Thursday, March 20, 2014

Assistive Technology for Reading

The webinar, Assistive Technology for Reading, explains the differences between text readers and screen readers and why using assistive technology for reading is important.  For example, a text reader is used for students with a reading disability who has adequate reading, where as a screen reader is used primarily for students with visual impairments. You're probably wondering why.  Text readers have the ability to read text to students, however information such as menus, buttons, and dialogue boxes are not read aloud, making the student read them on their own.  If a student has a visual impairment, they are unable to read some documentation, as well as navigate the reader.  For that reason, screen readers are more likely to benefit learners with both visual and reading disabilities.

When using a screen reader, the student has the ability to control the rate of the reading, modify how the program reads (whether in full sentences, chunks, or by one word at a time), look up words using a built-in dictionary, and highlight words or sentences for future reference.  Websites such as, allow students to read files directly from the website and use all the materials that can be found on a screen reader.  By having access to an online library that allows students to have control over what and how they are reading, allows them to read for pleasure and for school, while gaining access to many features that are not available through the use of other software.


Golden, S. (n.d.) Assistive Technology for Reading. Retrieved from


Word prediction software give individuals with disabilities the opportunity to listen to materials being read aloud, have words predicted for them as they type, and gives them opportunities to use translators, dictionaries, and vocabulary builders.  Read & Write software can be downloaded onto a desktop or laptop computer, or downloaded as an App on an iPhone or iPad.  The iPad App, iReadWrite, has functions such as text-to-speech, word prediction, a phonetic spell checker, a choice of voices and fonts, and many more.  These functions "make reading easier and ensure accurate writing" (

This software is accessible for students who have reading and/or writing disabilities, such as Dyslexia, or for those students with poor vision and low fine motor skills.  Read & Write software can be found at, along with many educational resources and tutorials.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


TextAloud is "text-to-speech software for the Windows PC that converts your text from MS Word Documents, Emails, Web Pages and PDF files into natural-sounding speech" (, 2000). This software program can be purchased to use on a desktop or laptop computer, and can also be downloaded onto an iPhone or iPad as a portable device.  Software such as TextAloud is great for individuals who are nonverbal as they can communicate with others through the use of text, or for those individuals who have poor vision or are blind.  TextAloud will provide these students and adults with the ability to communicate and learn information by hearing it read aloud, rather than reading or speaking.

The video below gives a demonstration on TextAloud.


Dell, A.G., Newton, A.D., Petroff, J.G. (2012).  Assistive Technology in the Classroom: Enhancing the School Experiences of Students with Disabilities. 2nd Edition.

TextAloud (2000-2014).  Home of TextAloud Text to Speech Software.  Retrieved from

Monday, March 17, 2014

Past Events Cards

Many students, especially those who have been diagnosed with Autism, have difficulty recalling events that have happened in the past.  For this reason, it is often difficult to have communication between home and school, as the student may not remember the events that happened throughout the day.  Students who have difficulty relating to events that have happened throughout the day may benefit from "past events cards."  Theses cards act as a visual representation to help communicate between the learning environment and the home environment.  The teacher can develop a general template that the student can complete throughout the day.  The student can circle an item, fill in the blank, or check a box to show what events have taken place and what they would like to share with their family when they get home.

Today at School

Today at school, I ate (my whole lunch/some lunch/none of my lunch)

My favorite activity in class was (reading/math/science)

Today in school, I had (library/art/music/gym)

I had a (great/good/okay) day. 


(n.d.) Expressive Communication Skills. Retrieved from

Choice Cards

Choice cards  are picture cards that offer students the opportunity to make a choice between items. These picture cards are very beneficial for students who have been diagnosed with Autism and are nonverbal, or with those students who have communication delays.  Pictures cards should be kept together in a location that is accessible for the teacher and can be used during specific times throughout the day to offer choices to the student; meal or snack time, circle time, play time, and even art and music.  Using choice cards offers options that the teacher wishes the student to use, while giving the student the opportunity to make their own decisions.

The above choice cards allow the student to choose from a variety of activities that can be completed during play time.  The student chooses the activity they wish to complete and place it next to the "I want" statement to complete the sentence. 

These choice cards can be used during snack time.  Place the cards in front of the student so they are able to make the decision of pretzels or a banana for snack.


Lesson Pix: Custom Learning Materials. (n.d.) Choice Cards. Retrieved from

Break Cards

While in an educational setting, many students have difficulty sitting through an entire lesson.  This is especially true for students who have Autism.  For this reason, it is important that the teacher provides the student with the opportunity to take breaks when they are needed.  Breaks should not be taken every few minutes or simply because the child is bored with what they are learning, but when they are feeling overwhelmed, confused, angry, or upset.  "Break cards" can be given to those students who require breaks, but should only be used after the student expresses to the teacher the reason behind needing a break.  "Because the individual may need to access the card in other environments, consider creating a portable card system" that the student can carry with them when they leave your classroom (HANDS in Autism).

Break cards can also be used for an entire class, as the teacher can use them to play a quick game to allow the students to stretch and take a break.  The example to the left shows that a teacher can use "brain break" cards to play a game of "Simon Says" to allow the students to stand up, take a stretch, or do a little dance.  This is a great way to have students relax for a few minutes and to keep them motivated throughout the school day.  


HANDS in Autism. (n.d). How to Templates: Help and Break Cards. Retrieved from

Expressive Communication

Many students, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, have difficulty expressing their wants and needs (expressive communication), as well as understanding others (receptive communication). According to the Pediatric Therapy Network, "expressive language is a broad term that describes how a person communicates their wants and needs. It encompasses verbal and nonverbal communication skills and how an individual uses language.  Expressive language skills include, facial expressions, gestures, intentionality, vocabulary, semantics (word/sentence meaning), morphology, and syntax (grammar rules)" (2014).  Due to expressive language including a variety of communication skills, students with Autism may have more difficulty with the concept because they are nonverbal, have difficulty understanding nonverbal communication cues from others, and/or may have a delayed processing of language (Positive Partnerships, 2014).

In order to help these students with expressive communication, the teacher can use specific strategies that will assist them in understanding basic communication concepts.  For instance, the teacher can use visual supports to give the student choices and to begin language development, as well as teaching the student to use these visual supports in their surrounding environments; calendars, signs, door numbers, name cards, and drawer labels (Autism Speak, 2012).  Along with visual supports, the teacher can also use scripts, such as pictures and/or words for exchanges and/or communication needs.  Using cue cards is a great way to help students begin understanding the expressive language concepts.


Autism Speaks (2012). Supporting Learning in the Student with Autism.  Retrieved from

Pediatric Therapy Network (2014).  Speech-Language Definitions. Retrieved from

Positive Partnerships (2014).  Communication. Retrieved from

Monday, March 10, 2014

IEP Example 5: Mary

Mary's IEP:

Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance:
Mary currently communicates through sounds that are not always understood by those around her.  She often becomes upset when she is not understood.  She likes people and likes to be around both adults and children.  She is beginning to play simple games. 

Annual Goal:
Mary will communicate her interests and needs in three or more environments/situations using a sing message voice output device. 

Assistive Technology for Mary:
Mary has difficulty communicating her wants and needs to both adults and her peers.  For this reason, Mary would benefit from the use of a voice output device and/or a text-to-speech device.  When using a voice output device, Mary would simply press a button on a keyboard and the keyboard would express what her needs are.  When using a text-to-speech device, Mary would type what she is thinking or what she needs on a keyboard and it would tell the person she is communicating with.  Both devices are similar, however with text-to-speech, Mary would need to type exactly what she wants to communicate, rather than simply pressing a button.  
Text-to-Speech devices such as this one can simply be downloaded onto a computer or iPad.  If using an iPad, Mary can transport the device with her where ever she goes and she will be able to communicate with others by the simple touch of the screen. 
If Mary is staying in one classroom, she can use a device such as this to hook up to a classroom computer.  She would simply type her statement and it would read what she is typing aloud.

Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (June 2009).  Assessing Students' Needs for Assistive Technology (ASNAT). Retrieved from

IEP Example 4: Johnny

Johnny's IEP:

Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance: 
Johnny uses his right hand to write and to physically position his left arm and hand.  He has difficulty managing papers as he writes.  He collects and utilizes a lap trap, incline board, non-slip mat and modified clipboard but often waits for staff to set up modifications.

Annual Goal:
Johnny will initiate the set-up of his writing station 80% of the time given a chart of needed materials for each task.

Assistive Technology for Johnny:
As you can tell, Johnny has difficulty setting up his desk and often relies on his teachers.  Because Johnny's annual goal consists of him setting up his own materials 80% of time, it is necessary for him to have a graphic chart or organizer to help him stay focused and remember all of the materials.  Johnny can use an a graphic organizer software program from, and can follow the steps in the organizer to successfully set up his desk.

Along with using, Johnny's teachers can find various apps on the iPad that will give him charts, graphic organizers, and/or games to help him successfully set up his learning area.

Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (June 2009).  Assessing Students' Needs for Assistive Technology (ASNAT). Retrieved from

IEP Example 3: Kelly

Kelly's IEP:

Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance:
Kelly is in the the third grade classroom for most of his day.  He has a full time paraprofessional who assists him.  He is unable to use a standard keyboard because of his physical limitation.  Additionally, his speech is frequently unintelligible.  He currently uses single message and multiple message voice output devices, eye gaze, and limited direct selection to complete his academic work. Kelly is functioning at about the second grade level in most curricular areas.

Annual Goal:
Kelly will use an adapted keyboard with custom overlays and a computer with talking word processing to complete all academic work.

Assistive Technology for Kelly:
Due to Kelly having physical limitation, as well as having difficulty communicating, he would benefit from both an adapted keyboard and a voice output device.  Both devices will assist him in completing classroom and communicating with his teacher, paraprofessional, and peers.

Similar to Andy's voice output device, this device will assist Kelly in communicating with his teachers and peers with the simple stroke of a key. 

One of these adapted keyboards would assist Kelly in completing classwork.  Each keyboard has brightly colored keys to help differentiate the letters and numbers, as well as have adjustable key sizes for easy keystrokes.

Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (June 2009).  Assessing Student's Needs for Assistive Technology (ASNAT). Retrieved from