Assistive Technology - Leveling the Playing Field
by Nancy Bley, M.A.
“For people without disabilities, technology makes things easier, for people with disabilities technology makes things possible.” (Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities. Bryant and Bryant, 2003)
Most of us use assistive technology (AT) at some point or another, usually to make our lives easier. For example, closed captioning/subtitles enable us to enjoy movies we might not otherwise see, particularly if they are in a foreign language or perhaps the volume continues to change throughout a show. eReaders make it easier for us to travel without having to pay extra for overweight luggage. Could we perform these activities, and others without the technology? The answer is we probably could. For people with learning disabilities (and other special needs) the above described technology makes these activities possible by leveling the playing field. Other types of assistive technology can level the playing field even more.
The purpose of AT should be to allow the student to “complete a learning task independently and at an expected level.” (Perspectives, Fall 2013, p. 7) For purposes of this article the concept of AT is somewhat broadened to include not only specific hardware but also inexpensive and perhaps less recognized apps that can readily be used in a classroom setting to level the playing field.
- Notepad and Voice Recorder (Mac, IOS, Windows and Android;)
Addresses difficulty with short term memory, long term memory, executive functioning
AudioNote is an inexpensive and unobtrusive app which allows a student to tape a lecture, explanation, webinar etc. for later use. By clicking on the red circle at the left an oral presentation can be taped for replay later. If the student wants to take notes in while listening that is possible. For many students the task of note taking becomes easier as they can type key words to help them later when listening.
- Notepad Calculator (Mac, IOS;)
Addresses difficulty with dysgraphia, short term memory, visual discrimination
The tape can be printed, saved as PDF, and emailed. The font size can be adjusted and the information can be input from left to right.
PDF readers that enable highlighting, notes, saving;
(comes built in on Mac)
(IOS, Android; Website
Addresses difficulty with reading, visual discrimination,
These are just some of the PDF readers available. In all of the above the text can be enlarged using the magnifier tool and there are a variety of other tools for annotating, re-organizing, highlighting, to name a few. iAnnotate and GoodReader have a text to speech tool as well. Skim allows for a split screen which is helpful for students with memory difficulties.
The above apps are only a small portion of relatively inexpensive but very good AT tools that make learning possible for those who need them and perhaps easier for the rest of us. Each of these can easily be used by all students in a class. Below are some of the many links to other apps and tools which serve to level the playing field.
MathBoard, MathBoard Fractions, SpellBoard
Math Paper, Panther Writer
Circus Ponies Notebook
Text to Speech for Browsers
Text to Voice