior year of high school, Abby was referred for an Assistive Technology Evaluation by her DVR counselor. During the evaluation by Kristen Russell, OTR, ATP, Abby was loaned a laptop through the Technology Lending Center (TLC) at Advancing Opportunities. This laptop had several different software programs installed that could be used to support her in the areas of reading and spelling. Over a period of several weeks, Abby trialed these programs, testing them out on her high school assignments.
Solutions for Spelling
Abby very eagerly reported that she LOVED two of the software programs she trialed that assisted with spelling, Word Q and Ginger software.
Word Q (www.wordq.com), a word prediction program which works in any application that accepts text (Microsoft Word, Internet, email, etc.), predicts what the user is trying to type and displays a list of predictions based on the letters entered. For example, to type the word “tomorrow”, the letter “t” would be typed into the document and a list of word choices that started with the letter “t” would be displayed in a small box on the screen. If the word the user is trying to spell was not displayed, additional letters would be typed, and the list is refined. When the word the user is trying to spell is listed in the box, it can be selected either with the mouse or by typing the corresponding number. Word Q has knowledge of phonetics and common misspellings of words, and therefore helps support students with spelling challenges similar to Abby’s. She loved that she could obtain the correct spelling of a word fairly quickly the first time around, instead of trying her best and fixing incorrect spellings after the fact through spell check. It addition, Word Q provides auditory support so users can hear what they have written. This gave Abby the extra reassurance that she had the correct spelling.
Ginger software (www.gingersoftware.com) is a contextual spelling and grammar checker that works within Microsoft Word, Outlook, Power Point, and Internet Explorer. It requires an Internet connection to work. Ginger software gives the ability to correct all spelling errors in a sentence at once with a very high degree of accuracy. It will also read the sentences back to a user so they can listen to make sure it says what they intended it to say. Abby found this software to be helpful during proofreading, as she was able to fix spelling and grammar errors that she did not get correct using Word Q alone.
While each of these programs can be very helpful alone, through trialing, Abby found when used in conjunction with each other, she was able to write faster, more independently, more confidently, with less stress, and with a better end product overall.
Solutions for Reading
Abby has also found software to assist her with reading. She has difficulty decoding, or sounding out written words, which makes reading a struggle. When listening to someone else read, she comprehends the material very well. In high school, she had utilized Kurzweil 3000 to support her with reading. Because of her comfort with this program, she wished to continue its use while in college, making for an easy transition with limited new skills to learn.
Kurzweil 3000 (www.kurzweiledu.com) is a reading and writing software program that can read aloud pages of text that have been brought into the program. Various file formats can be brought into Kurzweil 3000, including text files, Microsoft Words documents, PDF documents, and Daisy files. In addition, pages of text can be scanned into the program. Kurzweil then performs an OCR, or Optical Character Recognition, process, which means it takes the scanned image of a page and converts it into text that can then be read aloud by the program using a computerized voice. The text is simultaneously highlighted on the screen as it is read aloud to assist with visual tracking. Abby uses Kurzweil to read textbooks, worksheets, and any other related reading material. In addition, she uses Kurzweil to read text from the internet, as is needed when completing a research project. This has been a very helpful feature for Abby, as when doing internet research in the past, she has required the assistance of her mom to read to her.
In addition, Abby will occasionally use eClipse Reader software (www.rfbd.org). This program will read books aloud that were obtained on CD from RFB&D (Recordings for the Blind and Disabled). This is different than Kurzweil in that no words are seen on the screen while the text is being read to her. Instead, Abby follows along using the physical book. Another main difference between the programs is that RFB&D books are read by human voices rather and computerized voices. Abby prefers an actual human voice to a computerized voice, and feels it often helps to improve her overall comprehension of the text. eClipse Reader is only used occasionally, however, as not all reading material can be found in this format. In addition, worksheets are not available, nor would handouts a professor provides.
These software programs, in addition to a laptop computer on which to use them, were provided to Abby by DVR after her graduation from high school. Abby had her equipment prior to beginning the semester, making for an easy transition with regards to assistive technology. She was provided with some training to help her learn the software, however, minimal training was needed due to her past experience with some of the programs, as well as the fact that she trialed all of the programs in the past. Abby is a wonderful example of how assistive technology can level the playing field for students with learning disabilities. With these tools available to her, Abby’s options in and after college are endless!