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The following are past questions and answers from Ask the Tech Expert:

What are some technology resources that can help adult learners with print disabilities?

Those with print disabilities primarily struggle with reading and writing in a world where much of our information is created and available on electronic devices and the Internet. Audiobooks, text-to-speech software, and contextual spellcheckers are indispensable tools to have on hand. Fortunately, these types of tools have improved and multiplied in recent years. Here are a few of the best options:

  • Bookshare: Free to all U.S. students with qualifying disabilities, it includes a repository of over 300,000 audiobooks—including textbooks, teacher-recommended reading, and periodicals—which can be used online, along with free AT  tools. The texts can also be presented visually, with highlighting, larger font, accompanying audio, and physical or digital braille.
  • NaturalReader: This online and/or downloadable software can take any text input—Word files, PDFs, webpages, emails, etc.—and create and audio transcription with multiple voices. The downloadable software can be paired with other applications to read any text encountered. The program can also create audio files of text for portability and later listening, as well as transcribe paper text imported via a scanner.
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking: Dragon is the leading software for speech recognition and dictation. It is available as computer software and as an app. It can be used to write documents, emails, search the web, and even control your computer or smartphone.
Ghotit and Ginger Software: Each of these tools can help those with print disabilities write better, utilizing a context and phonetic spell checker, proofreader, and other tools to ensure that the common errors those with print disabilities might make are caught and resolved.

(Contributor: Caroline Martin, Research Assistant, American Institutes for Research)

How can I evaluate the accessibility of an instructional resource?

One of the simplest ways to evaluate the accessibility of instructional resources begins with a checklist. While the tools used to assess the accessibility features of a resource will vary depending on its format (e.g., hardcopy, digital, audio, etc.), a checklist serves as a guide to help avoid overlooking key elements that should be present. The Achieve OER Rubric VIII: Assurance of Accessibility Standards offers a list of features that meet accessibility standards which can be used to evaluate instructional resources.

Some software programs and websites are capable of scanning a resource to determine what key accessibility features are missing. The Microsoft Office Accessibility Checker alerts users of possible accessibility issues in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. The Web Accessibility Initiative has compiled a list of software programs and online platforms that can be used to check for accessibility depending on the format of the resource. These accessibility checker tools coupled with an accessibility checklist can help you to evaluate the accessibility of an instructional resource.

(Contributor: Caroline Martin, Research Assistant, American Institutes for Research)

What is the difference between AT and Universal Design for Learning?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is the conceptual framework that is used to design technology devices, software, and learning materials to give all students equal opportunities to learn. UDL promotes creating technology tools that are flexible and can be personalized to meet the needs of each student. UDL has made a huge contribution to the development of educational and assistive technology (AT). In the past, AT devices were designed for a specific disability and assigned to a particular student as a dedicated device. Now, more developers of software and educational technology are using the concept of UDL to incorporate the accessibility features to help students with disabilities. For example, developers now add features that allow a student with low vision to access apps. If you would like more information on Universal Design for Learning, check out the National Center for Universal Design for Learning and CAST.

(Contributor: Caroline Martin, Research Assistant, American Institutes for Research)

Does technology have to be "dedicated AT" in order to be considered or funded?

By definition from the Tech Act in 1988, the term assistive technology (AT) can be “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities”. Based on this definition, technology does not have to be “dedicated AT” to receive considered as a valuable device or funded. Often mainstream, consumer educational technology is better or better suited for the individual students needs. For example, iPads are in now a common piece of technology in the classroom and are becoming an increasingly powerful tool for students with disabilities. iPads allow for teachers to differentiate and personalize instruction through selecting apps that meet the individual student’s needs.

(Contributor: Caroline Martin, Research Assistant, American Institutes for Research)

How do I pay for assistive technology?

First and foremost, it is important to identify the assistive technology (AT) needs of your student. These needs should be identified during the IEP process. Following this process,  you can now focus on how to pay for the technology needed to support your student.  The good news is that we now live in a world of increasing access to free or low cost technologies. In addition, AT has become much more affordable and easy to access. There are a number of funding resources available to purchase AT. The primary resource that funds AT is your local school system. The school system will pay for any technology or other special education learning materials that are specified in the student’s IEP. Government programs, such as Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, and private health insurance companies will also pay for AT, if the technology is prescribed by a doctor. Private health insurance companies will also pay for AT when prescribed by a doctor as a necessary medical device.

In addition, there are a number of public and private funding sources that can help pay for AT devices. One great resource is the State Assistive technology Finalize Loan Programs by the RESNA Catalyst Project. This project provides aid and resources for statewide AT programs that provide low or no cost interest loans.  The Pass It On Center is a national network of centers that provide access to the reuse, recycle, and exchange of AT devices.  For more ideas on funding sources, consult the Assistive Technology Industry Association Funding Resources Guide.

Where can we find information about apps for the iPad in special education?

My school is getting iPads to work with our students in special education next year. We've had one to "play with" and have used many of the educational applications that our computer center downloaded for us. Are there other specific apps out there that you would definitely recommend for using with students in special education? Are there any apps you would recommend for use with upper elementary students? We've found that many are aimed at students in the primary grades but would love to have more choices for our older students.

As more and more schools look towards integrating the iPad and iTouch into their classrooms, the range of educational applications available is growing. For specific apps that may be helpful for students with disabilities, you may want to check out iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch Apps for Special Education, an extensive list compiled by assistive technology specialists and helpfully broken down by category (communication, math, writing, music, art, etc.). For another view of how the iPad might be beneficial for students with disabilities, The iPad: a Near-Miracle for My Son with Autism chronicles one mother's use of assistive technology and educational apps with her autistic son; she has some great suggestions and videos of her son using different apps.

For older children, apps like The Elements are exciting examples of what is possible with the iPad, as students can explore the Periodic Table in an interactive, media-rich and engaging way. Penultimate is a popular note-taking app that students may enjoy; students may also do well with fun games that teach math skills, such as Alien Equation. Apps for astronomy, Star Walk and Solar Walk would also be good choices for older students.  BrainPop has just released a free app that delivers a new featured movie every day, teaching students about a wide variety of topics.

There are so many educational apps available, with new ones coming out every day, that it can be hard to keep track of them all. You may want to check out reviews of educational apps from other teachers to help you find those that are worth checking out for your students. I Education Apps Review has a collection of reviews from teachers that can help get you started.

What cell phone applications can benefit students with ADHD?

I work as an OT with high schools students and wanted to know… what cell phone applications can benefit students with ADHD? We have used the basic features (calendar, alarms, etc) but have not explored additional applications and are wondering what other ideas or suggestions you might have.

There are many ways that students can make use of the features available on their cell phones to benefit learning, time management, and study skills. For example, if your students' phones are equipped with cameras (as most phones now are), they can use it to snap photos of the whiteboard/blackboard after class to make sure they don't miss notes or an assignment. Photos may also serve as a helpful visual reminder of what needs to be done (i.e. create a photo series of packing up homework, lunch, and other typically forgotten items).

Students can use text messaging, such as Google SMS, to get definitions, facts, weather, and conversions sent directly to their phones. As with Google searches, if a student spells a word incorrectly, Google SMS will generally prompt with "Did you mean…?" and provide both the correct spelling and the related information.

Online to-do lists such as Remember the Milk can send text alerts (or IM or email) reminding students of an upcoming appointment, assignment, or project. Unless the students have unlimited text messaging plans, it is important to discuss texting charges and how using these services can affect their cell phone bills.

Finally, many companies are capitalizing on powerful new cell phones and creating programs for sending flashcards and study materials directly to your phone or iPod. Students can browse flashcards created by others or create their own and study wherever they are.

Where can I find more books to use with a reading pen?

I recently bought a book that uses an audio pen to read the pages. You point the pen at the text in the book and can hear it read aloud. I'm wondering what kind of technology is involved here and if more of these books are available? Is there special software needed to convert text into encoded dots so the audio pen reads them?

Your question depends a bit on what type of reading pen system you are using, as different companies use different technology. Products such as LeapFrog Tag and VTech's Bugsby Reading System use specially-designed books with their reading pens. In order to access more titles, you will need to purchase their books, most of which are targeted towards younger or early readers. The benefit of books like these is that the text is typically read by a human voice, rather than a computerized voice. Children can also click on different icons within the text to get more information or sound effects while reading. The disadvantage to such products is that they can only be used with a limited number of titles and so may not be a good solution for a student with disabilities who needs to access a wider array of books. You may also look at the different types of reading pen/scanners available — many of these tools you use like a highlighter, running over printed text and getting instant speech feedback. While most of these pens are not appropriate for reading an entire book, they can serve as a valuable support for difficult words, definitions, and pronunciation.

What options are there for a teenager who needs a communication device?

I have a 15-year-old daughter that has multiple disabilities. She is nonverbal with some vocal sounds, is visually impaired, and has mental and physical deficits. She has full use of her right hand and a left side stroke. I'm wondering … is there any technology that she can possibly use for communication other than Cheap Talk 8? This is heavy and bulky for a child with limited hand-use, and it is too large for her desk at school. In addition, I am trying to compile a communication book, similar to PECS (picture exchange communication system), but am hoping there is some kind of technology that is available and easier to access for her. Are there additional communication devices that you would recommend?

Communication devices can often be large, bulky, and single out AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) users as "different" from their peers. This can be particularly frustrating for teenagers, who may want something more portable as they go about their day and something that doesn't set them apart from their non-disabled classmates. With advances in mainstream technologies, computing, and cell phones, there are now many options for the AAC user — from handheld devices to applications that run on a cell phone — that your daughter can choose that will fit her needs.

Many apps are available for the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Nintendo DS, and Droid phones; Prolquo2Go is one popular option, but there are many more programs out there. You can also try a web-based AAC service that can be used on a variety of devices. Many children with speech difficulties have had success with these devices, so you may consider trying one out with your daughter. If she struggles with making precise movements, she may find that a larger screen (as on the iPad or similar tablet computer) is easier for her to use. Try out a few different options if you can to find the right fit. If you're interested in sticking with a traditional AAC device, many companies now make much smaller and more portable AAC devices; so there are a number of options there as well. Before you make any decisions, it may be helpful to review some of the features of AAC devices and think about what your daughter's needs are with regard to communication. With the many new choices for communication devices, you should be able to find something smaller, lighter, and more usable for your daughter.

What technologies can help a high school student with dysgraphia in science and math classes?

What accommodations/modifications do you recommend for high school students in math and science when the main issue is dysgraphia? I have found that many of the "usual" accommodations (Alphasmarts, computers, voice activated programs, etc.) do not work as well due to the format of the math and science classes (i.e., drawing graphs, diagrams, writing in journals, etc.). What do you recommend?

The writing involved in science and math classes can be challenging for a student with dysgraphia. Formulas and equations must be written down precisely to avoid errors, and drawing accurate diagrams can be a painstaking process. Additionally, if students are required to write observations in science journals during labs, a laptop with voice recognition software may not always be practical. If the difficulty with writing in journals is due to the student not being able to safely use their Alphasmart/laptop (e.g., when doing labs where spills or safety could be an issue) to take notes, you may consider allowing the student to take voice notes using a digital voice recorder. Current models are inexpensive and small enough to fit in a pocket. The students can easily voice their observations and use the audio file to generate typed notes later. If students are able to draw diagrams and graphs but struggle with writing lengthier notes, they may do well with a Smartpen, allowing them to combine audio notes with their drawings and graphics.

Finally, for more complex tasks in both math and science, you may want to investigate software that allows the user to generate mathematical and chemical equations, graphs, and diagrams. One possibility is the math and science software from Efofex, with math and science programs for drawing diagrams, graphs, and generating equations. Efofex also has a program for students with disabilities, providing students with a free 10-year personal subscription to the software, allowing them to use it both at home and school. Another possibility for math classes is MathType, which allows students to enter math by hand (using handwriting recognition; Windows only) and create equations using templates, keyboard shortcuts, or copying and pasting from other applications (such as Wikipedia). Microsoft Word and Excel also feature a built-in program, Equation Editor, which would allow your student to create and enter mathematical equations into a document. This may be helpful for writing and creating math journals. Although the program is not as full-featured as some other software programs currently available, it may be an ideal solution depending on the math content.

What technology tools can my daughter use over the summer to practice her math skills?

My 14 year old daughter struggles with math. We have tried several things, but she does not seem to retain the information. She enjoys games on the computer and likes technology. We would love to help her over the summer but aren't sure where to start! We are wondering… are there any technology programs, or tools, that you think would help her math skills?

Since your daughter will be using these programs over the summer, and she enjoys games, it's a great idea to combine fun activities with learning and skill building! There are many online math programs, games, tutorials, and lesson available, so it can be a challenge to find these most appropriate ones for your child. If you know what specific areas your daughter is struggling with, that can help to narrow your search (i.e., search for games that teach fractions). In addition, you can talk with her teachers to see if they can recommend some high quality, standards-based math programs. Two good choices for math games that are also fun are BrainPop (subscription-based; free trial) and Fun School (free). The games on Fun School may be a bit below your daughter's skill level; if she is need of some remediation, they may be just right. BrainPop features a wide range of animated videos, quizzes, games, and activities addressing a variety of topics in an easy-to-understand and engaging way.

If your daughter is interested in trying to catch up on her math during the summer, she may also enjoy watching the free videos from Khan Academy. With over 1400 videos covering topics from basic addition to the Pythagorean Theorem, your daughter can watch and re-watch these easy to follow visual lessons on a variety of topics where she needs help. Finally, check out our custom searches on the TechMatrix to find suggestions for math software for teaching geometry, money skills, algebra, early math concepts, and more.

How can I get accessible instructional materials for my son if the school will not provide them?

My son is dyslexic — his fluency is in the 10th percentile, and he reads at half the rate of his peers. His verbal IQ is in the 99th percentile, and when he has accessible materials his ability to comprehend is high. He uses Kurzweil 3000 to read academic materials and finds he benefits from the synchronized, highlighted text with the speech.

Unfortunately, his school has stated that when he enters high school next year, he will receive materials "just like everyone else" and will be responsible for converting all of his materials to digital format himself if he wants them in electronic format. Though my son has individual memberships to Bookshare and Learning Ally, the school does not have an institutional membership, so he can't obtain his textbooks.

Do you have any suggestions on how to facilitate his access to print material? Should we purchase a high quality scanner, and if so, do you have recommendations on type? (Seems it would be cheaper than litigating this issue, which we can't afford.)

This is certainly a frustrating and confusing situation to be in for a parent. I hope some of these resources will be helpful for you. First, you may find it helpful to review some of the available information on Center for Accessible Instructional Materials site on the key provisions of IDEA with regard to accessible materials and the requirements of the IEP. IDEA provides a legal mandate for accessible materials for qualifying students, through high school. We suggest that you become familiar with this information so that you can ensure that your child receives the materials necessary for success in school. For additional information, go to Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004, a website developed by the U.S. Department of Education, for additional information and services for infants and toddlers with disabilities, and children and youth (ages 3-21).

If your son's IEP does not currently list accessible instructional materials as a recommended support, you may want to consider addressing that issue with his IEP team. Find valuable guidance at Bookshare and Accessible Instructional Materials and the IEP. As your son moves into high school, you should discuss his needs with the new IEP team to ensure that supplementary aids and services, such as accessible texts, are included, if your son is eligible, for this type of support.

Finally, I'd like to reassure you that there are many options for resolving disputes and disagreements with your son's school district, many of them spelled out in special education law. LD Online, Wrightslaw, and NICHCY have some excellent resources available on this topic. You may also want to check out the expert advice from Matt Cohen, Esq. on this site for more information about special education law.

How can I track down appropriate software for my daughter with multiple disabilities?

My 14 year old daughter is really struggling in school. She has learning disabilities and difficulties with auditory processing. She's currently very far behind in all her classes and is really struggling to keep up with her work. I'm worried that the workload will be too much as she enters high school and she'll get discouraged and consider dropping out. The school has offered her audio books because her reading is so far below grade level, but she struggles to follow along with them because of her processing difficulties. How can we use technology at home to help with her reading and homework? How can I find the right program for her when she has multiple areas of need?

Finding the right software program, can be challenging, especially for students who have multiple disabilities or are struggling in different areas. The process of finding something that meets your daughter’s needs involves a process of trial and error, but a few resources can help get you started.

The Tech Matrix is a great resource to help you find assistive and educational technology tools. You can search for software and technology tools by IDEA disability category, content area, and grade level. You can also compare up to four different products to find the product that best meets your daughter’s needs.

LD Online is another great source of information to consider.  Check out some of the many articles on teaching strategies for students to get a better idea of the different types of supports that would be of benefit to your daughter.  LD Online has numerous articles on how to select the right software in reading and in math. For example, there are several resources that might help you figure out what technologies might work best for a student with an auditory processing disorder and other learning disabilities.

Your daughter may enjoy hearing text read aloud (example), using a text-to-speech program (example) or following along with text on the computer. Many reading programs can highlight each word or each sentence as it is spoken, giving your daughter two ways to get the information. The highlighting can also help her focus on the information being read to her. Try looking for reading and writing programs that have text-to-speech, dynamic highlighting and allow your daughter to control the speed of the reading. She might also benefit from software programs that focus on early reading skills. Our article on Learning to Read with Multimedia Materials has some good suggestions.

For additional ideas on different technology tools, be sure to check out PowerUp WHAT WORKS (www.PowerUpWhatWorks.org). This site provides a wealth of free, online resources on strategies and technology ideas to help struggling students in English Language Arts and Math.

Is peer support an acceptable substitute for assistive technology in the classroom?

My son has autism and needs assistive technology tools. The school does not have anyone on staff that can help with AT decision-making or training and instead has students help each other. Is this acceptable? How can I talk to my son's school about getting more support for assistive technology?

The 2004 update of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) requires that Individualized Education Plan (IEP) teams consider the appropriate assistive technology when determining what accommodations, services, and aids your child may need to be successful in school. Check out Considering Your Child's Need for Assistive Technology and Knowing Your Child's Rights for more information on this subject.  You may also want to review the relevant sections of IDEA related to assistive technology and the parent resources on IDEA 2004 from Great Schools. Both resources can provide valuable information to bring to meetings with school staff.

In your email, you don't say whether the school has considered the benefits of assistive technology to support your child.  If the school has not made this decision, you have the right to request an assistive technology evaluation. This evaluation should be provided at no-cost. According to IDEA, the school should offer both devices and services, including training and support for the teacher and school staff who work with your child.

While peer support from the other kids in your child's class may be beneficial, their help does not replace needed assistive technology devices and training. It is important to discuss these concerns with your son's IEP team, as you have the right to disagree with their decisions regarding the use of assistive technology for your son. If you think that your son is not getting access to the appropriate tools and services, or you think that additional supports might be warranted, you should arrange a meeting with his IEP team to address your concerns.

For more information about special education law, check out the expert advice from Matt Cohen, Esq. on this site.

Where can I find information about software to help my child with Down Syndrome?

We are looking for guidance on how to help our child with Down Syndrome at home. She has moderate to severe cognitive impairments, and we'd like to use software with her to help build skills but don't know where to look.

Children with Down Syndrome, as with other children, both with and without disabilities, are unique, and will learn and develop at their own rate. There is unlikely to be a "one-size-fits-all" software solution for your child. For example, some students with Down Syndrome may struggle with distractibility and need a quiet place to work, away from possible disruptions. For other students, this may not be an issue.

There are likely several technology tools supports that will be helpful for your child as they learn new skills and move forward in her education. Modeling, concrete visual and symbolic representations of information, and multiple opportunities for practice and reinforcement may all be beneficial for learners with Down Syndrome. Potentially challenging areas in education for children with Down Syndrome include math, reading and writing, speech and language, memory, social development, or motor skills.

Your child may have difficulties with all of these areas or may only experience significant difficulties in a few areas. Determining what his or her needs are is the first step to finding the appropriate technology supports for your child.

Many children with cognitive impairments learn best when they can see the material in the form of videos, modeling, or another type of visual presentation.  You should look for educational technology tools that break down the skill or skill being learned into small, concrete chunks and that allow the student to go at their own pace. Investigating Free Software for Children with Down Syndrome can give you a brief overview of the types of software tools available and what areas of need they may address. Also explore some of tools for students using the Tech Matrix, or Understood.org's Tech Finder.

Other good resources for information on supportive software tools are local and national organizations for individuals with Down Syndrome. These organizations included:

There is also a growing online community, including blogs and social media (such as @GDSFoundation on Twitter and on Pinterest) where parents can learn, find resources, and share information with other parents.

What technology options are available for home schooled children?

My question is one of access to technology for home schooled children with LD. Based upon the home school groups that we belong to, there are a great many families who choose home school over public school for their LD children. We would like to have access to technology but unless a child is enrolled in the public school system, technology is often too expensive for many home schooling families. Any leads, connections, or suggestions for us?

Homeschooling parents have to be creative and persistent in their search for funding for AT. Get some ideas in Finding Alternative Sources for Funding for Assistive Technology. You can also try out equipment, software, adaptive devices and telecommunications systems at local AT Centers before you purchase. Find those AT lending libraries through the national registries of the AT Alliance or through the National AT Technical Assistance Partnership.

What reading technology tools and supports are effective for students who struggle with reading?

I have a 6 year old son who is diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Although he is high functioning and has already met his reading goals at the kindergarten level, he does have difficulty with reading comprehension. I have the opportunity to provide ideas for reading software that will be used in the new learning center being developed by his school. I would like to bring ideas to the table for software that has been shown to be successful with struggling readers. Do you have any suggestions?

TheTechMatrixcan help you become an informed consumer of technology tools and resources. This matrix is intended to serve as a resource that matches technology tools with supporting literature on promising practices for the instruction of reading for students with disabilities. With the matrix, you can examine the features of reading software for students who struggle with various aspects of reading, as well as the research on which such products are developed and used. PowerUp WHAT WORKS is also an excellent free, online resource for teachers who are looking for strategies to incorporate technology tools and software to help struggling readers. PowerUp's Teaching Strategies cover a range of topics related to reading, including fluency, context clues, word analysis, and more.

There are a growing number of reading software programs that can help students who struggle with reading. Before you select a tool, read some of the following articles on how to select the tool that best fits the student's particular needs. Education Week's article on Finding the Right Reading Program explains the importance of selecting an evidence-based reading program, intervention strategies, and suggestions of technology tools. Learning to Read with Multimedia Materials is another great article if you are lookingfor some suggestions about selecting tools and identifying resources.

Are there any downloadable games or software available that are not timed?

I am a parent of a nine-year-old boy with Asperger's syndrome. He likes to do computer games to learn math, but he cannot handle the time constraints of most games. Are there any downloadable games or software that are fun, but not timed?

I know of a couple of resources that may be of help to you. MathTools is a community digital library that supports the use and development of software for mathematics education. Through this site you can search by grade level and math topics to find a wealth of games and activities. As you will see, some of them are timed, although many are not. Improving Basic Mathematics Instruction, a monograph published by the Technology and Media Division of CEC, offers resources and tips for selecting the appropriate technology for students with disabilities and includes a matrix of online games reviewed for several features, including whether it is timed. As noted above, the TechMatrix offers valuable information on the features of more than twenty math software products that will help you find math games and activities to motivate your son to increase his math skills.

Can you recommend an effective typing program for our son, who is dyslexic and dysgraphic?

We recently purchased an AlphaSmart Neo for our son, who is dyslexic and dysgraphic. We have also tried the Mavis Beacon program, but he thinks it is boring. Do you know of another good typing program?

As you noted, there are a variety of typing programs on the market. The best answer to your question is that there may not be one single program that best meets your son's needs. Keyboard development requires practice and unfortunately, repetitive exercises can be boring. Access to a variety of programs offers choice, lessens boredom, and increases motivation for practicing keyboarding skills. Find them through a Google search for 'free keyboard tutorials for children". A program that might work is Read, Write and Type by the Learning Company, which has been rated as an effective early reading intervention by the What Works Clearinghouse. Many dysgraphic students have difficulty with correct fingering in keyboarding skills. It would be best if your son used correct fingering, but he should not be forced. The ultimate goal is for him to type fluently, with speed and accuracy. Some students who type in their own style have been known to reach 60 words per minute. Others gradually begin to type with correct, or partially correct, fingering. The key to improvement is practice and consistency. I suggest that you encourage him to practice every day, but limit the practice time to 10 minutes. Let him choose which program he wants to use, what he wants to type and what fingering method works best for him.

Are there any scanning devices available that can help my dyslexic child improve his reading and math skills?

I am looking for a scanning device to help my child, who has dyslexia, with reading and math. I have looked into talking pens. Is there anything else?

There are many devices that can scan and read. As with all assistive technology, the key is to find the right match for the individual user. You know your child better than anyone. You need to find out all you can about the various devices. The TechMatrix is a gateway to reading and math software products that provides a brief description, including a side-by-side comparison, and links to more product details that will help you identify the most appropriate software for your child. There are several reading pens on the market in addition to the ones listed on the matrices, such as the Reading Pen II, the LeapFrog Fly Pen and the Wizard. You might want to contact the distributors to ask for an evaluation copy or whether the company is displaying the devices somewhere close by where you and your child can go and try it out. You might want to pose a question on a listserv provided by Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT), where parents and practitioners post their questions and comments about AT. There are currently several postings on the listserv related to reading pens. I recommend that you review the TechMatrix to compare the various products, search the Internet for product information for the different talking/reading pens, and also search the QIAT listserv by keyword to learn from the experiences of other parents and teachers.

How can a student who has a learning disability and no computer skills survive college?

As an occupational therapist, I recently evaluated a young woman who has a significant learning disability. She is interested in attending college, however, we know that computers are required in college for even non-academic functions, such as registration and communications, and she has difficulty using them. She is seeking an accommodations, but isn't sure what she needs or what to do. Do you have any suggestions on how a student can survive college without computer skills, or in regard to legal support for appropriate accommodations?

Thanks for going the extra mile to help this young woman. There are actually several underlying issues related to your question: Can this student use any kind of computer technology?; Are there any assistive technologies (AT) that may be effective for her?; What accommodations can the post-secondary institution provide and what are her legal rights in regard to accommodations? An initial step to consider would be an assistive technology assessment, possibly arranged through the local Vocational Rehabilitation Center as an element of her Transition Plan. The next step would be a visit to a local college and discuss options with the Disability Resource Center. Here is some information on these steps:

  1. AT assessments: It may be that computers will work for her with appropriate accommodations, or perhaps some other type of assistive technology will be more appropriate. This student needs to know what she needs before she can request appropriate accommodations. If there are personnel in the school who can do this, seek them out. Otherwise, start with Step 2.
  2. If she is not currently a client of Vocational Rehabilitation Services in her state, she may be eligible to apply for services. Work with the Transition Coordinator at the high school who should have a connection with the VR system. They may be able to help provide an (AT) assessment for her and perhaps even assist with funding.
  3. Plan a visit to a Disability Resource Center at a local college. They can counsel her about expectations and assumptions, inform her of the types of accommodations they are able to provide students, and may have information about other colleges' programs.

The guide, Transition of Students with Disabilities to Postsecondary Education: A Guide for High School Educators will provide you information about students' civil rights in regard to post-secondary education. You may also want to check out the questions answered on this site by Matt Cohen regarding special education law. His answers on the legal rights of adults with LD may be particularly helpful.

Can you recommend any computer games that can help my daughter understand math concepts?

I was wondering if there were any good computer games to help my nine-year-old daughter in math. She has been diagnosed with dyslexia and although she is almost at grade level in reading, she is unable to remember and understand math concepts. If you know of any games we could get for the summer, please let me know.

There are a lot of free, online math games and apps available today. The challenge is to select the ones that best meet the needs of your daughter. . A great place to start is to read Learning Mathematics with Virtual Manipulatives, which provides background information and the research on virtual math manipulatives. One of the best online resources is the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives for Interactive Mathematics, a free online library of web-based interactive virtual manipulatives is a great resource. You can also search for age appropriate math software products and resources on the TechMatrix, a free, online database which can help you match up your daughter with appropriate technology educational and assistive tools.

There are also a plethora of apps for iPhones, iPads, or Android that can help your daughter master math concepts. You can choose a traditional skill-and-drill app such as Math Flash Cards* (Free) or Quick Math-Arithmetic & Times Tables ($1.99). Apps that present math concepts through a game are a powerful way to engage a student. Math Vs. Zombies is a popular app that requires students to answer questions correctly to keep the zombies at bay. Another favorite is Operation Math ($3.99), which turns a student into a secret spy to carry out different operations using math. All are great way to use technology to enhance learning for your daughter and have some fun learning math!

What treatment is needed for a child with dysgraphia?

I have an 11 year-old daughter who will be entering seventh grade next year. She was diagnosed with learning disabilities in first grade and is severely dysgraphic. While she has learned to write fairly well, it is still a struggle for her and her writing is hard to read. I've asked her special education teacher to work with her on handwriting because I want her to be able to write clearly. Her teacher thinks that we should just let her use the computer because handwriting is too difficult and frustrating. But I think it is important for my daughter to be able to write with pen and paper too. If she always uses a computer, won't that make things more difficult for her later when she has to write things out? You can't always use a computer for writing, and I'm worried about what she'll do when she's not in school anymore and her job might not make accommodations for her.

This is a sticky question and one that causes a fair bit of disagreement in special education. Many teachers wonder the same thing — they want students to develop legible handwriting to ease their way in the world outside of school, but they also want students to be able to write and express themselves without being hindered by their physical difficulties with writing. And many parents and teachers worry that a student's hard-to-read handwriting will affect their ability to perform basic functions like writing down information on job applications, or filling out forms at the doctor's office. After all, while many things can be done with a computer, much of the world is still dominated by pen and paper tasks.

There isn't an easy answer to any of these questions. As with any technology tool used to assist students with disabilities, there is a concern that an 'assistive" tool may be used as a crutch. If a student always uses a calculator for math tasks, will they ever understand the underlying math? In the case of a dysgraphic student, it might be helpful to look at the tasks your daughter is being asked to do and what the goal is. If the goal is simply for your daughter to be able to write basic information as clearly as she can (her name and address for example), then handwriting instruction may be beneficial. However, if the goal is for your daughter to be able to use writing to express her ideas, demonstrate knowledge, or tell a story, then her difficulties with handwriting are making the writing process unnecessarily difficult. Perhaps a balanced approach will work best for your daughter. Try to find simple ways to eliminate the need for some handwriting tasks. Portable keyboards/laptops like the AlphaSmart can also be a good solution.

Such products are small and light and easy to take from class to class. Other options might include speech-to-text software to allow your daughter to more easily commit her thoughts and ideas to 'paper". Check out the Tech Matrix to search for different speech-to-text programs and possibly word prediction programs, depending on your daughter's needs.

You may want to check out this article on writing with technology by Richard Wanderman about his experiences with dyslexia and dysgraphia and how computers have affected his writing.

How should I handle my trouble with math?

I am a LD student about to enter ninth grade. I am dysgraphic and have fine motor skills difficulties. My school is wonderful about accommodations and such but I have encountered some difficulties with math.

Math was always my strong subject in elementary school. I was found to be gifted with an IQ of 138 and attended honors classes for math, science, and social studies in middle school. I did well in sixth grade but had difficulties in seventh. In eighth grade, I had tremendous difficulties and am going to repeat Algebra I, which I took a year early. I wonder if my poor understanding has more to do with my inability to listen and take good notes during class or just because I'm not a good student or just bad at Algebra. If it is the first reason do you feel it is fair for me to repeat the class and if not what would think would be the best route for me to take?

One reason that math might have become more of a problem for you as you moved into higher levels of mathematics is that the concepts you were learning about became more abstract. Early math is fairly concrete and easy to visualize — adding 12 and 26 is something you can picture in your head, or represent using blocks or counters. When you start to move into subjects like Algebra and Calculus, many of the concepts are more abstract and can be harder to understand, especially for students with learning disabilities. There is also a great deal of writing involved in these higher level classes, with lengthy formulas and multiple steps that need to be copied exactly. When you combine these challenges with dysgraphia and the difficulty that many people have with more abstract thinking, it isn't surprising that you'd find Algebra tricky!

There are a couple of things you can try, both high and low-tech. For a low-tech solution, you might try asking your teacher to provide you with copies of the formulas you need, or worksheets with the formulas pre-printed, so you don't have to worry about copying information down incorrectly. You could also ask if your teacher would review your notes after class to make sure that you haven't missed any important information. If notetaking is the primary reason that you're having difficulty understanding the material, working with your teacher can be an easy solution.

If you're also having difficulty understanding the concepts, using a software program that helps you visualize the mathematics might be beneficial for you. Riverdeep has a series of math programs available that might be helpful. Some of their programs are only available to schools, but the Mighty Math series (Astro Algebra and Cosmic Geometry) might be good to look at. You might also want to check out virtual manipulatives. Like the counting blocks you may have used in elementary school, virtual manipulatives can help you visualize a math problem or process and make an abstract concept more concrete. A number of websites have virtual manipulatives for different areas and levels of math:

What social networking sites are safe and appropriate for a student with learning disabilities?

I'm looking for ideas to provide appropriate and safe social networking for a student I work with. She's in middle school and very social, but at an early to mid-elementary level academically. Because she has moved around and been in different programs, she doesn't have many friends here yet and is very lonely. I'd like to find a way for her to connect with kids her age, but I'm worried about her safety online, especially on sites like MySpace and Facebook. Any ideas?

Social networking and online communication can be a great way for kids and adults to connect with each other and make new friends, so it's a natural choice for a student who is struggling to make friends.

However, you're right in being concerned about online safety and finding an appropriate place for a middle school student to socialize. Many of the more popular social networking sites (MySpace and Facebook) and virtual worlds (Second Life) may have questionable content. You may consider checking out kid-friendly versions of adult websites, such as Teen Second Life, or you may want to stick with websites that are especially for kids.

Fortunately, there are a number of new social networking sites designed specifically for teens and pre-teens. Imbee is one such site, designed for teachers, parents, and young children. As a teacher, you could also join Imbee and keep an eye on your student's interactions to make sure they're appropriate. Whyville is another popular website for kids. In this virtual world, kids can create their own character and chat, play games, and engage with kids from around the world. Students earn Whyville money by playing games, can explore the town, go to the beach, start their own business and engage in a variety of other activities with other kids. There are also sites affiliated with children's products and entertainment, such as Disney's Club Penguin that have online games, chat, and social networking features. Club Penguin is free to join, but advanced features require paid membership, so this may be a consideration.

Before introducing any student to an online community, be sure to talk to them about online safety and appropriate behavior online. There are a variety of excellent resources online about online safety and kids with LD:

Where can I calculate readability levels online?

I work for an organization that serves individuals with disabilities. We often create materials for a variety of audiences and we want to make sure that the content is accessible. Are there any online tools or resources that can help us evaluate the level of reading materials? Where could we find suggestions for how to simplify the reading level of text?

There are many websites and software programs that can calculate readability for you. For shorter pieces of text, you can use one of the many online readability programs available listed below. Most of them allow you to paste text into a window, or link directly to an URL (for determining readability of websites).

Before getting started, it would be a good idea to read about the different readability metrics and how reading level is determined. Once you have an idea of what might work best, you can check out some of these online tools for calculating readability.

For example:

  • Readability Test Tool: test the readability of a webpage or specific text
  • Readability-Score.com: read text and URLs for free, and files and bulk content for a fee
  • Readability Formulas: takes a sample of your writing and calculates the number of sentences, words, syllables, and characters in your sample
  • JuicyStudio: Test website readability; also provides information about different scales, what scores mean, etc.
  • SMOG Readability Calculator: Can calculate up to 2000 words; includes detailed explanation of the SMOG formula

Where can I find multilingual text-to-speech solutions?

I am the disability services coordinator for a small university. I am currently looking for a program that could read text aloud (both text books and tests) to students with learning disabilities. However, I would need programs that could read text aloud in other languages. Do you know where I could find programs like this? I'm particularly interested in finding something with a variety of language options (Chinese, Korean, etc.). Many programs seem to have French and Spanish, but not too many other options.

Most major software now automatically incorporates assistive features, such as text-to-speech, directly into the software. This includes the Microsoft Speech Platform for Microsoft Office programs (PowerPoint, Word, Outlook, and One Note) and VoiceOver for Apple IOS systems. There are also a number of free websites that offer text-to-speech tools, such as Read Speaker. Kurzeweil 3000 is another program option if you need a more feature-rich program that combines a speech synthesizer with the ability to create documents and tables, talking reminders, and website reader. Kurzweil 3000 is also available in a variety of languages. These programs usually have a limited variety of languages. Depending on your student population, it may make sense to purchase a text-to-speech program that is compatible with add-ons, and purchase additional voices in other languages, as needed from a third party.

There are also a growing number of text-to-speech apps for iPhones/iPads and Android with multilingual options. Text-to-speech technology on a mobile phone is an incredibly useful and helpful tool for students, especially with the growing number of schools incorporating iPads and tablets into the classroom. Speak it! Text to Speech is by far one of the most advanced text-to-speech options for a mobile device and offers language options in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Other multilingual text-to-speech apps include Scan and Read Pro, Voice Dream Reader, and ClaroSpeak US.

Where can young adults with learning disabilities find social networks and dating sites?

I'd like to learn about social networks and online dating for LD adults. I have a 22 year-old nephew in Los Angeles who would love to date. Any advice?

Given the explosion in online dating in recent years, I did a quick search for sites that tailor to individuals with disabilities. There are a number of relevant websites to consider, but many of these seem to be geared towards individuals with physical disabilities. However, your nephew might want to check out a few to look at some profiles. The Whispy directory has a good list, with everything from dating sites for the deaf and those for individuals with neurological disabilities.

Depending on how your nephew's learning disabilities and social skills affect his relationships, he may want to consider joining a group locally for adults with LD. There he might find support and friendship from other adults in similar situations and perhaps get some dating/relationship advice. Meetup is a good choice for finding groups locally. When searching for Los Angeles, I found a number of groups for adults with ADHD, adults with high functioning autism/Asperger's, and others. Meetup is also a great way to find local groups that share your nephew's interests. Meetup groups exist for just about any topic or interest you can think of — from monthly wine and cheese parties to knitting clubs to hiking groups or Scrabble players. Your nephew is sure to find at least one group in his area, and it can be a great way to meet people and make new friends.

Finally, it might be helpful for your nephew to read a bit about how his learning disability and potential social skill deficits can affect his relationships and life beyond school. It can be difficult to make the transition from school to the "real world" and navigate new relationships on your own, but there a number of excellent resources and groups that can help.

What online resources are available for a student in a rural area without access to special education services?

My six-year-old son is obsessed with super heroes. He often talks about his favorites (Batman, Superman, Spiderman, etc.) and is very fond of watching their movies and cartoons. He has an amazing memory about things he is interested in and can remember everything about superhero movies and cartoons he likes but still does not recognize his numbers and letters. I'm very worried about his studies and his reading. How can I help him improve his reading skills? We don't have access to special education near our home as we live in a remote town in Pakistan.

Finding help for your child can be difficult if you live in remote or rural areas without access to specialists. However, there is a wealth of resources available online through free websites. With the growing number of educational websites, students who live in such areas can now access a wide variety of tools, specialized information, and helpful hints for working with their struggling child. One great example of a website to explore is ReadWriteThink, a website that provides "resources in reading and language arts instruction through free, Internet-based content." Here you can find information on the best ways to teach reading and writing, as well as helpful tools and resources.

One of these online tools, a comic strip creator, may appeal to your child as a fan of comic books and superheroes. If you child enjoys these creative activities, you may also want to introduce them to Kerpoof, which allows children to create their own stories, animations, videos, and comics. Using these tools, your child can create stories of their own, perhaps with some help from you for some of the writing. It is possible that the high interest of creating his own comic strip may encourage him to try writing more. Such activities take advantage of your child's interests and help him engage in telling and writing stories; studies have shown that storytelling is the first step in learning to read and write, so encouraging your child to use technology tools and artwork to tell stories may help their build up his reading and writing skills.

Below is a list of other great websites for students with disabilities:

You may also want to explore the many free, online course providers now available to students of all ages and needs. For example, Khan Academy offers all online courses and instruction in traditional subject areas such as math, science, and English Language Arts, as well as other subject such as computer programming and art history. It is especially good for students with disabilities since the lessons are self-paced, allowing the student to take as much as time as they need to grasp the concept. If you child is more engaged with iPhone and handheld games, check out the many educational apps now available in the iTunes and Android store. To get started, explore the suggested resources on Children with Special Needs and their related resources.

How can I use software tools to teach my young adult son appropriate conversation skills?

My son with Asperger's tends to speak inappropriately loudly in conversation, as well as having difficulty with an appropriate level of personal space. These difficulties have both affected his abilities to socialize with his peers, and interact with people in public spaces. He has been through social skills training, but tends to 'forget' to modulate his voice when he is engaged in conversation or excited about a topic. Are there technologies available that might help provide him with cues or reminders of appropriate behavior in public places?

Often kids with Asperger's or other autism spectrum disorders are extremely motivated by technology tools, and tend to learn very well from videos, software, and other visual representations of social situations. Because your son has already worked on social skills training, he is likely familiar with social stories, social modeling, and appropriate behavior for different situations. However, when in new, exciting or unfamiliar situations, he may forget what he's learned and have difficulty regulating his behavior or modulating his voice.

There are growing number of great apps for iPhones, iPad, and Android that young adults can use to assist with social interaction, including conversations. Below, is a list of some of the best apps and software currently available to help adults and teens learn social skills:

Another option is to use mobile phones to access short video clips, social scripts, reminders, about conversation skills, to remind them of appropriate social interaction and conversation skills. You may also want to consider using these apps or other multimedia tools or software at home to help reinforce the social skills lessons your son has learned in class.

How can I get help with technology accommodations in graduate school?

I have recently been accepted into a graduate program and am wondering if there are any options for upgrading the software tools I use for reading. I have a reading disability — are there any grants or programs that might help me?

As a graduate school student, you will likely find that you have access to many of the same accommodations you had in your undergraduate program. Your first step as an incoming student should be to meet with your university's disabilities services office. Policies regarding resources available for graduate students with disabilities may vary from program to program, but you with a documented disability you are eligible for accommodations.

Depending on the university, you may need to provide additional documentation, or updated testing regarding a learning disability. Contacting disabilities services early will ensure that you have all necessary paperwork submitted in plenty of time for your first class. If you are requesting texts in alternate formats, or other reading supports, contacting the office well in advance also gives the university time to prepare accessible materials for you. You may find that your university is willing to provide the reading software you need; some universities have computer labs set up with accessible software for student use.

If the university is unable to provide you with the software accommodations you need, they may be able to help you find additional sources of funding to help you upgrade your computer. Many universities have hardship funds for their students, providing small grants for medical needs, emergencies or other issues.

Your university's disabilities services may also be able to help you locate grants, loans, or other options. The booklet Learning Disabilities, Graduate School, and Careers: The Student's Perspective may provide you with some helpful suggestions for working with your school. You may be able to find additional helpful suggestions for getting the technology tools you need from the community on the LD Online Postsecondary Education forums.

What tools can help my son with LD learn a foreign language?

My 15-year-old son has a language-based learning disability. He is in the tenth grade and so far has been able to maintain good grades with the assistance of an educational support paraprofessional. However, he has now started taking required foreign language classes and is struggling with vocabulary, verbal exercises, and exams. Are there any technology tools or software programs that might help him?

Learning a foreign language can be frustrating for a student with a language-based learning disability. Many of the same elements that may have posed problems in English (letter sounds, decoding, spelling, grammar), can cause difficulties in foreign language learning.

Since your son has been successful in his regular classes with the assistance of a paraprofessional, I would suggest that he use many of the same strategies he uses already to help him with language. What tools and support have helped your son succeed in his coursework? Some of these same strategies can be easily adapted to his foreign language learning. It is a good idea for your son to work directly with his special education and foreign language teachers about what areas are presenting difficulty for him, and discuss strategies and accommodations that may make language learning less challenging for him.

There are also a number of excellent technology tools for learning language that your son may find helpful. Beyond the familiar CDs and language software, many language learners are now taking advantage of social networking tools for foreign languages. A number of websites feature online chats and forums where users can practice language with a native speaker. User-created social networks on the Ning platform also provide opportunities to join a group interested in learning a specific language. Try searching Ning for "learning a language" to find a list of available groups. Many of these groups are full of others learning new languages that are happy to share tips, support, videos, and ideas for practicing vocabulary.

Finally, if your son is a visual learner, he may enjoy watching subtitled movies. He can choose to watch movies in the target language (i.e. Spanish) with English subtitles or watch English movies with foreign subtitles. Watching movies is an enjoyable activity and may lower your son's anxiety around language learning.

How can I help my 14-year-old daughter who struggles with reading?

My daughter is almost 14 and is in the fifth grade. Her school identified her as having a specific learning disability, so she receives services through school, but she still struggles, especially with reading. What technology tools can we use with her to help her improve her reading skills?

One difficulty with older struggling readers is that they can often become hesitant and anxious about reading, avoiding situations where they might read because reading is so challenging. A key strategy for older struggling readers is to find situations that make reading more enjoyable.

Though there's no replacement for instruction in basic reading skills, frequent opportunities for independent reading can be helpful for struggling readers. A good way to do that is to provide your daughter with high-interest (and lower level) reading material. There are a number of books available that are at a lower reading level, but are written with a style and topic selection that are more interesting for teen readers. You could also introduce her to book review Web sites by and for teens, to help her find books that she might find interesting and motivating.

Your daughter may also benefit from the use of reading software, or accessible books. Look into the many resources on this site and others (Bookshare) for more information about the types of accessible books available for young adults with print disabilities.

Another fun option that has been shown to be effective with kids with LD and struggling readers is watching subtitled or captioned television shows and movies. Find your daughter's favorite shows and movies, and put the captions on. Because your daughter will be watching something she enjoys, the reading of the captions will be less stressful and may encourage her to read. The captions can also help your daughter recognize words she hears when she seems them written.

Because all TVs made after 1993 have captioning built-in, this is an easy and free option that may help make reading a bit more pleasurable for your daughter. Your daughter can also watch captioned programming online, Web sites such as Hulu offer free viewing of most television shows, many of them with closed captioning.

Should I go back to school as an adult if I suspect I have a learning disability?

I am in the process of going back to college to seek a degree in education. Although I have been out of school for many years, I am excited about going back. Unfortunately, I find myself having a hard time processing a lot of the assignments my instructors give. I get concerned and worry that I might have a learning disability. Will I still be able to pursue my career as an educator if I can't keep up with the work?

Many college students, both of traditional and non-traditional age, have learning disabilities and learning difficulties. You can absolutely still pursue your chosen career! The first thing you should do is discuss your concerns directly with your university's Disability Services. They can help you find resources at your school, explore avenues for being tested for a learning disability and recommend accommodations and strategies that might help you with your coursework.

With a documented disability, you are entitled to accommodations and support, so it may be worthwhile to get tested and identify your areas of strengths and weaknesses. Working with Disabilities Services, you can identify strategies and resources to help you succeed. Check out the wide variety of resources on LD Online for more information about LD, testing, and learning strategies that may help you.

How can I prepare parents for our new online curriculum?

This school year we will be implementing a web-based mathematics program for our elementary school students. I'm putting together a technology workshop for parents to help prepare them for what their children will be doing. The workshop will include all elementary school parents, including those of children with special needs and English Language Learners. What are some recommendations for the workshop that might help these parents be better prepared for their children's online learning experiences?

If the parents in your school district are not familiar with online learning, and the platform you will be using, it might be helpful to start out with a discussion of why you chose to use technology to teach mathematics, and how the tool you're using might benefit your students. It's possible that parents will be skeptical about using online technology tools such as virtual manipulatives or math games, so highlight benefits for students, particularly those with disabilities or who are non-English speakers. In particular, parents should hear about how technology usage can help teachers differentiate instruction and meet the needs of a variety of learners.

An excellent way of preparing parents and helping them to understand the online system you are using is to make the workshop engaging and interactive. If teachers will be using interactive whiteboards during classroom instruction, ask parents to come up and manipulate objects on screen, or solve word problems. Parents should also have an opportunity to experiment with the various features of the online system and should be given access to the same things their students will see. If there is a parent section of your online program, be sure that parents understand how to use it. Be sure to also provide resources for parents to engage in mathematics activities at home with their children. If students will be using the online system outside of school, parents can participate in completion of activities or modules. You may also opt to provide parents with suggestions for math games they can play with their children to help solidify skills.

Possible sites to include on a parent resource list:


Math Playground

PBS Kids Play


BBC Numeracy Games

How can public libraries better support people with learning disabilities?

I work in a public library and want to be sure that our resources are accessible to all our patrons, including those with disabilities. What resources should we make available and where can we find additional information about making libraries accessible to individuals with learning disabilities?

Many public libraries have grappled with the same issues, so looking at how other librarians have worked to make their libraries accessible is a good start. Many libraries provide their patrons with online resource lists (on accessible websites), in addition to offering a wide variety of accessibility options within the library building. It may be helpful to get in touch with other librarians, either online or in person to ask how they met their patrons' accessibility needs. The American Library Association has a number of excellent resources available to assist librarians in thinking about and respecting the needs of their patrons with disabilities. The ALA also has several options for connecting with other librarians, from online forums to an island in Second Life.

Some accessibility options for your patrons may include providing helpful links on your library website, pointing users to both local and national disability groups. Within the library, it is important to make sure that media is accessible — books on tape, audio books, captioned videos, descriptive videos, magnifiers and large print books can all help ensure that a variety of media is accessible to many of your patrons. Many librarians also provide patrons with assistive software and hardware where needed. This may include reading and writing software, software capable of reading text aloud (text-to-speech), software that can enlarge text on the screen or Braille embossers for blind patrons. Check out the Montgomery County Public Library website for a good example of the types of tools you might offer. For further ideas, check out the ALA's disability-specific Tip Sheets on Learning Disabilities, Children with Disabilities, Autism & Spectrum Disorders, and many others.

What resources are available for assessing student use of technology?

I've started using new media tools (blogs, wikis, etc.) in my classroom to differentiate instruction, and have recently begun to explore the use of virtual worlds and social networking with my kids. They seem to really enjoy using technology, and I'm seeing some of my struggling learners become more engaged with the material.

Are there resources available for assessing 21st century skills? If my students are learning in non-traditional ways, how can I show their progress?

Technology and media skills have increasingly been recognized as a necessary component of education for today's students. As more and more teachers integrate 21st century skills, new media, and web 2.0 tools into their classrooms, the challenge of assessing these skills has become a hot topic among educators.

In looking for ways to assess your students' learning with technology tools, start with the groups that are at the forefront of determining technology standards and practice: the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Both organizations have written extensively on what children must know to be productive members of a technological society. Both groups have also produced guidance on assessing technology skills.

A number of teachers have used these materials to create their own rubrics and ideas for assessing student blogs, Twitter use, or wiki creation. Digital Age Assessments lists a variety of rubric suggestions; the forums in Classroom 2.0 can also be an excellent place to confer with other teachers about how they assess their students' work with technology.

What resources are available for adults with nonverbal learning disorders?

I work with young adults with nonverbal learning disorders. I'd like to suggest resources for them as they transition out of our special education program. Where can I find online resources for adults with nonverbal LD?

Resources on nonverbal learning disorders often focus primarily on children and issues related to school success. However, many young adults with NLD are making use of blogs and discussion forums as a way to share their experiences and help other adults with NLD. An NLD blog or discussion board may be a good suggestion for some of your students — they can share experiences, post questions and discuss with other NLD teens and young adults what life is like beyond the classroom.

NLDLine is one of the most popular sources of information on nonverbal learning disorder online. In their section on NLD Adults, you can find a number of resources and personal stories shared by adults with NLD on topics ranging from dating and relationships, employment, independent living, treatment plans and socializing with peers.

Yahoo Group NLD in Common can be another option for your students to learn from other young adults with NLD and post questions or concerns as they transition out of school and into the workforce. Finally, a number of books have recently come out about adults living with nonverbal learning disorder, you may want to purchase a few of these books for your classroom and make them available to your students.

What technology tools can help my son with spelling?

My third grade son has problems with spelling; even if he practices a word several times, he cannot remember it. Often, he writes the word down the way it sounds to him. How can I help him with his spelling?

Spelling can be challenging for students with learning disabilities, especially if they struggle with reading. The types of tools you might want to try with your son depend both on his difficulties with spelling and the importance of spelling to the task that he is trying to complete. For example, on a writing assignment, it may be more important for your son to get his words out on paper and express his ideas than to spell every word correctly. In those situations, your son could benefit from a writing program with word prediction or the use of a contextual spell checker. By using software to remove the need to know how to spell every word correctly, your son can focus on the act of writing as a way of demonstrating his knowledge.

If the assignment for your son is to improve his spelling, it is important to give him a number of opportunities to practice and reinforce his skills. In addition to practicing at home with flash cards and rewriting words multiple times, there are a number of online spelling games and practice sites that you could try. Some online sites let you test your spelling skills with pre-generated lists, while others allow you to enter in your own spelling words to practice. Check out a few different options until you find one your son enjoys.

How can I find information about creating readings for blind or dyslexic students?

I am interested in finding out more information about creating readings for the blind or dyslexic student. I am particularly interested in early elementary school literature or textbooks and reading on tape or disc.

What can you tell me about working in this area?

Providing accessible text to students with disabilities has received a lot of attention in recent years as both technology tools and publisher standards have modernized. The increasing availability of digitized texts from a variety of sources make it easier than ever before to find most materials available in multiple formats. For harder to find texts, software and hardware options are available to help you convert texts into formats more readily accessible by individuals with print disabilities.

If you are trying to find electronic text and audio books, there are several free options available for students with documented print disabilities: Bookshare and Learning Ally are both popular options for finding texts for students, and may be a good place to start if looking for academic texts and grade-level literature. Project Gutenberg is another option for free eBooks, and Librivox has free audio books available for download. Both websites offer books in the public domain, so they may not always have everything you are looking for.

If you can't find the texts or the materials you need, or if you prefer to create your own alternate formats for student readings, a number of software programs and scanning options are available; see this customized Tech Matrix for digital text. For students who are blind, you may be interested in purchasing a Braille printer or refreshable Braille displays; check out the customized Tech Matrix on Braille for suggestions.

How can our school make our arts programs (music, art class, etc.) more inclusive for all students?

Our school is focusing on inclusion and individualizing instruction to meet the needs of diverse learners. We'd like to apply this same thinking to our arts programs.

Are there resources available about making the arts more inclusive for all? Are there technology tools that we could integrate into our arts curriculum?

The arts, whether as part of a separate program or integrated into your content area lessons, can offer a variety of benefits for diverse learners. Research has shown both academic and social benefits for students with disabilities and students who are at risk; integrating the arts and technology into your teaching can help differentiate instruction and provide more individualized learning for students with diverse learning needs.

You may want to check out two organizations that focus on students with disabilities and the arts: VSA Arts offers a curriculum for early-grades arts instruction called Start with the Arts, as well as other educational resources that may be helpful. Art Partners offers sample lesson plans and units on their website.

Technology tools can also play an important role in making your arts programs more accessible. Many art museums feature virtual field trips, allowing your students to view important exhibits from around the world. Software programs that allow students to draw and paint, animate, manipulate images, and create music are becoming more readily available and can provide a way for students with a variety of learning needs to interact with content and express knowledge.

What virtual worlds are appropriate for kids?

I've seen a lot recently about virtual worlds and virtual learning environments and their possible benefits for learning and the development of academic and social skills. I'd like to explore these tools in my classroom, but I'm not sure where to find appropriate ones for younger students. Can you suggest some virtual worlds or similar online activities?

Many schools and teachers are beginning to think about how to harness their students' innate interest in gaming for educational purposes. With the popularity of virtual worlds like Second Life, many companies (including the makers of Second Life) have set about to create similar platforms appropriate for a younger audience. Virtual worlds and simulations for kids represent a continuum of educational benefits. Some are clearly designed for educators, or with educational purposes in mind. Others are designed more for entertainment value than educational merit, and still others fall somewhere between the two.

If this is your first foray into using these types of technologies in your classroom, you may want to stick to strictly educational sites such as Whyville or Secret Builders. Generally, such sites will have pages dedicated to teachers and may even include lesson plan ideas or activities for your classroom.

For much younger students, check out PBS Kids Island. It isn't a 'virtual world' in the technical sense, but it does introduce students to the concept of another world where they can complete activities, challenges, and earn 'tickets' to use towards prizes. Just because a virtual world isn't necessarily designed for education doesn't mean it can't be used in your classroom, but it may mean you need to use it creatively.

Second Life didn't initially start out for classroom use, but many educators have found ways to build it into their teaching. For older kids, check out Teen Second Life or Free Realms. Other popular entertainment-based websites, like Club Penguin or Tootsville, may be places your students already spend a lot of time. Though they are generally for 'fun' you can certainly find ways to incorporate some of the activities into your lessons. For example, players must generally earn in-world money by playing games or completing activities, and these can be good ways to teach students early skills for adding, budgeting, and planning.

Additionally, these sites allow chatting with online friends and have a clearly outlined code of online conduct, so they can be a good way to begin teaching young kids about online safety and etiquette. These sites may also be good recommendations for parents to explore at home with their children.

How can I help a student with dyscalculia learn two-digit addition?

I have a student who has dyscalculia. I need some suggestions for helping him with two-digit addition. He mixes up the numbers, placing them in the tens place when they should be in the ones place. We work on this skill every day, but he seems to forget every day how to accomplish this task.

Color coding is a low tech but very effective strategy to use with students who have difficulty keeping their numbers in the right place. Use a different color for the ones' column and the tens' column, and give the student a crayon or pencil of each color. Help him add the numbers of the same color, then write the solution in the appropriate place with the matching color.

As he improves, you can begin to omit the color from one column at a time until eventually he can perform the task without the assistance of color-coding. Strategies to Facilitate Math Concepts and Homework contains a visual and detailed explanation of this method.

Consider showing him one of several free, online videos that visually demonstrate two-digit addition, as well. Simple Flash files or videos, like those from Math Is Fun or Math Mastery, show the continuity between steps better than we can using pencil and paper. Seeing the big picture and the movement of the numbers may help your student catch on. A free, online game, like Callum's Addition Pyramid or Who Wants to Be a Mathionaire, is also a great way to encourage him to practice this skill.

What technologies can help my third grade daughter organize her writing?

My daughter cannot organize her writing at all. She becomes frustrated beyond belief when she tries to put her ideas on paper. Can you give me a list of suggested technologies?

Your daughter's challenges echo those of many struggling writers, and while there are no quick and easy fixes, there are technology resources that can help. Tools known as "graphic organizers" may be particularly useful to your daughter as she works to get her ideas on paper in a coherent manner. These tools help students generate and organize their ideas through building visual relationships among them.

Graphic organizers can be as low tech as an arrangement of sticky notes on a sheet of paper or as high tech as online, interactive tools like bubbl.us, a free website which allows you to create and share colorful mind maps, and ReadWriteThink's Essay Map, a free step-by-step guide to organizing essay content. View this list of graphic organizers from our sister site, AdLit, for more free options.

More complex software solutions, like Draft:Builder or Inspiration, have features that help students arrange their ideas, create an outline, and transition from an outline or concept map into a draft. This customized matrix from the www.TechMatrix.org shows many software solutions that use graphic organizers to support writing. Compare products' features, and click on a product's name in the column header to see a full review of its capabilities and purchasing information.

What tools help students stay organized?

I have assisted a student with organizing his binder by putting in dividers and pockets, but everything is still a mess. What do you recommend?

You have done a good job laying the groundwork for success by helping your student organize his binder with dividers and pockets. Now we have to figure out how to get him to use it!

Students who struggle with executive function tasks like organization often have difficulty remembering things, keeping track of time, and initiating tasks as well. Perhaps he does not remember to place papers into his binder until the last minute and is then forced to hurriedly throw everything in. Or maybe he does remember that he should organize his materials, but he's having a hard time actually getting started.Technology can help with these challenges.

A PDA, electronic organizer, or cell phone with an alarm function can remind him to perform a task, like place his notes in his binder or write down his homework, at the same time each day. You can program the alarms on the device itself, or use a free, online service like Remember the Milk to automatically send a text message, IM, or email reminders. The regularity of these reminders helps create positive habits, and the fun, high-tech nature of the PDA or cell phone motivates action.

I also suggest that you give your student fun opportunities to practice his organizational skills. Encourage him to create a new playlist on his iPod, coach a fantasy sports team on Sports Illustrated for Kids, or play a video or computer game that emphasizes organizational skills (see LearningWorks for Kids for suggestions and reviews). The categorization, memorization, and time management abilities he develops through these fun activities will serve him well both in and out of school.

What assistive technology tools could we use with a middle school student so he doesn’t feel singled out and different from his peers?

We have a middle school student that has difficulty with written work and reading difficulties. We would like to get some of the voice-activated software for him. We also wanted him to start using the computer and learning keyboarding but there may be some fine motor weaknesses. He is embarrassed by his difficulties and does not want to appear different to the other children. Do you have any ideas for how we might get him to use assistive technology tools and feel less singled out?

Using assistive technology tools can be a challenge for students as they enter middle and high school. Many kids that age are incredibly aware of how they look, and what their peers are doing, and want nothing more than to blend in with the other kids. Using a device or "different" technology tool than the rest of the class can certainly make a student feel that they stick out.

One solution is to make all technology "assistive" technology in your school. Creating a creative technology environment in your school can help students remove the separation between "regular" technology and "special" or "assistive" technology. Learn more about various technologies that support the writing process in the article, Using Assitive Technology to Support Writing.

This is one benefit to using technology to differentiate instruction in your school. If all students are using a computer to write an essay, then it isn't all that noticeable that some students are using word prediction software, others are using text-to-speech software, and others are using voice-recognition software. Technology is just something that everyone is using. For example, every student in your class could be using a literacy software package (see several compared in the TechMatrix).

Strong writers could be using the built-in word processor and spell checker, struggling writers could be using text-to-speech to edit or word prediction to help them compose, other students may use the graphic organizers or the audio notes. Each student is using the same program, but different students make use of different features according to their needs. See more ideas for differentiating instruction through technology at the free online course offered by CITEd.

Would a portable book reader be appropriate for a child with visual processing issues?

Have you ever heard of the Amazon Kindle? Do you think that this would help a child with visual processing issues? My son is in fourth grade and needs large print books. I'm having difficulty finding grade level appropriate books with larger fonts. Could Kindle be a good solution?

Amazon's Kindle is a wireless reading device that does allow the user to adjust font size, so it might be appropriate for your son. The Kindle offers variable font size, with the largest font appearing to be about the size of a typical large print book. Currently there are 200,000 books available, but most of them are targeted to adult readers.

The Kindle is also rather expensive, so you may want to do a little research first. If your son needs something larger than a typical large print book, the Kindle's largest font may not be what he needs. Another good place to do some research and ask questions is the Kindle discussion board on Amazon's website. Here you can ask other users about their experiences, talk to other parents who may use the Kindle with their child, or even arrange to see a Kindle in your city so you can try it before you buy. Find other reading hardware and software options in the article, Reading Software: Finding the Right Program.

If your child has a diagnosed print disability, he is eligible to receive texts in alternate formats through his special education program. Discuss this option with the school. Learn more in these articles for parents: Accessible Textbooks: A Guide for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities and Making the Written Word Easier for Readers with Print Disabilities.

What options are available for audio versions of textbooks?

My son is using a textbook that does not have an audio version (tape/CD) available. Is there software that will copy/scan and convert to audio?

Scanning and converting a text to audio can be time consuming and expensive, depending on the software you use. If you only need one textbook (and all of his other textbooks are available in audio format), it may not be worth it to purchase software for yourself. Start with Learning Ally or Bookshare.org; they often have textbooks available when you may not be able to find them elsewhere. If your son has a documented disability, he can access any books from Learning Ally or Bookshare.org.

If you cannot find his textbook through a source such as Learning Ally or Bookshare.org, or you think you'll need to scan and convert texts on a more regular basis, you may want to consider purchasing a scanner and accompanying text-to-speech software. What you end up purchasing will depend on your needs and how much you want to spend. Solutions for having text read aloud range from the incredibly simple — scanning in text and using built-in voices to read — to the more complex — scanning in text and using human sounding narration and converting to an mp3.

For example, Adobe Acrobat Reader and Microsoft Word both have very simple text-to-speech capabilities. If your son just needs to have the text read aloud to him while sitting at the computer, and doesn't mind synthesized speech, this could be a very basic solution. However, if you'd prefer something with more natural-sounding narration, you might need something with more features. Find a variety of solutions for scanning and text-to-speech in this customized search on the TechMatrix.

How can I use the SMART Board in my math classroom more interactively to meet the needs of all my students?

I’m a middle school math teacher in an inclusion classroom with several students with learning disabilities. My school uses a team teaching/co-teaching model, so I usually have a special education teacher in my room and we try to teach together as much as possible. She’s been great at helping me change lesson plans and come up with ideas for differentiating instruction.

We just got interactive whiteboards this year, and we’ve both been trying to come up with different ways to use them with the kids. So far, we’ve used them more like an overhead projector to show problems on the board and things like that. How can we use the boards more interactively for all kids, especially our students with LD?

One of the great features of interactive whiteboards (such as the SMART Board) is that you can use them to allow students to manipulate objects on screen, add text and diagrams to math problems, and save work. These features can have several benefits for your students, particularly those who are struggling. Because you can save the lessons and activities you present on the interactive whiteboard, you can upload your lessons to a classroom website for student review at a later date. This can be helpful for students with disabilities who may benefit from repetition. It also allows any student to revisit the lesson from home to refresh their memory about how to solve a problem.

The interactivity of the whiteboard is also a benefit for kids with LD, as well as students with a variety of learning styles. Because students can come up to the board to add diagrams, highlighting, arrows, text and move objects on screen, it addresses the needs of students who are more tactile and kinesthetic learners. Providing a colorful visual representation of math problems can also be helpful for visual learners.

You might consider using interactive applications for math that will enable students to participate more during lessons. Virtual manipulatives and applets are a good choice. Check out some of these resources for ideas:

You might also check out some teacher-created websites on the use of interactive whiteboards, they can be a great way to share lesson plans and ideas.

What strategies are there to help kids with LD in gym class, sports, etc.?

I wanted to ask a question about PE and kids with learning disabilities. Is there any research or resources about the best methods to coach students with dyslexia or other learning disabilities and to help them learn individual and team skills the most effective way?

Students with learning disabilities and ADHD can often struggle with motor control, movement, rhythm and directionality (i.e., telling right from left), which can make certain physical activities in gym class or team sports challenging. Motor challenges can also affect academic performance as they can hinder writing and other activities. Additionally, recent research has led some researchers to conclude that there is a link between poor sense of rhythm and dyslexia.

Given the links between learning disorders and motor coordination, it is an excellent idea to think about how to address these issues within gym class or as part of a team sport. It might be a good idea to check out information about adaptive PE (or speak to an adaptive PE teacher if your school or district has one) for some ideas on activities.

Another option is one that has been discussed by parents and caregivers on our forums — using video games as rhythm, sensory integration and directionality training. A number of individuals with ADHD and learning disabilities have some success using Interactive Metronome (IM, a computer-based training program used by therapists to help improve coordination, timing and attention.

Some parents and therapists have found that children who do well with IM also seem to do well with video games like Dance Dance Revolution and the interactive sports games on the Wii Fit. While the use of these types of games with kids with LD and ADHD is fairly new, anecdotally it seems to be helpful for some students. As many schools are starting to purchase the Wii Fit for use with their students, it might be an idea to try.

Video games are often inherently motivating for young people, and may encourage them to try different activities. Each of these games tells players how to move using a combination of visual and auditory cues in addition to watching movement on screen. These cues may help students who struggle with movement and directionality.

Note from LD OnLine: Visit Dr. Silver’s Accommodations and Modifications section to see a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist’s response to the same question.

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