Technology Solutions: The Second "R" and the Special Needs Student
Writing, the active, creative verbal skill, poses many challenges for teachers of regular classrooms and, especially, for those of inclusion classrooms where the physical act of writing creates an added hurdle to be dealt with. Assistive technology, however, provides a pathway of access to writing for the diverse range of student learning styles, intelligences, and physical limitations found in these classrooms. David Davis, a technology consultant serving nine Florida public school districts, describes four types of technologies that perform well as aids for students needing help in the physical writing process: portable writing devices, alternative keyboards, voice recognition systems, and universal access stations.
Portable writing devices assist students who can't grasp a writing instrument. This computer-writing equipment has a keyboard like a computer or laptop with alternative keyboards that accommodate the physically challenged student. These alternative keyboards work well for students with visual, physical, or cognitive limitations, making it possible for them to write by means of menu commands. The keyboards can be affixed to computers so teachers can modify the standard keyboard. Voice recognition systems are software programs that offer "speech-to-text, document navigation and page navigation" and, with verbal commands, make any computer-based information source accessible for reading and organizing. Universal access stations comprise multimedia computers, scanners, optical character recognition (OCR) software, alternative keyboards, text-to-speech software, and other assistive devices for special populations. Mr. Davis explains the access these technologies give to students with special needs: "With the Universal Access Station available, students can scan in pages from a magazine or book, and have the computer read the text out loud. This is a great strategy for students with limited reading skills as well as students who use English as a second language. Text-to-speech software can also be used to translate web pages to spoken text. Students with limited vision can take notes using a talking word processor with the screen set to high contrast. Word prediction software provides further assistance in taking notes."
SOURCE: D. Davis. 2002. Using assistive technology to help students write. Media & Methods (September/October) 39 (1), 14.
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