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Making the Most of Standard Technology to Enhance Learning

Learn how readily available electronic text can be adapted to support and enhance your child's learning.

By Lisa Wahl, M.A.

You probably know about assistive technology (AT) tools that can help students with learning disabilities (LD) with reading, writing, math, listening, and organization. Perhaps you have purchased educational software for your child. However, you may not be aware of the extent to which the computer hardware and software you already own may include several features and functions that can improve your child's academic performance. In this article, we will explore how electronic text can be adapted to assist students with LD. The use of standard technologies to enhance and support reading can benefit students as young as third graders, throughout their education, and into the working world. You and your child will want to experiment with the techniques described in this article to find those that help him most.

What is Electronic Text, and Where Can You Find It?

Type the words "electronic text" into Google and you will find hundreds of collections of books, articles, and other text. Electronic (i.e., computer-displayed) text can be customized to support a student's individual learning preferences and needs. Although we still live in a world of print on paper, the amount of electronic text is growing daily.

Customizing Electronic Text to Meet a Child's Needs

In this article, we will explore various ways to adapt electronic text to assist students with LD, using standard technologies. You may be surprised to learn how much you can do with software you already own!

First, you'll need to locate appropriate electronic text. (See Resources for Locating Electronic Text on the Internet). Next, you will want to review your options for customizing the material to meet your child's needs.

The text on the computer screen can be copied and pasted into your word processor in a variety of ways, depending on the file you're working with:

  • A plain text file can be downloaded and opened using a word processor.
  • A PDF file can be downloaded and opened using Acrobat Reader. Some PDF files allow text to be selected and pasted into a word processor.
  • An HTML file can be opened using any browser. Again, you may be able to select, copy, and paste the text into a word processor.
  • Less commonly, an electronic text document may have been formatted for specific software or devices , such as Microsoft Reader or a Palm device. These will only be useful if you have the software or device. (Note: Microsoft Reader software is free.)

Once you have accessed the electronic text using one of the methods described above, you can then modify the material to make it more accessible to your child. For example, text in a word processor can be changed in appearance, reorganized or supplemented, read aloud by the computer, or used to generate portable audio versions.