Dragon Naturally Speaking for Education

By: Christine Upton

What is it?

Dragon Naturally Speaking for Education is an assistive technology tool that uses speech recognition and voice commands to get the results your students need.  For example, students can speed through documentation, dictate voice commands anywhere (new wireless addition), opportunities to achieve success, and build confidence in the classroom.

What Does it Look Like in The Classroom?

Dragon Naturally Speaking for Education provides students with disabilities and/or learning needs such as cerebral palsy, Asperger’s, dyslexia etc. who are unable to type or handwrite.

Check out this video below on how to use Dragon Naturally Speaking Voice Command.

Resources

Smart Pens and Smarter Tablets

Assistive Technologies (AT) have come a long way in recent years. Perhaps this is due to the rise of ‘accessibility’ settings on personal devices, laptops and other platforms alongside the explosion of audio books and text-to-speech everywhere. However getting the content to students is only one part of the puzzle. What about students who can’t remember that content, need an aid to do so, or who are just really, really bad at organizing? What good is content if the students can’t recall it or find it again- literally.

Enter some of my favourite AT: the smart pen. Long before everything was “smart,” these pens, like the one below from LiveScribe, record what you write in an easy to send, print, store, and archive digital file.

LS_Connect_send_launch_line

Modern LiveScribe and similar pens give students the ability to keep their notes stored in the cloud, just as they wrote them along with an audio recording of the lecture or presentation. This is great for students who often lose their notebooks for periods of time, or misplace them entirely. Of course, replacing the specialized paper notebooks can become costly if the student is especially forgetful, or prolific in their writing.

A more expensive, but much more powerful option is to provide students with a device like a Microsoft Surface or Surface Pro. These “slate” laptops feature a 12″ HD screen with a special bundled that lets students write on top of PDFs and other media sent by the teacher. The free, bundled OneNote software will also allow students to attach files to their digital notebook “pages” while recording the lecture as well.

The future is certainly bright for students who need a hand getting organized and recalling notes. I certainly wish I had a Surface during my math classes!

Touchchat

By: Shirley Merith

What Does It Do?

It is truly amazing how far we have come when it comes to providing those with disabilities the capacity to perform any communicative task independently.  Touchchat, is a  digital tool that provides individuals with developmental disabilities, or other conditions that can affect speech, a way to communicate through touch. Users of Touchchat can either tap or press on the screen to create and communicate their message.

What It Features

  • Digitized and synthesized speech
  • Ability to create own vocabulary files or use pre-stored default ones
  • Offers sentences, phrases, and individual words
  • Interactive play and reading pages
  • Advanced writing features
  • Social pages which promote communication with other users
  • Interaction with social media such as Twitter and Facebook

Benefits

  • Affordability ( Fairly inexpensive)
  • Easy to download from iTunes store
  • Can be used by children or adults
  • Easy to use

Challenge

  • This device is only available with an iPad, iPod, or iPhone.

Resources

Bluebee Pals

Not Your Traditional Plush Toy

teddy bear, toy

By Melissa Bishop

While searching for an Assistive Technology (AT) tool for this particular post, I became quite overwhelmed with the number of tools available.  I knew I was looking for something a little different and relative to the students I teach.  After narrowing my criteria, I came across Bluebee Pals.  I became intrigued with the idea of marrying a child’s plush toy with AT.  Here is what I discovered.

The Basics

Bluebee Pals are an AT tool that students use to engage with their learning.  Using the Bluebee Pal also supports social skill development in children with autism.  The plush pal comes in the form of a Zebra, Lion, Dog, Lamb, Bear or Monkey and connects with Bluetooth-enabled Apps or devices for students using Augmentative or Alternative Communication Applications.  The Blubee Pal also connects with Android or Apple devices.  Here is a quick video on how to start with your Bluebee Pal.

What the Teachers Say

Speech Language Pathologists and Special Education Teachers report observing increases in communication, following directions and turn taking when using the Bluebee Pal.  Using this tool bridges learning with fun to teach students about voice apps, how to communicate and learn the language.  It is especially effective in early learning environments where Bluebee Pals support young learners in modeling the use of communication apps.

Top 3 Benefits

  1. Bluebee Pals are attractive to younger students.  Making a tool for students that is engaging can be a difficult feat.  Bluebee Pals engage with the students in a non-threatening manner and engage curiosity in young learners in any language. Educators report students are more engaged with their learning and that they are using social skills taught using the Bluebee Pal more often.
  2. Bluebee Pals can engage with students to aid in teaching communication software. Students who are disengaged with their communication software have added a Bluebee Pal and learned how to use the software to communicate.
  3. The key factor for students with Special Needs is that teachers and parents report an increase in receptive and expressive language skills.  Students who are using their Communication Software Tools in combination with Bluebee Pals are developing much needed expressive and receptive language skills.  This video shows the Bluebee Pal in action.

Challenges

  1. The Bluebee Pal uses Bluetooth Technology  and at times connections are dropped and need to be reconnected to continue learning.
  2. If the Bluebee Pal or iPad go to sleep, the will need to be reconnected to restore the connection.
  3. Teachers and parents report the Bluebee Pals mouth movements are not precisely in sync with the communication programming, but students appear to enjoy the technology regardless.

In short, most of the challenges with the Bluebee Pals are associated with technology.  Students will need an adult present to support them in technology glitches and to reconnect when the connection is dropped.

Overall

Despite the drawbacks of Bluetooth Technology, I would use Bluebee Pals in my classroom of Early Learners as a learning center and with my special needs students.  Bluebee Pals would be effective for younger students in early learning environments to support the development of receptive and expressive language skills.  This tool would not be as practical for older students.

Resources

The official website for Bluebee Pals – find teacher resources, links on how to use AT and Bluebee Pals, school information purchasing information, and much more.

AblePlay  – Fantastic resource on how to use your Bluebee Pal for Social Skills, Play, Learning, Communication, and Sensory.

Video Links for Bluebee Pals – the videos show the Bluebee Pals in action.

Teachers with Apps review of the Bluebee Pals – this site reviews how Bluebee Pals can be used in the classroom, some pros and cons, and useful information on the implementation of the Bluebee Pal.

 

 

 

WordTalk

A text-to-speech plugin for Microsoft Word

WordTalk is a free text-to-speech plug in for Microsoft Word. It was created for people with reading and writing difficulties and can be used for proof reading and learning another language. This tool is useful for English language learning (ELL) children (older) to improve there reading and writing in English and communicate with parents and staff (ELL). WordTalk can also benefit anyone who just simply need to improve/ develop their reading and writing skills.

Features include:

  • Speaks entire document, paragraph or word
  • Highlights the text as it goes for easy following
  • Its a talking dictionary
  • Can adjust the world highlight  colours
  • Adjustable voice and speed
  • Converts text to speech

How to use WordTalk

Cost:

  • Free

Benefits:

  • Can be installed on multiple machines
  • Can distribute to student, friends & families
  • Can be used for educational and non-profit purposes
  • Supports  all versions of Microsoft Windows
  • Can be used with Microsoft Word 2007-2016
  • Computer synthetic voice (SAP14 or 5)

Challenges

  • Cannot be used on Mac OS X, iPad, Android or Chromebook

Resources

WordTalk converting text into MP3

WordTalk Assist Students with Reading and Writing Difficulties 

 

Moodle Accessibility block

Provide users with easy access to accessibility tools within Moodle

The Accessibility block is a plug-in for Moodle that provides easy access to accessibility tools in the LMS. At its most basic, the Accessibility block provides a means to change the text size and colour scheme. The settings can be set to persist between sessions. That much could be accomplished with browser settings and client-side CSS, although the plug-in makes the settings easier to access. The plug-in takes accessibility in Moodle to another level by integrating the ATbar. The ATbar is an open-source, cross-browser toolbar that provides additional accessibility tools. Features include text-to-speech, readability mode, and predictive word suggestions. Students and teachers alike can use the block to access and create content in Moodle when they might not otherwise be able to. See the following video for a demonstration of the tool:

While the Accessibility block is not part of a standard Moodle installation, it should be considered a high-priority addition to every deployment of the LMS.

 

Assistive Technology: Kurzweil 3000 provides support for all learners

Kurzweil 3000 is a web-based literacy support program for struggling readers.

by Roxanne Hibberd

It is important for students to be able to access age-appropriate content because it allows them to work independently in class. Kurzweil 3000 is a program which provides text-to-speech accommodation so that students can read at or beyond their proficiency level. Students who have difficulty recognizing sight words can now feel confident in their reading fluency and accuracy.

Benefits:

  • The use of Kurzweil 3000 increases a student’s reading vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency. The program helps students read the digital text and this support results in improvements in reading comprehension and vocabulary development.
  • The program was developed for struggling readers to help them read on their own. By providing the right accommodation, students who lack reading skills can read with more accuracy. Text-to-speech, translation, speaking word processor, and word prediction are examples of the supports available when using Kurzweil 3000.
  • There is an increase in student engagement and confidence because decoding errors are no longer reading barriers. Reading material is now accessible for all students because they can learn from the same text.

Challenges:

  • Kurzweil 3000 is used by students with learning disabilities in most schools. Students feel different from the others who are not using this program.
  • The use of Kurzweil 3000 can be time-consuming because the reading material needs to be scanned onto the technological device. Intensive training for staff and students is also required. 

Helpful Resources: 

A case study of how a teacher uses Kurweil 3000 to support students.

Getting started guide explains the uses and procedures of Kurzweil 3000.

An elementary school uses Kurzweil 3000 as a tool for all students

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