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LESSON 6: Writing and Organizing Support Technology For Persons With Learning Disabilities

This lesson is divided into the following parts:

Part 1: Writing Enhancement Tools

Part 2: Organizing Software tools

Part 3: Hand-held Devices

Part 4: Voice Recognition

Part 5: Lesson take-aways

This material is copyrighted by Norman Coombs in 2017. We encourage your sharing useful individual pieces of information to help people. However,we request that you do not share the entire workshop without specific writtenpermission.

Part 1: Writing Enhancement Tools

spell checkers and grammar checkers

Most of us must admit that even without a learning disability, we can benefit from and frequently use writing enhancement tools to assist us in our writing. First, most of us do and probably all of us should use the spell checker both in our Word processor, in our email software as well as in other writing tools like PowerPoint, spreadsheets and more. Most people with learning disabilities struggle with spelling more than the average person. Part of their struggle may be because both in reading and writing their learning disability may manifest itself, in part, by inverting letters in words. While, technically, this is a mental inversion problem and not a spelling problem, the spell checker is a real benefit to this population. They should be encouraged to use it. However, like the rest of us, the spell checker will not catch spelling errors when they are not a dictionary word. One benefit of this tool is that it comes free as part of the computer software. Word processors also usually have a grammar checker built in. This tool is a bit more controversial. Many of us refuse to use them as we believe that our knowledge results in better grammar than does an automated computer program. Probably for a student and especially for a student with language problems, a grammar checker will be a real helpful support.

Word prediction

Another tool that can help everyone but usually is considered a writing tool for someone with a disability is word prediction software. It can be set to interface with writing software on the user's computer and, while the person is writing, it will pop up a list of possible words that it guesses may be what the user wants to write. Selecting words from such a list may help the user to avoid spelling problems. However, again, it could result in the user selecting a different word than the actual one intended. Download word prediction and experiment with it as one of this lesson's hands-on projects.

Reading and writing tools


Many of the quality reading support tools we looked at in the previous lesson are sophisticated enough to actually function as both reading and writing support tools, and these include:

  1. WYNN
  2. TextAloud
  3. WordSmith

We covered most of these applications already. Go back to them and explore their writing support.


TRead&Write is another rich tool for reading and writing which is probably the richest and most popular of these support tools. The areas of support offered by Read&Write are:

Equal Access to Software, (EASI), hosted 4 webinars going through this application's details. The first webinar covered the overview of the program and demonstrated setting up the toolbar. The second covered the reading tools available to work with Word, PDF and web documents. Webinar 3 dealt with tools that support the writing process. Tools such as spell checking, homophone checking, word prediction, etc. The final webinar presented study and research Tools.In the previous you were pointed to focus on the reading aspects of Read&Write. Now you really should go back to the Read&Write webinar series archive and become familiar with its support for writing and research.

The archive of this 4-part webinar series is available at:

Watch any or all of the 4 webinars on Read&Write

You can't take the time here to really become familiar with all the power of Read&Write, but You will benefit if you take some time to understand how it works. You may really want to introduce some students to this application.

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Part 2: Organizing Software Tools

Calendars and day organizers

While most of us can use some help in getting and staying organized, this is a particular problem for people with either some learning disabilities or cognitive disabilities. The most common software to help with organizing already on the computer is the calendar. There are also more complex programs that are like a day organizer.

These applications helps a person store all kinds of activities according to month, week, day and even hour. If connected with some alarm to notify the user when it is time to move on from the current to the next activity. They also allow the ability to layout these activities in a clear, simple visual display. Instead of wasting time wondering what to do next, these programs lay the activities out and could even be highlighted or put in capital letters or other features to mark the items with higher priority to have them jump out for the user. Organizers such as this are one of the top items that learning specialists will introduce to their clients.

Organizing folders on the hard drive

The computer has another simple ability to help in organizing documents and programs. First, of course, the user can create folders and sub folders by topic. Then, right clicking the mouse on a list of items will almost always provide an option to arrange those items in an alphabetic order. Also, if you have a folder open with a large number of items in it, instead of scrolling to find an item, if you press the first letter in the folder title the cursor jumps to those items.

Concept mapping

Concept maps are visual tools, also known as graphic organizers or webs. These can be used to identify relationships, clarify and explain concepts, and demonstrate how concepts change as new ideas develop. In this way, concept maps support the structure, representation, and expression of knowledge. Concept maps are a means to generate, analyze, organize, synthesize, and evaluate meaning. These visual tools are symbols graphically linked by mental associations to create a pattern of information and a form of knowledge about an idea. These linear or nonlinear forms are constructed by individual or collaborative thinkers on paper, board, or computer screen.

Many postsecondary students with learning disabilities have difficulty organizing information with regard to topics, categories, and sequence. Concept mapping programs help with these difficulties by allowing users to put information down in an unstructured manner. The information can subsequently be placed in appropriate categories and order.

Though it is recognized that the creation of a concept map does not require a computer, current concept mapping software, particularly Inspiration, provides features that support universal design in education.

Inspiration [http://www.inspiration.com], published by Inspiration Software, Inc., integrates Diagramming and Outlining views that allow students to:

• Create and modify concept maps, webs, and idea maps

• Prioritize and rearrange ideas

• Develop essays and reports

Some of the features in Inspiration’s Diagramming view include:

• RapidFire TM tool that allows swift capture of ideas

• Symbols that grow automatically to hold text as it is added

• Ability to explain relationships between ideas by adding text directly to the links

• “Linked Notes” windows for writing about ideas

• Over 1250 symbols, including several hundred photographic quality images and animated symbols

Some of the features in Inspiration’s Outlining view include:

• Ability to organize topics by dragging: Subtopics move along automatically

• “Notes” text to develop topics into a written report

• Outlines for export to popular word processing or presentation programs

• New topics that can be added with command keys or menu commands

• Margins, page breaks, prefixes, headers, and footers that can be easily set

The outline view can be read within a reading support program (e.g., Carousal 3000).

Experience Inspiration

Please download [ Inspiration Download ] free trial of Inspiration. This is a fully functioning version that lasts for 30 days. Create a simple concept map, exploring the features of the program, and tell us about your experience.

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Part 3: Hand-held Devices

There are several popular hand-held devices aimed at the general public which can be useful for many students with disabilities including those with learning disabilities. One advantage of these devices is that they are not disability-specific tools enabling the student with a learning disability not to be obvious and become uncomfortable in public. Because they are so popular, they are part of a mass market, and their prices are reasonable.

Not that long ago, Palm Pilots, PDA's were everywhere, but the smart phone has pushed them almost out of the market. The smart phone has the features common in those devices plus the additional features common to a cell phone and a camera. While they include email capability, large numbers of their owners do most of their communicating using text messaging. Besides the software that comes with their operating system, there are now hundreds and thousands of aps designed to add more and more features to the smart phone. As was mentioned in lesson 4, text messaging has become a boon for people who have hearing impairments. Text messaging means the hearing impaired can interact with large numbers of the hearing population without requiring relay services.

In the winter of 2018, the Ideal Group unveiled a new Android app to further support real time of text communication between someone witha hearing impairment and someone else.

Speech2RTT is an Android application that enables people who are deaf, hard of hearing, and non-verbal to communicate with anyone using their Android smart phone or tablet. It captions, and then streams, the text of what is being said, in real-time, between individuals. If a user cannot speak, or opts not to speak, they can type what they want to say in real-time.

Benefits Include:

There is an EASI webinar you can watch:

Watch the Android App webinar

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Part 4: Voice Recognition

We will only cover a few features of voice recognition in this lesson. The previous lesson also talked about voice recognition and motor impairments. It touched on various ways people with motor impairments can input information into the computer without using the keyboard.

Users with learning disabilities can be helped significantly by voice recognition. It does assist individuals who have specific learning disabilities such as dygraphia, a neurological disorder characterized by the person's writing being distorted or incorrect. In children, the disorder generally emerges when they are first introduced to writing. They make inappropriately sized and spaced letters, or write wrong or misspelled words, despite of their receiving thorough instruction. Voice recognition also helps those with dyslexia; a neurologically-based, often familial, disorder which interferes with the acquisition and processing of language which includes phonological processing, in reading, writing, spelling, handwriting, and sometimes in arithmetic

While voice recognition seems such a wonderful solution, it takes a tremendous amount of dedication and willingness to get through the frustrations of training and glitches for the student to feel success. Setting a positive atmosphere as a strategy is very important. False hopes of easy fixes can sometime make it really frustrating for kids. Therefore the trainer must be careful not to be so positive that the student is overwhelmed when success is not automatic. there must be a realistic expectation about what it takes to train the system and the student should recognize that all other aspects of the writing process (e.g. brainstorming, webbing, drafting, revising, etc.) are critical and that voice recognition is just a production tool)


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Lesson take-aways

This lesson continuing to look at support technologies rather than actual adaptive or assistive technologies. writing enhancement support tools can often be beneficial for everyone. This is true of spell and grammar support tools. Most people don't want the bother. Others have so much writing skills that they prefer using their know-how rather than trusting in technology to do these activities. Some disabilities directly make people with related disabilities need such support that it is considered a compensation for that disability. What kinds of problems might be covered by the catagory of visual and cognitive processing difficulties. How do you understand such disabilities and how compensatory computer aids are a significant help?

Some of these tools also help the user to organize their work. What is concept mapping and how might it be helpful.

Some of the functions built into smart phones and other small hand-held devices be helpful. How might these devices help people with hearing impairments?

This lesson includes voice recognition a support. How could it support writing disabilities? I do not normally use voice recognition as I have been a keyboard user for most of my life. However, using a keyboard on a smart phone is quite different than traditional keyboarding which uses 10 fingers. I find using the keyboard on a smart phone a total frustration while I observe teen agers doing it rapidly with just a thumb. So when I am text messaging on a smart phone, I usually skip the keyboard and use voice recognition.


Glance over the information below and then email me any reflections, questions or comments.


Go back to some of the tools you used in the writing lesson. Without having some experience with a learning disability or working with someone with that problem, it is difficult to picture how these tools will benefit many from that group. Do your best to look at the same tools from a writing aid perspective and from the perspective of anyone with a writing problemfz3-12919586872000.

If you have a smart phone picture how it might be useful for someone with some learning disability.

You can actually help me advance my understanding of concept mapping. The software is highly graphical and hard for me (I have been blind since childhood) to picture how it works and even more to imagine how it is useful. I know it is popular with some people without a disability. See if, once you imagine how it helps someone with learning disabilities that you can explain to me why it would be beneficial???


Send the assignment to Norm Coombs


end of Trainer lesson 6