Assistive technology can prove to be an extraordinarily useful tool for students with a variety of challenges to their learning. Here at Vermont Tech, we strive to provide students with an array of tools that are both useful and reasonably priced if not free. All of our software is vetted before we recommended and there is always at least one person on staff who is comfortable with its use.
Dragon Naturally Speaking
Dragon NaturallySpeaking is a program designed to improve productivity among executives by allowing them to navigate their computer and dictate text rather than type. The newer versions have a very short training time, and are remarkably accurate. All of the computers in the Center for Academic Success have Dragon NaturallySpeaking installed on them. Voice files are portable and may be carried on a thumb drive from one computer to the next. The Learning Specialist will provide training for students interested in using Dragon and support as they acquire skill. To see how Dragon works, check this out this Dragon demo.
Ginger software is an online spellchecker that was developed in the United Kingdom specifically for students with learning disabilities however, it has proven especially useful for many populations of students including students with weak reading skills and those for whom English not their primary language. It is far more robust than the spell checker and grammar checker that is available in most word processing programs, works on any platform and it is free to students. The only restriction is that the student must be online in order to make use of it. No registration is required, and there will be no e-mail generated as a result of the download. Download Ginger software.
Claro is a relatively new addition to our assistive technology arsenal. Claro is part of a suite of products that we make available to our students. Included is an e-text reader, scanning software that will also convert PDF files to text, a program that will adjust the color of the computer screen for ease in reading, and mind mapping software him him that students can use to plan and organize papers and projects. Claro is available on all the computers in the Center for Academic Success and as a free download for students.
There are many accessibility features included within Microsoft Office 2010. One of the most useful for students when they are writing is the ability for Microsoft Word to speak what has been typed on the page. This function can be added to the quick access toolbar which is usually above the ribbon. The most helpful thing about this is that it can be turned on in all the labs without a specialized installation. Detailed instructions are available here.
The Livescribe pen is a unique tool designed to provide support for note taking. Utilizing specialized paper, the pen creates a visual and auditory recording of the student notes that can then be accessed later within the notebook, and saved to the student's computer. A video demonstrating some of the capabilities of the pen is available here. The Center for Academic Success has several pens and notebooks available for loan.
There's an App for That…
Many of our students arrive with smart phones, tablets, or iPads and Chromebooks without a clear idea of how these tools can be leveraged to improve their educational performance. The Center for Academic Success has developed a list of apps specifically geared to be useful in higher education. Many of the apps are free, and those that are not, are very reasonable. The selection includes both time management and study tools. The list is updated regularly. Chromebook and Chrome users might check this out. It is a list of apps assembled by some assistive technology consultants that will help you get the most out of your Google account. This list is also updated regularly.
Free Text to Speech Options
The ability to have the computer read text out loud has come a long way from the early days of mechanical voices that marched along at a particular pace regardless of what the listener needed or wanted. There are many options available for students who are looking for something that gets the job done without too many other features. These are some of the more effective choices. This list is updated regularly.