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Assistive technologies

What are assistive technologies?

Assistive technology (AT) is any device, piece of equipment, or software that makes learning and communication simpler and more functional.

Assistive technologies (AT), sometimes referred to as "specialised equipment" or "assistive equipment", include:

  • computer hardware and software
  • hearing, vision, and mobility devices and equipment
  • specialised furniture
  • low-tech, adaptive tools like lined paper, pencil grips, highlighters, and organisers.
Ministry of Education

The Ministry of Education funds AT for some students with additional learning needs. Visit the Ministry of Education website to find out:

  • who can apply for AT
  • how to apply for AT
  • how set up and manage AT

For product information, email the Centre for Assistive Technology (CAT): cat.help@education.govt.nz

Daniel, a student with ADHD, and his teacher explain how he uses apps on his ipad to support his reading and comprehension.

ATs that support all learners

Take an inclusive approach to using AT in your classroom. Where possible, make assistive technologies available to all your students so they can select them as needed. 

Making supports available to all removes stigma for students of being different and enables learners to use technologies as they need them for learning. 

Speech-to-text (STT) tools translate speech into digital text. The terms "voice recognition" and "speech recognition" are other names for the same technology.

Benefits for students

"I find that it improves thinking, being able to move. It also reduces fatigue."

Bruce Warren, principal Mairangi Bay School

Students can write with their voices, instead of by hand or with a keyboard. This can be helpful for learners with dysgraphia, dyslexia and other learning and attention issues that impact writing.

Speech-to-text tools enable:

  • improved access for students with motor skill limitations, physical disabilities, blindness/low vision, or other difficulties accessing a standard keyboard and mouse, hands-free computing using speech recognition technologies removes the physical barriers to writing and navigating the computer.
  • increased output – students can get their thoughts on paper easily without the barrier of physically writing.
  • increased independence – dependence on a reader/writer is removed.
  • decreased anxiety around writing – students can write without fear of spelling errors and avoid the anxieties associated with mechanics, organisation, and editing.

Put supports in place for using the technology successfully

Using speech-to-text to write an essay requires quite a bit of executive functioning. Planning out the sequence and speaking in complete, fluent sentences is challenging. Provide students with a planning template to organise their ideas and plan content prior to dictating an essay or longer piece of writing.

Misinterpretations of speech, by the software, can happen and cause frustration. Students need to use a text-to-speech program, or some kind of playback functionality to read their work back to make sure it says what they wanted it to.

Software

Microsoft and Apple have built-in speech recognition capabilities in their operating systems. You can easily try out these features with your students to find out whether speech recognition might be right for them.

Google Voice Typing  is a free dictation tool for Google Docs and Google Slides. It is a cloud-based application which accesses metadata to identify users' speech profile and then, providing you speak clearly, it transfers speech to text with accuracy. 

To use it, students must be connected to the internet with the Google Chrome Browser on Windows, MacOS or Chromebook devices. They can work on an iPad, tablet, or mobile phone. Voice Typing is also available on Google Android devices.

Limitations:

  • It is only available within Google docs and slides and has yet to be included in Gmail or web-based applications. This can be provided via a Chrome extension for Gmail.
  • People with strong accents or speech difficulties may experience less accuracy.

Dragon Naturally Speaking  works most effectively in Microsoft products including Word and Outlook. It works for the Google Suite including Gmail. It learns your speech and it continues to build your vocabulary and learn your idiosyncratic delivery as you use it.

Limitations: 

  • It will not work on a Chromebook or an iPad.
More information »

Text-to-speech (TTS) tools read digital text aloud from web pages, Google docs, Word and Pages documents. TTS tools work on computers, smartphones, and tablets.

Benefits for students

TTS tools are particularly helpful for students experiencing difficulties reading as a result of visual impairments, dyslexia, and cognitive fatigue as a result of learning difficulties. They provide a multisensory reading experience that combines seeing with hearing, words are highlighted as they are read aloud allowing students to see and hear text at the same time. They support writing and editing by enabling students to listen to their own work. Usually TTS tools can be adjusted to meet the needs of the user, reading speed can be sped up or slowed down.

Software

A learning support coordinator, RTLB, or occupational therapist can help you choose AT tools that best suit your student’s needs. 

Built-in TTS tools

Many devices, including computers, smartphones, and digital tablets have built in TTS tools.

  • Mac/iPad  – in Settings under Accessibility
  • Windows  – in Control Panel under Ease of Access
  • Android  – Settings » Accessibility » Text to Speech Output
  • Chromebook  – in Settings under accessibility

Browsers also have TTS built in:

  • Safari TTS – right-click after highlighting
  • Chrome has several free TTS extensions – click on Window, then Extensions, then Add Extensions
  • Firefox – Add Extensions » Text to Speech
  • Explorer – No plugin but can use Windows accessibility options (see above)

Chrome tools – Read&Write for Google Chrome  and Snap&Read Universal  can be used on a Chromebook or computer with the Chrome browser.

Text-to-speech apps – these apps include additional features such as text highlighting in different colours and OCR. Examples include: 

  • Voice dream reader
  • Claro ScanPen
  • iWordQ  – has a reading mode, which automatically highlights text in phrases to keep students focused while reading. The pace of highlighting can be adjusted for reading speed and comprehension. Students can listen to their text spoken aloud for possible mistakes, such as grammar and word flow. 

Bookmarking tools enable you to save, annotate, and share information to read later. Students who have difficulties with reading often use all of their cognitive energy decoding text; remembering what they have read is challenging. Annotation tools allow students to highlight information and make notes as they read. 

Software

Diigo  

  • Annotate web pages and PDF's directly while browsing online
  • Save, tag and share resources
  • Free

Instapaper

  • Create notes, highlight and comment on text in any article
  • Save, organise, and see resources across linked devices
  • Free version

Flipboard

  • Aggregate and organise news stories around any topic or interest
  • Create Smart Magazines by adding stories from any source, person, publication, or hashtag
  • Free

Evernote Web Clipper

  • Clip web pages and save them to your Evernote account.
  • Organise notes with tags
  • Highlight text on any web page using callouts
  • Share clipped content through email or via a unique URL
  • A free add-on

Scrible

  • Annotate articles, make comments directly onto webpages
  • Share annotated articles with others
  • Save webpages, bookmark sites, organise your library with tags
  • Scrible toolbar available as a Chrome extension
  • Free version or upgrade to a paid version with more features

These programs combine several functionalities including:

  • text-to-speech (TTS)
  • speech-to-text (STT)
  • word prediction
  • specialised dictionaries
  • annotation
  • optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities so “inaccessible text,” such as text in pictures or locked PDFs, can be read.

These tools all have specific features to support learners with dyslexia. They are more complicated than single-task apps, so training is helpful.

Software

Kurzweil 3000-Firefly

Allows you to import or create text.

  • Functionality: TTS, highlighting and note taking (including voice notes), dictionary, word prediction, idea mapping, cross-out tool, and can create audio file from text. Also has a customisable test-taking module that allows teachers to choose which AT features to allow during a test.
  • Platforms: It is available for most platforms, including iOS. If your school owns the license it includes a free Firefly (web based access) account. 
  • Cost: This software is available as a free trial but costs to purchase.

Texthelp – Read & Write

Toolbar floats over the desktop and reads or interacts with text in a variety of programs or formats.

  • Functionality: TTS, highlighting and note taking (including voice notes), dictionaries, homophone checker, speaking spellchecker, word prediction, idea mapping, echo typing.
  • Platforms: Available for most platforms, including iOS and Chrome.
  • Cost: Available as a 30 free trial but costs to purchase.

Snap and Read Universal  and Co:Writer

Available as Chrome extensions or Software.

  • Functionality:
    • Snap and Read – TTS, highlighting and note taking, leveled reading, automated bibliographer, dictionary, and a teacher portal to view reading data. Works with Kindle Cloud Reader (on a laptop).
    • Co:Writer – word prediction, STT, topic dictionaries.
  • Platforms: Available for most platforms, including a limited one for iOS.

ClaroRead

  • Funtionality: There are a variety of features depending on which version you get. Includes: TTS, dictionaries, homophone checker, speaking spellchecker, word prediction, idea mapping, echo typing.
  • Platforms: Available for Mac, PC and Chromebooks.  
  • Cost: 15 day trial demo for free. Costs vary depending on which version you select. Limited versions are available for free for iOS and Chrome browser.

Organisational and study tools help students, organise their ideas and provide scaffolds for learning, prioritise tasks, and focus their efforts.

  • Visual aids and colour coding help with organising information. 
  • Graphic organisers help students see the relationship between ideas and new concepts.
  • Planning tools and templates support them to organise their ideas.

Software

Graphic organisers

Hundreds of graphic organiser templates are available as free downloads on the internet. These links are from the Understood website, a site with information and resources to support students with learning and attention issues.

Trello

  • Organise and manage assignments and learning tasks by creating task boards, add checklists of to-dos and timeframes on cards
  • Share "projects" to work and plan collaboratively
  • Free

Quizlet

Create shareable flashcards. Students can search for flashcards others have made. Traditional flashcards and other games available.

  • Platform: Web based, plus iOS and Android app
  • Cost: Free

Coggle

An online tool for creating and sharing mindmaps and flow charts, includes colour coding. Useful for taking notes, brainstorming, and planning.

  • Platform: Web based
  • Cost: Free version with limited functionality, and additional pricing plans for more features
Key resources
Inclusive education website logo

Assistive Technology

An online guide for NZ teachers. The strategies and resources support teachers to access and use technologies to remove barriers to learning and enable student success.

Partnership with peers supports effective access to learning - a student's perspective

Partnership with peers supports effective access to learning

Matt is a Year 13 student at Wairarapa College. He describes how, with technology and the help of friends, he accesses and participates in the curriculum.

An inclusive learning environment supported by technology

Inclusive learning environment

Visually impaired student Renée Patete describes the difference technology makes to her learning by providing access to the curriculum and enabling ease of communication.

1:1 Netbooks – Allowing excellence in the classroom

1:1 Netbooks – Allowing excellence in the classroom

Tyler, a year 6 student with dyspraxia, uses a netbook to help him write creatively instead of being inhibited by the speed of his handwriting or his ability to form letters. 

Maximising technology to support learning between home and school

Maximising technology to support learning between home and school

Technology enables access to the Internet and removes communication barriers for Wadestown School student, Renée Patete.

Netbooks - an "onramp" to success in literacy

Netbooks – an "onramp" to success in literacy

Using a netbook, Google docs, and blogging has increased engagement and improved learning outcomes for student Kieren. 

Benefits iPads provide for student learning – Part 1

Benefits iPads provide for student learning – Part 1

Teacher, Craig Kemp, describes the benefits using iPads have brought to students who are kinesthetic learners, especially boys, and students with special needs.

Benefits iPads provide for student learning - Part 2

Benefits iPads provide for student learning – Part 2

The high level of student engagement and independence in learning when using iPads is encouraged by the feedback and rewards within the applications.

Working together: writing with iPads

Writing with iPads

Avondale School teacher, Rae Marsh talks about how using iPad writing app Screen Chomp has made a difference for one of her Year 5 students in learning how to form letters correctly.

Using an iPad to support independent writing for a student with ADHD

Using an iPad to support independent writing for a student with ADHD

Daniel, a student with ADHD, and his teacher explain how he uses apps on his ipad to support his reading and comprehension. 

Aspergers syndrome – Making friends using facetime

Making friends using facetime

Denise Fuller, describes the difference using Facetime to connect with others has made to the confidence, self-esteem, and overall happiness of her son who has Asperger's syndrome. 

Customising access to learning at high school: a student/teacher partnership

Customising access to learning at high school

Matt is a Year 13 student at Wairarapa College. He has low vision. He reflects on his use of technology, effective partnerships with teachers, and the need for self-advocacy skills and a sense of humour.

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Classroom based examples describing how educators intentionally pair digital technologies with inclusive pedagogy to improve learning outcomes for students.

Filter by: Primary Secondary

Switch it! Maker 2 and Choose it! Maker 2

Switch it! Maker 2 and Choose it! Maker 2 were used to help a non-verbal, high needs student make activity choices with a single press head-switch.

Tags: Cross-curricular, Diverse learners, Assistive technologies, Utilities/tools/gadgets, Lower primary, Lower secondary, Middle primary, Primary, Secondary, Upper primary, Upper secondary

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Resources

Inclusive Education guides for schools
The Ministry of Education’s Inclusive Education guides for schools site provides New Zealand educators with practical strategies, suggestions, and resources to support learners with diverse needs.

Assistive technology
Information on the Ministry of Education’s assistive technology services including:

  • advice, support, and information on assistive technology products
  • an assistive technology assessment framework to help teams support students
  • advice and support for schools and specialists who undertake assistive technology assessments
  • funding of assistive technology devices for individual students (to meet they learning needs).

If you want product information, email the Centre for Assistive Technology (CAT), at cat.help@education.govt.nz

Assistive technology
Join this group in the Virtual Learning Network (VLN) to share and discuss assistive technology options and the ways that both specialised assistive technology and standard technologies can be used to support students. The group blog  reviews software and apps to support learning.

Assistive technology – Meeting a literacy challenge
The Connected ICT PD cluster share their inquiry into identifying and overcoming the barriers to success in reading and writing for students with learning disabilities. The inquiry identified what assistive technologies are available to help students experiencing difficulty and how they can be used to support students literacy learning in the classroom. 

ICT resources and assistive technologies to help meet the needs of visually impaired learners
Hazel Owen, ethos consultancy, shares her collection of ICT resources and assistive technologies to support visually impaired students in a blog post, May 2011.

Online discussions

Join the Virtual Learning Network (VLN) and participate in these discussions.

Universal design for learning  – creating learning options that cater for everyone, planning for diverse needs.
Special Education Online (SE Online) – is an open group in the VLN for teachers of children and young people with special education needs.
Assistive technologies and the challenge of inclusion  – this blog post discusses inclusive education, and how technology can support inclusion.

e-Learning community discussions

Join these groups to participate in discussions with other teachers/educators about the content here, or that is relevant for you.

Enabling e-Learning
e-Learning: Leadership
e-Learning: Teaching
e-Learning: Technologies
e-Learning: Professional Learning
e-Learning: Beyond the classroom
Using the e-Learning Planning Frameworks

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