One in five individuals has a learning disability - 80 percent of which are language-based.
"[Assistive technology (AT) includes] any device, piece of equipment or system that helps bypass, work around or compensate for an individual's specific learning deficits. Over the past decade, a number of studies have demonstrated the efficacy of AT for individuals with LD. AT doesn't cure or eliminate learning difficulties, but it can help your child reach her potential because it allows her to capitalize on her strengths and bypass areas of difficulty...In general, AT compensates for a student's skills deficits or area(s) of disability. However, utilizing AT does not mean that a child can't also receive remedial instruction aimed at alleviating deficits..."
Note: IDA-UMB reminds all readers here that assistive technology does not replace the need for, and efficacy of, research-based direct instructional methodologies. In addition, it is our position that assistive technologies do not give learners an unfair advantage; assistive technologies simply help to "level the playing field" for students with learning disabilities and allows them the ability to achieve their full potential.
A note about Accessible Instructional Materials
The 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) included a requirement that students who are visually impaired and students who are print-disabled receive their textbooks and core instructional materials in specialized formats at the same time as their non-disabled peers. The legislation established the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standards (NIMAS) and the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Center (NIMAC). While providing accessible formats in a timely manner is not a new requirement, the new NIMAS process will improve this process for the students covered under these regulations.
The NIMAS establishes standards for electronic files of textbooks to be used by textbook publishers. These files can be converted to specialized formats (Braille, audio, large print, text to speech or digital text) which can be used by students who are blind, vision-impaired, physically disabled and/or reading disabled. The NIMAC receives and maintains a catalog of these electronic files. Publishers, at the direction of local school districts, send these files to NIMAC. When a student in a local school district requires one of these specialized formats to have access to the general education curriculum, the local district will contact an Authorized User (AU) designated by the state of Minnesota to search the NIMAC for the particular textbook and associated materials. The AU can access the electronic file and convert it into the specialized format requested or identify an Accessible Media Producer (AMP) to convert the file into the specialized format. Once the specialized format has been converted, the AMP will send it to the local district making the initial request.
MDE has selected four AUs who can directly access materials from the NIMAC. These AUs are Joan Breslin-Larson at MDE, Bookshare at http://www.Bookshare.org , Learning Ally (formerly Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic) at http://www.learningally.org and the Communication Center at Minnesota State Services for the Blind. Bookshare, Learning Ally and the Communication Center are also accessible media producers, that is, they can obtain a file from the NIMAC and convert it into a usable format for a qualifying student.
Bookshare has a federal grant to provide accessible materials to qualifying students at no cost. Students will need to establish an account with Bookshare in order to access materials. The Communication Center at State Services for the Blind can either bill a local education agency for production of accessible instructional materials or a district can opt to have funds withheld from their education allocation each year, with those funds being allocated to support the Communication Center’s provision of accessible instructional materials. Districts or individuals may also obtain a membership with Bookshare to obtain these materials.
More information can be obtained from Joan Breslin-Larson at 651 582 1599 or joan.breslin. -email@example.com
Reading with Alternative Print: Academics and Leisure
By Erika Kluge Frake, M.F.C.S., Assistive Technology Specialist and Educator, Literacy Links, November 2011
Individuals with dyslexia often benefit from using alternative print in the academic or career fields as well as for leisure. Alternative print can be digital (electronic) and/or audio. As a topic, it can be rather complex and daunting, especially when one desires to use it in the academic setting. Alternative print falls under the category of Accessible Instructional Material (AIM). The National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials hosts a great deal of information on the topic. An additional resource for obtaining information on AIM in regards to the public K-12; parochial and private, and home-school setting as well as collegiate settings can be found at Wrightslaw.
There are several ways one can acquire alternative print. Accessible Media Producers (AMPs) such as BookShare, Learning Ally, and Access Text Network offer a wide variety of literature and text-books. These resources offer individual and school memberships for individuals who qualify with a reading disorder. BookShare is a free resource for digital text and offers free reading software downloads for individuals to have the text read aloud using computer synthesized speech. Learning Ally is a subscription resource offering human narrated audio books. Access Text Network is similar to Bookshare for the collegiate setting. All three of these organizations will convert books not currently in their libraries free of charge.
Another wonderful free resource for residents in the state of MN is Net Library. If you currently have a library membership to your local library, you can acquire additional memberships to any or all other MN libraries by visiting their website and registering using your library card. Once registered, you can then download audio and digital books. More information on how to access Net Library from your local library can be found by visiting your local library in person or via their website. For a detailed list of mainstream resources, which offer alternative print for free or purchase CLICK HERE.
Additionally, you can create alternative digital print yourself by scanning traditional text or simply creating it as you would if you were creating written text on the computer. You can create audio versions or have digital text read aloud with computer synthesized speech by using software programs or the built in features in some computer operating systems (look in your system preferences for text-to- speech or voice over for Mac and your control panel for narrator in Windows).
Now that you have acquired alternative print you need to consider how to use it. There are several software programs that will allow the user to adjust the visual display, voice preferences, take annotations, and create audio files for transfer to mobile devices when working with digital text. There are also several hardware devices that will allow the user to navigate digital and audio text formats. To learn more about these products CLICK HERE.
One also needs to understand there are several different formats when identifying alternative print. Most people are familiar with .PDF, .doc, HTML and .wav or MP3. NIMAS is a technical standard used to develop multiple specialized formats (such as Braille or audio books) for students with print disabilities. DAISY stands for Digital Accessible Information System and is a multimedia standard supporting traditional presentation of images, text, audio, video, and content navigation. While you do not need to fully comprehend the meaning of these terms, you need to know they exist when considering use of assistive technology tools you will be pairing with your alternative text. For example, some old versions of Microsoft are not able to read the new .docx. You will need to determine which formats your device or program can successfully interact.
Alternative text can enhance fluency, comprehension, and independence. It is best practice for individuals with a reading disorder to continue to hone their reading skills and work with a reading specialist if there is a need. Use of alternative text with Assistive Technology (AT) tools (the software programs or hardware devices used in conjunction with alternative print) can greatly assist the user and enhance academic and life settings. Imagine the dyslexic student in a classroom where the teacher has instructed 30 minutes of independent reading and then group discussion. This situation often makes the dyslexic student experience feelings of anxiety and failure. This same student may experience feelings of success and greater self-esteem if provided with alternative text and AT tools matched for their specific needs. While peers would read in the “traditional manner,” the dyslexic student may “read” listening to the text on a portable device, allowing them greater opportunity to finish the content in the same amount of time as their peers. This student can now partake in the class discussions.
AT tools and technology can be very advantageous but they are not a “magic wand.” The user must be correctly matched to the tools by identifying his or her specific strengths, challenges, tasks, and settings. The user also needs to be motivated in using the tools and the alternative print provided needs to be at a level the user can comprehend. An example for a student is the highlighting feature built into many of the reading software tools. The student may benefit from having the text read aloud for fluency and comprehension but he still needs to have the study skill of knowing what information is important to highlight and extract. Care should also been taken in identifying if the user is stronger as a visual or auditory learner and if he prefers audio content read aloud by a computer synthesized voice or human narrated.
Reading is a life skill and one that can bring great enjoyment. Avid readers often associate print with “relaxation” and “exploration”. Print also hosts several social experiences. Consider the struggling reader who has to wait for the movie to come out to fully partake in peer conversations relating to well known books. The above tools and resources have enhanced the life of many dyslexic individuals. I have worked with several students from elementary to collegiate level who have embraced these tools and take pride in the independence and success they now achieve. More often than not, dyslexic students do not read for enjoyment and often it is a struggle to get them to read required text. As an educator and AT Specialist, nothing makes me happier than to have a student tell me “guess what, I have read my second book and my mom even told me to stop reading last night”, or I have a parent tell me “my child never read magazines or current news in print and now he is enjoying reading about topics of interest on the web”.
Alternative print and Assistive Technology are both wonderful and complex. I encourage you to explore the many options and resources, if not for yourself then for a student, friend, and/or loved one.
To learn more about the author and Assistive Technology, go to THINK With Success
Proficiency is Paramount
By Lee Baker
Students with learning disabilities benefit greatly from Assistive Technology (AT). AT tools and devices can enhance a student’s academic success by supporting reading, writing, math, note-taking and executive functioning skills. And the exciting news for students today is the surge in new technologies offering ever-expanding capabilities.
Using AT can be beneficial even for very young students. “Many educators still hang on to the myth that introducing AT too early will give the student a crutch and prevent the student from mastering skills,” explains Erika Kluge Frake, AT Educator and Specialist and owner of THINK with Success. “If a young child is having trouble seeing the blackboard, it makes sense for him to get glasses. Or, to assist a child with cerebral palsy, we carry them when they are young and then introduce them to a walker so they gain independence. But we don’t just make the walker available. We teach that child how to use it while also continuing with physical therapy. It’s the same with AT products.”
There are strong arguments for introducing AT early. In most elementary schools, there is a shift in third grade from learning to read to reading to learn. This is when students begin reading to gain comprehension. When a student is struggling with reading and not achieving the same level of comprehension as their classmates, their self-esteem begins to drop. “By introducing AT in elementary school, students have the tools to be successful learners, thereby elevating their self-esteem,” says Frake.
Students who are familiar with AT as early as elementary school are at an advantage upon entering junior high school because they don’t have to master new technology tools at the same time they are also becoming accustomed to moving classes, having multiple teachers, and working on higher level curriculum with higher expectations for learning. Junior high school is also a time when students want desperately to not be any different from their peers. If using AT has become second nature to them in elementary school, it will be less of an issue when they hit junior high school.
It’s not just a matter of picking a new AT device or tool and starting to use it. Before deciding to use AT and selecting which AT product to use, a student needs to do preliminary investigation on a variety of AT-related issues. A good place to start is by learning how AT fits into K–12 public, private, parochial and home-school education. Wrightslaw is an outstanding source of reliable and comprehensive information about how AT fits into a student’s IEP, 504 Plan, or educational learning profile (sometimes used in private and parochial schools). Other considerations include:
Matching AT to the Student’s Needs
Matching the right AT product to a student’s learning challenge is essential. Experienced AT specialists will consider the student’s entire picture of learning styles, learning preferences, strengths, current challenges, and environments. Because certain language-related and processing disorders can be complex, it is helpful to have an AT specialist evaluate the student and recommend technology that will enhance a student’s educational experience rather than create a distraction.
Understanding AT Policy
It behooves students to do some research about the school’s policies around AT. Find out which AT tools and devices are acceptable for use at the school. Learn what policies the school has for using specific AT in the classroom, for homework, and for tests. Understand whether the school or the student is responsible for providing, purchasing, and paying for AT. Clarify the school’s policy about making the same AT device or tool accessible at school as well as at the student’s home. Be clear about whether the school or the student owns the AT. AT the end of this article are example of questions to present to the school.
Accommodating Computer System Requirements
Some AT can absorb a substantial amount of computer memory. Before selecting AT, become familiar with the system requirements for the AT and whether it serves Mac and/or PC. Make sure that installing AT won’t bog down your computer or compromise other operating systems.
Mastering Study Skills
AT alone is not the answer to academic success. AT products can compliment a student’s academic performance; however AT will not be the complete solution. A student must develop basic academic skills and then integrate AT with their study skills. For example, a student who is asked to read a novel and write an essay needs to understand how to complete this assignment. This involves taking notes while reading the book, identifying themes, finding passages relating to those themes, recognizing character development, developing an essay topic, breaking down the essay into sections, writing an introduction and a conclusion, and so on. The student may very well rely on one or more AT products to complete these tasks, but the AT product alone isn’t a substitute for the mastery of study skills.
Anticipating Future AT Applications
Consider how the student’s progression through his K-12 years and transition to post-secondary education may influence and be affected by different AT products and tools. Plan ahead and anticipate as much as possible how AT will be used in different educational settings. For example, a student whose learning is aided by AT may want to use AT on high stakes tests such as the ACT or SAT. In order to be granted use of certain AT products on these tests, a student needs to demonstrate a history of use of the product and explain its importance as an accommodation. Students should spend time finding out what kinds of accommodations are available on these high stakes tests, and explore which AT products are acceptable for use on the tests. The availability and use of AT in high school can vary in a collegiate setting, so students should think about their options for AT once they move on to college.
Once a student selects the best AT product to meet his needs, it’s not just as simple as offering AT to the student and assuming he’ll start using it. He needs to invest time and patience in becoming proficient with its use, otherwise it will feel like another roadblock making the student’s work harder or longer to finish. Working with an AT specialist will expedite the student’s mastery of the AT product and enhance his ability to use the product, apply it to his particular advantage, and adapt it to his study skills and learning styles.
Incorporating Assistive Technology into a student’s academic environment allows the student to reach his true academic potential and demonstrate his true acquired knowledge,” comments Frake.
Questions to ask about school AT policies and procedures
• What types of Assistive Technology devices and tools are most commonly used by students?
• Does the school have personnel dedicated to coordinating AT products and services?
• Does the school have AT labs? If so, how many? Where are they? What are their hours?
• Do AT labs contain AT products that are responsive to my particular disability?
• Are students permitted to take quizzes and exams independently in the AT lab?
• What is the school’s policy and procedure for providing alternative print formats? Are they in a format that is compatible with my AT product(s)?
• Are teachers provided training or information on the AT products their students are using?
• Do you provide AT products and software for free? Or do you ask students to provide them for themselves?
• Is your school a member of AccessTextNetwork (ATN)? BookShare? Learning Ally?
Lee Baker is a parent advocacy consultant/educator with a broad background in marketing communications, specializing in high school to college transition. A founding member of the Learning Disability Parent Education Group at St. Paul Academy and Summit School, she serves on the board of the Upper Midwest Branch of the International Dyslexia Association.