Achievable ways technology can assist students with learning disabilities (Part 1)

Whereas Assistive Technology has been expensive and obvious in the past, the rise of 1:1 technology and BYOD programs in schools is making AT simpler and cheaper to access and much easier for teachers to integrate into the mainstream classroom.


These technologies are not intended to replace learning support but rather to provide options for students to access resources and produce work without being hampered by their challenges with spelling and other language conventions.


Unfortunately, those with learning disabilities are often subjected to the same spelling and language convention assessments as other students so the following programs may not be appropriate in all situations. For a project where the real aim is that students can show their content knowledge and ability to analyse, some of these apps and programs can put them on a level playing field with everyone else.


This article merely scratches the surface of assistive technology but I have attempted to present options for different types of devices and different budgets. In some cases, negotiation with the school’s IT department may be necessary. In many cases a lite (free) version is available so you can try out the app and see if it suits your learners.

Speech to text 

There are some really good free options here.  Something really simple but very liberating especially for students in the middle primary age-range who are starting to need to research and work more independently but are still struggling with reading and spelling is to teach them to use a voice command for internet searching.  On an iPad or iPhone, ask Siri to search.  In a Google browser window, tap the microphone button and speak.




Google Voice Search
Google Voice Search



iPads have a built-in dictation feature. To enable the Dictation feature, go to Settings, General, Keyboards and then Enable Dictation.  You will need to be connected to the internet for dictation to work. Once you are in an app and ready to type, tap the screen and when the keyboard appears, tap the  microphone picture and start dictating.  You can give commands like New Paragraph but corrections need to be made manually.  Tap Done when you are finished dictating. I have found this feature easy to set up and use.

Speech options
iPad speech options



Setting up Windows Speech Recognition
Setting up Windows Speech Recognition

Setting up Speech Recognition in Windows 7 or 8 is a little more complicated.

You will need to set up a microphone and train your computer to understand your speech.  There is a tutorial on the Windows website which takes you through how to talk to your computer so your voice is understood accurately.  Over time the computer builds up a profile of your voice so accuracy should improve.






There are a number of programs and apps which also provide a speech to text feature.  The best known of these is probably Dragon Naturally Speaking for PC and Dragon Dictate for Mac.  There is an accompanying iPad and iPhone app, Dragon Dictation.  Because business and the health industry also use dictation, there are many dictation programs on the market and many free apps.  The robustness of these apps varies.  Some are glitchy or won’t allow easy export of text.

Nuance produces a range of Dragon Dictation programs
Nuance produces a range of Dragon Dictation programs



Have you tried any of these? Which one is your favourite?



Next time: Text to Speech

Kabilan29 at English Wikipedia [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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Apps for Autism

Autism is one area where assistive technology has made a huge difference in access and affordability, and allowing individuals to participate in mainstream education.


In honour of World Autism Awareness Month, here are some great sites which explore apps and programs which may be useful. The focus here is on technology which can be downloaded from an app store or accessed via an online subscription, rather than those purpose-built devices that need to be purchased through a supplier or manufacturer.

Every person with autism is different, just like every person without autism is different, so what suits one person may not suit another.  It’s probably a case be of listening to advice, reading reviews and then trying some things out to see if they work.

This article  from UK based organisation Research Autism provides an overview, based on research, of the types of assistive and adaptive technologies available.

Appy Autism is a funky little website that lets you search for an app based on type of device and desired features, dividing apps in to the categories of :

  • Communication,
  • Learning,
  • Leisure,
  • Support Tools and
  • Emotions and Social Behaviour.
Appy Autism
Appy Autism





Autism Queensland has an excellent resource page which also divides apps into categories and rates each app according to:

  • independence needed to access the app,

    Autism Queensland
    Autism Queensland
  • motivation,
  • feedback given to the child,
  • the sensory friendliness,
  • the ability to customize, and
  • language skills needed.

Happy World Autism Awareness Month!

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