Assistive technology tools: Writing

Find out how to select assistive technology tools that address your child's specific writing difficulties.

By Kristin Stanberry , Marshall Raskind, Ph.D.

There is a wide range of assistive technology (AT) tools available to help students who struggle with writing. Some of these tools help students circumvent the actual physical task of writing, while others facilitate proper spelling, punctuation, grammar, word usage, and organization.

AT tools that assist with writing fall into several categories:

Abbreviation expanders

Used with word processing, these software programs allow a user to create, store, and re-use abbreviations for frequently-used words or phrases. This can save the user keystrokes and ensure proper spelling of words and phrases he has coded as abbreviations.

What type(s) of learning difficulty do these tools address?

This type of tool benefits people who struggle with: writing.

Products to consider

 

Alternative keyboards

These programmable keyboards have special overlays that customize the appearance and function of a standard keyboard.  Students who have LD or have trouble typing may benefit from customization that reduces input choices, groups keys by color/location, and adds graphics to aid comprehension.

What type(s) of learning difficulty do these tools address?

This type of tool benefits people who struggle with: writing.

Products to consider

 

Graphic organizers and outlining

Graphic organizers and outlining programs help users who have trouble organizing and outlining information as they begin a writing project. This type of program lets a user "dump" information in an unstructured manner and later helps him organize the information into appropriate categories and order.

What type(s) of learning difficulty do these tools address?

This type of tool benefits people who struggle with: writing.

 

Paper-based computer pen

This technology records and links audio to what a person writes using the pen and special paper. It enables the user to take notes while simultaneously recording someone( e.g., a teacher) speaking. The user can later listen to any section of his notes by touching the pen to his corresponding handwriting or diagrams.

What type(s) of learning difficulty do these tools address?

This type of tool may benefit people who struggle with: writing, listening, memory and reading.

Products to consider

 

Portable word processors

A portable word processor is lightweight device that is easy to transport (e.g., from classroom to home). It can be helpful to kids who may have trouble writing by hand and prefer to use a keyboard. Word processing allows the user to edit and correct his written work more efficiently than doing so by hand.

What type(s) of learning difficulty do these tools address?

This type of tool benefits people who struggle with: writing.

Products to consider

 

Proofreading software

Students who struggle with writing (e.g., spelling, grammar, punctuation, word usage, and sentence structure) may benefit from software programs (included in many word processing systems) that scan word processing documents and alert the user to possible errors.

What type(s) of learning difficulty do these tools address?

This type of tool benefits people who struggle with: writing/spelling.

Products to consider

Most word processing software programs include proofreading programs. They may be identified as spell-checkers or grammar-checkers within a word processing program.

Ginger is a newcomer to the scene. It analyzes misspelled words within the context of an entire sentence and suggests words based on the intended meaning of the sentence. This is different than most spell checkers that simply suggest words that resemble the misspelled words. Ginger corrects whole sentences, including multiple spelling and grammar errors all in one click, providing a potentially faster and more efficient way to work.

Ginger’s technology was developed specifically to correct the kinds of spelling mistakes commonly made by people with dyslexia. Although other products have focused on dyslexia, Ginger’s online grammar checker is the first to operate as an online service that continuously adds “dyslexic misspellings” to its database. The more the technology is used by people with dyslexia, the more accurate it should become. 

Speech recognition software

A speech recognition program works in conjunction with a word processor. The user dictates into a microphone, and his spoken words appear on the computer screen as text. This can help a user whose oral language ability is better than his writing skills.

What type(s) of learning difficulty do these tools address?

This type of tool benefits people who struggle with: writing.

Products to consider

 

Speech synthesizers/screen readers

These systems can display and read aloud text on a computer screen, including text that has been typed by the user, scanned in from printed pages (e.g., books, letters), or text appearing on the Internet.

What type(s) of learning difficulty do these tools address?

This type of tool may benefit people who struggle with: reading and writing.

Products to consider

 

Talking spell checkers/electronic dictionaries

Talking spell checkers and electronic dictionaries can help a poor speller select or identify appropriate words and correct spelling errors during the process of writing and proofreading.  Talking devices "read aloud" and display the selected words onscreen, so the user can see and hear the words.

What type(s) of learning difficulty do these tools address?

This type of tool benefits people who struggle with: writing/spelling.

Products to consider

 

Word-prediction software

Word prediction software can help a user during word processing by "predicting" a word the user intends to type. Predictions are based on spelling, syntax, and frequent/recent use. This prompts kids who struggle with writing to use proper spelling, grammar, and word choices, with fewer keystrokes.

What type(s) of learning difficulty do these tools address?

This type of tool benefits people who struggle with: writing.

Products to consider

 

The assistive technology products listed on our site have been compiled in consultation with Marshall Raskind, Ph.D. This does not represent a comprehensive list. The inclusion of any product is not intended as an endorsement. The information is provided to guide parents and educators in selecting products to meet children's specific needs.

Updated February 2010

Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness issues. Her areas of expertise include learning disabilities and AD/HD, which she wrote about extensively for Schwab Learning and GreatSchools.

 

Marshall H. Raskind, Ph.D., is a learning disability researcher. He is a frequent presenter at international LD conferences and is the author of numerous professional publications on learning disabilities. He is well-known for his research on assistive technology and longitudinal studies tracing LD across the life span.