Assistive Technology Tools for Students with Learning Disabilities

Oct 23, 2015

Learning disabilities are outcomes of stunted neurological processing problems. These problems usually manifest themselves among kids and interfere with their basic skills of reading, listening or writing. As soon as these basic skills are affected, the impact quickly reaches higher-level skills like organization, attention, memory and so on.

The worst thing about learning disabilities is that their consequences extend into an individual’s life beyond academics and disrupt his/her career and relationships with family and friends. Yet students with learning disabilities end up being unfairly labeled, judged and misunderstood.

The present, common classroom scheme is not adequately equipped with the infrastructure to accommodate an education system that is beneficial for students with learning disabilities. The root cause of the problem is the marginalization factor that has seeped in.

Many of us tend to confuse learning disabilities with learning problems. In fact, 70% of parents and educators correlate learning disability with autism and intellectual disability. Learning problems could surface from motor, visual or hearing handicaps, social, emotional or economic problems and so on. But learning disabilities do not stem from any of these factors. They are reflected as discrepancies between a student’s potential and accomplishments.

Students with learning disabilities are capable and competent enough to be at par with every other student in the classroom if they are provided with proper guidance. All it would take is a way to bridge the gaps that hinder their ability to learn at levels that their peers do. Yes, these gaps are challenging and yes, they are going to take a large amount of effort to be filled, but it is completely doable.

As a generation strapped with technology and its numerous benefits, closing the gap does not require as much effort as it would, sans the able aid of technology. Assistive technology is the wonder tool that has come to the rescue.

What is Assistive Technology?

If you observe closely, you will find that students with learning disabilities work best when they use their capabilities to work around their disabilities. Assistive technology does just that. It brings into play the strengths of students and helps them overcome the barriers that restrict learning.

On a simpler note, assistive technology comprises equipments that help compensate for the discrepancies in learning. I’ll give you an example.

Let’s say Stacy struggles with reading. She tries her best to dabble in as much reading as she can, but somehow nothing good comes out of it. As you can deduce, reading is her weakness. However, what she lacks in her reading skills, she makes up for in her listening skills. Stacy is an above average listener. She pays attention to everything that is said to her and tries her best to comprehend the matter. This helps her remember all that she hears. Therefore, listening is her strength.  What do you think can be the solution to her reading  problem, then?

Think technology, think innovations. Now combine those with the capitalization of her strength to help her work her way around her weakness. Audiobook is the troubleshooter in this case.

Just like audio books, technology offers several exceptional tools to help students with learning disabilities. Read on to find out more about these tools.

Assistive Technology Tools

Let’s get straight to the point here.

Assistive Technology Tools​​​​​​

   1.  Audiobooks

As the name suggests, audiobooks are recordings of texts being read out loud. These audiobooks are available in a variety of formats including CDs, audio cassettes, downloadable MP3 files and so on and can be utilized to improve readingconsiderably. Audiobooks are one of the oldest forms of assistive technology. They have evolved with time and have become a staple for students with learning disability. With more and more books becoming available in audio formats, the collection has fattened over the years.

The good news is, numerous audiobooks are available on the Internet for free. For example: Project Gutenberg and are two of the many making headlines.

The following video demonstrates students’ reaction to audiobooks.

 2.  Talking Calculators

How incredible does that sound?

Yes, talking calculators have been making their presence felt since quite some time now. They come in all sizes with a slightly larger display and volume controls (for increasing and decreasing the volume) and are completely functional for basic mathematical calculations.

A talking calculator employs a built-in speech synthesizer. So every button you press is read aloud and the answer of every calculation is vocalized. This helps in verifying all the digits and operators entered in the calculator.

3.  Abbreviation Expanders 

Abbreviation expanders work in conjunction with word processing software and helps users create, store and use abbreviations for words that are used frequently. This not only saves time and keystrokes, but also ensures that the spelling remains flawless. There are a number of abbreviation expanders that you can take your pick from.

The best part is, they are easy to use and make the work a whole lot easier.

     4.  Portable Word Processors

Does your child have trouble writing with his hand? Is he more comfortable with a keyboard? Then a portable word processor is your answer. It allows users to write, edit and correct text with the use of a keyboard. I’ll give you three reasons why it works:

Portable Word Processors

Some of the portable word processors are equipped with the useful features of talking calculators, text-to-speech conversion, word prediction programs and so on. The text is generally auto-saved and can be uploaded to a computer or printed out directly.

     5.  Electronic Dictionaries

With electronic dictionaries, poor spelling would not be a problem anymore. These dictionaries read aloud the word displayed on the screen. This way, users get to see and hear the word concerned with clarity. Electronic dictionaries are wonder tools for writing and proofreading text with an immaculate spelling.

     6.  Digital Pens

A pen, they say, is mightier than a sword. And now, technology has created something that is mightier than the quill.

Here comes the digital pen.

Digital Pens

A digital pen looks like a normal ball-point pen. But do not get deceived by its looks. It has a lot more to offer than what it shows. A digital pen captures what you write, digitally. For this to happen, you would need to write on a digital paper with the help of the digital pen. A digital paper consists of small dots that enable the pen to ‘see’ what is being written. And it comes in the size of a traditional writing pen while the paper is the size of a usual writing pad.

The document can be saved digitally by ticking on the ‘save’ box once the writing is complete. The writing gets saved either as an image or as a file. And voila! Your handwriting gets converted into flawless text.

     7.  Variable Speed Tape Recorders

The variable speed tape recorder has made its way to the hall of fame owing to its exceptional feature of slowing down or speeding up recorded text. Sounds amazing, right? Here’s how it works.

The user can record a speech as and when he wishes, with the help of the variable speed tape recorder. Once the recording is complete, it can be played at variable speeds according to the convenience of the user. And the best part is, there is zero chance of voice distortion with these recorders.

     8.  Data Managers

Learning disabled students require memory assistance. This is where data managers come to the rescue. This incredible tool assists in planning, storing, organizing and retrieving data in digital format. These personal data managers are quite useful for students with memory and organization issues.

The good news is, you can fit a data manager right into your pocket.

Even though there are a number of assistive tech-tools at your disposal, it is important to develop an effective plan for their proper usage. It is equally important to understand how these tools work, to ensure that the ones you have decided to incorporate to aid your child’s learning, meet his requirements. A guided approach works best along with that.

Would you like to add any other tools to our list? Share those with us in the comments section below. We would love to hear from you.

David A. Buhr

'David A. Buhr has over fifteen years of experience in the field of Education. He specializes in writing articles on Education-related topics on his blog. He is presently working at SmileTutor, a reputable tuition agency in Singapore."

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