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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.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

08/30/2011:
"I would like to know if the iPad and letter tracing applications could be considered a "legal" form of assistive technology used by a kindergartner with severe fine motor delays but age appropriate cognition. "
05/26/2011:
"This is assitive technology fro students with barrierse to learning"
09/22/2009:
"I would like to know if there are more assistive technology products that are available for students and how do parents buy these products?"
06/15/2009:
"I am very grateful for your website and all the information it offers; I do, however, believe that there needs to be more information available on grammar correction programs. Grammar correction programs built into word processors are limited and do not keep up to date with changes in literary constructs, i.e. beginning or ending a sentence with a preposition was, at one time, considered poor writing."
10/7/2008:
"In today's school and business environments, the most common means of communication is reading and writing. People that don't master those communication methods are usually left behind. 5-17% of the population suffers from dyslexia, a neurological problem that affects those peoples' ability to write and read freely. In addition, approximately 1.5 billion people are left behind due to the fact that English is their second language. The common number one writing assistive technology, the standard spellchecker, is not effective for people with dyslexia and people that use English as their second language. This failure is due to two structural limitations of all spellcheckers: 1. The fact that a spelled word needs to be very, very close to the target word in order to get corrected spelling 2. The fact that the text is checked word by word, disregarding any contextual considerations >From a technical perspective, most of the spellcheckers use a very limited editing distance, which is defined as the number of operations required to transform one word into another. For example, the words 'happy' and 'hapy' have an editing distance of 1 (one missing letter) and will, therefore be attuned successfully, but the words 'happy' and 'apy' have an editing distance of 2 and therefore will not be treated successfully. In addition, standard spellcheckers will regard the sentence 'I will be happy to meat you at 8 o'clock' as a legitimate expression, disregarding the intention of the writer, which is 'I will be happy to meet you at 8 o'clock. The word 'meat' will not appear as a misspelled word since it is found in the dictionary. For many years Natural Language Processing (NLP) researchers developed advanced models in order to analyze spelling from a contextual wording perspective, but unfortunately these models were not able to hold water in the real world. Today a company named Ghotit comes and changes it all. Ghotit's mission is to move people with writing and reading problems towards the main stream, the general population that do not have any problems with reading and writing. Ghotit's solution is an online context sensitive spellchecker which copes effectively with spelling mistakes that regular spellcheckers can't cope with, and a capability to identify misused words and offer the appropriate corrections based on a contextual analysis of the sentence. In order to further assist the user, Ghotit offers both a Text to Speech service, which enables the user to request his text to be read out aloud, and online definitions of each word, so that the user can easily select the correct candidate word. Ghotit was founded by Ofer Chermesh, a lifelong dyslectic and entrepreneur who for years had envisioned in his mind the exact assistive technology solution that would address his writing and reading hardships; and by his friend Dr. Robert Iakobashvili a high performance computing expert that undertook the challenge of translating Ofer's dream into a reality. Ghotit web site launched February 2008 after more than a year of research and development. Current testing of a corpus of dyslectic English demonstrated 90% correction success for Ghotit. This is in comparison to academic research reports that state that the best spell checkers success rate is under 35% (e.g. a recent Ph.D. study http://www.dcs.bbk.ac.uk/research/recentphds/pedler.pdf). Ghotit plans in the near future to integrate Ghotit to different word and email editors such as Microsoft Office and Google Docs and to improve its context spell checker by adding grammar corrections and text enrichment capabilities. Each user will manage a personalized dictionary that can be accessed online from any computing device. Further plans include self-optimizing algorithms that optimize the context spellchecker algorithms based on specific user behavioral patterns. Ghotit plans to contribute its error-collected corpus to the academia for research purposes. For a review of Ghotit please go to SpeEdChange. About Ghotit LTD: Incorporated 2008 www.ghotit.com; Web site launched February 2008"
09/25/2008:
"I need help selecting a laptop for my 8th grader. His disability is in reading, writing and orgainization. He is a high functioning 13 year old boy and uses our computer at home, but a laptop will open up a world of opportunity for him in the classroom and resourse room at school. Do you have any access to reviews from users or any ideas?"
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