According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 2.8 million school-age children receive special education services as students with learning disabilities (LD). For many people, these learning challenges do not end in school but continue into adulthood and the workplace. LD affects the ability to interpret information heard and seen and/or the ability to link information from different portions of the brain. It may cause limitations in spoken and written language, coordination, self-control, concentration, learning style, and attention. Today there are many assistive technology (AT) devices available that may improve a person’s success in school and on the job.
For those who have difficulties with math, a talking calculator may be beneficial. These calculators come in a variety of basic and scientific models, depending on the level of functions being performed. These calculators offer other helpful options such as large buttons, computer software programs, the ability to graph financial programs, and alarms to keep users on task, tell the time, and remind an individual that they have another appointment or class.
Listening and Note-Taking
Digital tape recorders allow the user to record information such as lectures, To Do lists, and notes. The benefit of digital recording over a standard tape recorder is that the information can be organized into different folders. In addition, many models are able to dump the information onto a computer.
A noisy environment can also be distracting for many learners. By using an FM listening aid (the listener wears a headset and the speaker wears a microphone), the information is delivered directly to the person with LD and reduces noise by buffering it through the foam in the headset.
A computer screen reader specifically designed for LD may be useful. These programs will read text, menus, dialog boxes, and mouse movements to the user. Some may magnify information to reduce the amount of material on the screen. This allows the individual to be more focused in creating written expression, reading web pages, reviewing work, and operating the computer.
Through Optical Character Recognition (OCR), a person is able to take printed information and scan it into a computer. Afterwards, the information can be read to the individual through a screen reader or a specialized scanning program such as Kurzweil.
As mentioned in an earlier AT article, a portable reading pen allows the user to move over words in a book. Afterwards, the words appear on the pen’s display unit and can be read to the individual. In addition, information can be stored or transferred to a computer, definitions can be read, and similar words can be identified. By pressing buttons, the user is able to scroll through the words scanned.
Also worth mentioning again are books on tape, which are useful for those unable to read or read in a timely fashion. Persons with reading challenges are able to get such materials through State Services for the Blind and MLBPH (see article on page 2). In addition, Barnes & Noble has a large selection of such books to purchase.
A person with LD will need to learn to use word processing features such as spelling and grammar check. These features are invaluable and once mastered, the learner will benefit from the word processor in additional ways such as neatness and organization.
Word Prediction is a program that attempts to guess what an individual wants. When the typist types the letter T, the most common T words appear on the screen. If the desired word is on the list, the computer user presses a second key and the word is finished. Many individuals with LD may know the first letter of a word but not how to spell the word exactly. Some word prediction programs will read the words on the list if the individual is unable to recognize the word.
Another computer tool with both reading and composing applications is a talking dictionary which speaks the word, its definition, and its synonyms. Some models incorporate spell check and the ability to add new words.
Organizers and Prompters
The talking dictionaries mentioned above also have advanced models that include clocks, To Do lists, and appointment books.
Beyond that, personal digital assistants (PDA) are becoming the rage in the business world. These handheld devices are basically computers. With them, the user can work on word processing tasks, spreadsheets, scheduling, To Do lists, calculator functions, and more. Newer models are able to download programs off of the Internet. A synchronized program will update the computer such that information is the same on both the computer and the PDA systems. This makes the device portable and easy to use anywhere.
The Motivator is a product that is used to remind individuals to keep working. The device can be programmed to sound an alarm or speak at delivered intervals. This assists the user in keeping on task and not daydreaming or becoming distracted. With the Pocket Coach, steps to a procedure or project can be programmed to tell the individual what to do next when completing portions of a job.
WatchMinder is a reminder device to assist people with ADD, ADHD, LD, and other conditions. It can be programmed as a medication prompt or be used to assist in weight loss, smoking cessation, behavioral modification, and non-medical applications.
AT and Other Strategies
In conjunction with technology, there are specific teaching strategies that can help people with learning disabilities. These include frequent breaks, shorter assignments, focusing on quality not quantity, repetition, computer programs, group activities, and individualized attention. Another factor used to improve the potential of the LD students is awareness of learning styles such as verbal learners, social learners, auditory learners, visual numeric learners, and so on.
Whether you have been diagnosed with LD or not, AT devices available today can help those with learning challenges become successful at school and work. This article has covered only a few examples of devices for each category given. Each individual’s needs will be different and the exploration into what devices work best may take time. Over the years, the needs of the person will change as he or she transitions from school to work. With AT, it is exciting to see the progress made by persons with LD as well as the independence gained.
Jeni Mundl is the Assistive Technology Specialist at Courage Center.