Oct 24th , 2011
Here is a collection of things we came across this past week. What have we here? Spelling, punctuation, dyslexia and food. Fun! Dyslexia Awareness Month Frequent Question: One or Two Spaces After a Period? Another Frequent Spelling Question: BBQ?
Jul 18th , 2011
Last night, on BBC ONE, the unexpected happened. Tom Pellereau, a 31-year-old inventor who was on the losing side a record eight times during the series, was chosen by Alan Sugar to become his new business partner in ‘The Apprentice’ … Continue reading
Jun 15th , 2011
Mar 9th , 2010
One of the challenges of working in the field of assistive technology is figuring out how various tools can work together to support students with writing disabilities. Written language is an extremely complex and demanding task that assumes that the student has a good foundation in organization, grammar, mechanics, idea, and punctuation. If you are a good writer you take for granted all of the sub-skills that are needed in order to get your ideas down in a coherent fashion. For students that struggle with written language writing an essay or book report can be a frustrating and daunting experience. For many students whom I have worked with, written language is their weakest skill and one of their least liked school activities. So then how can we provide these students with some scaffolding and supports to help them to be more successful when doing their school writing projects? As an assistive technology consultant I am often asked by teachers and schools to help them match the students learning profile, the tasks, and recommend some tools that can support the student in the area of written language. Many students with written language disabilities often have difficulty starting their writing assignments and often need some software applications to help structure the task and help them move through the process.
In my professional experience software tools like Inspiration are wonderful for students who need the opportunity to brainstorm and need a more structured approach to their writing assignment. Inspiration is an ideal tool for brainstorming and freeing up the students to get their ideas down without the need to be concerned about the order or structure of their ideas. Using the RapidFire feature within Inspiration is a great way to engage students in the process of creatively getting their ideas down on the screen before setting off to write. The latest version of Inspiration now supports mind mapping and allows students to create visually appealing mind maps with the flexibility of allowing students to move their ideas around freely in the mind map. Giving students this freedom allows them to work with their ideas and organize them into a more coherent piece.
For students who may need more structure and support Inspiration can provide that as well. Many teachers that I have worked with using Inspiration, have developed their own writing templates which can provide students with the necessary prompts to help engage them in the writing process. In the screenshot provided you can see how one teacher provided a structure for a basic paragraph. Teachers can create frameworks for their students depending on the type of writing assignment that can go a long way in helping students to break down the task as they move through the writing process. Teachers also have access to a rich array of built-in templates that they can draw from and are easily accessible from within Inspiration. For students that need text to speech support that is available within Inspiration and can be easily accessed by students. Once students access the prompts that has been created by their teachers they are ready to get their ideas down. Inspiration is a very flexible tool and students can add their ideas into the mind map or into a more traditional outline. Whichever method they choose, they will be glad to know that their work will be saved and can be transferred to Microsoft Word. Students also have the option to add Sticky Notes and Audio notes to their graphic organizer which are just two other ways for them to get their ideas down before they begin to do more traditional writing. It is important when using Inspiration in the writing process to help the students understand that while it may seem to them like one more step that in the long run when they use this strategy that they will become more proficient and productive writers.
For students who have moved through this process and transferred their written work from Inspiration to Microsoft Word they will immediately see the benefits. Some of the students will have the “Aha” moment when they see how quickly they were able to put a draft together. Working within Microsoft Word the students now have access to a suite of tools and features that will let them flesh out their written work.
For students that need more spelling and grammar support- they can look to Ginger to provide it. Ginger is an easy to use spelling and grammar correction tool that is unique in that it looks at words that are misspelled in the context of the sentence. So unlike typical spelling correction tools that just check for common spelling errors, Ginger helps to support students by looking at the word in the context of the sentence.
With Ginger’s powerful algorithms and text to speech support students can feel confident that what they hand in is correct. With so many wonderful tools out there for students to access to support their written work it is great to know that Inspiration, Microsoft Word, and Ginger can work so fluidly with one another to support the writing process for student with writing disabilities.
Jan 24th , 2010
By Brian S. Friedlander, Ph.D.
A lot has changed since I entered the field of assistive
technology, owing to the fast pace of technological innovation. Years ago if
you wanted to make text accessible to students with reading disabilities it was
a rather arduous task of physically scanning the book using a flatbed scanner.
Today there are many ways for students to access books without the need to scan
a single page. The choices that you make will often depend on the availability
of the book and the service that you are a member of. To begin the process you
will have to decide whether you want to have your audio book to be read by a
human reader or read using synthesized text to speech. Next you will have to
weigh how important it is for you to be able to access the audible book on a
portable device like an MP3 player or on a your personal computer. Once you
have made some of these decisions you can begin to sort out the various
services to access your novels and textbooks.
for the Blind and Dyslexic, which happens to be located in Princeton, NJ has
one of the largest holdings of chapter books as well as textbooks which are all
recorded by human readers in their recording studios. Each book is recorded and
supplied to students on a CD in their AudioPlus format which can be played on a
specialized CD player which is available from RFB&D or can be played on a
personal computer with the appropriate software application. When playing the
audible book on the computer or specialized CD player, students can quickly
navigate to a page in the book and can change the pitch and rate of the reading
speed. Students with reading disabilities can follow along in their book as the
book is being read- which is highly suggested. RFB&D recently instituted
AudioAccess, which allows RFB&D members to download audio textbooks and
literature directly to a Windows®-compatible computer. AudioAccess books
are easy to use and can also be played on a Windows based MP3 player making
this a truly portable alternative.
Effective August 2006, legislation was passed by Congress
that would require textbook publishers to provide their current textbooks with
a copyright of 2006 or greater in a standardized National Instructional
Materials Accessibility Format (NIMAS).
The NIMAS format which was jointly developed by a consortium of textbook
publishers and the Center for Applied Special Technology would allow students
to have a range of accessible audio textbooks. Last year, Bookshare was awarded
a large grant from the US Department of Education to provide accessible books
utilizing text to speech technology. Bookshare has a large selection of the
NIMAS formatted textbooks available and ships free reader software with each
subscription. Bookshare is now a free service to schools and gives students
with I.E.P.’s and who have a “print disability” as defined on the Bookshare web
site with access to their books and free reading software. School districts can
sign up for institutional accounts and certify that the students who are
included on the roster have a “print disability.” Once the account is processed students can gain
access to downloading their chapter books and textbooks from the Bookshare
website. Students can have access to VictorReader Soft or Read:Outloud
Bookshare Edition to access the NIMAS formatted books. Students using the
Bookshare service need to be comfortable listening to text to speech. There are
many different speech engines available
and students should preview them to determine which one is the most
understandable for them.
has certainly received a great deal of media interest in their latest reader
called the Kindle 2 which was recently released. At just 10 ounces and a 6 inch
diagonal screen the Kindle 2 can store over 1,500 books which are available
from the vast Amazon.com library. With the new text-to-speech feature, Kindle
can read every newspaper, magazine, blog, and book out loud to you, unless the
book is disabled by the rights holder. The text-to-speech feature is very well
integrated into the Kindle and the quality of the voice is quite good. The
Kindle 2 really opens up access to those students with reading disabilities
with an elegant and easy to use device. With an Amazon.com account, books are
easily downloaded to the Kindle over the free 3G network for which there is no
charge. The Kindle 2 gives students access to the latest bestsellers using high
quality text to speech technology. Just last week Amazon announced the release
of the Kindle DX which they are piloting with select colleges. The Kindle DX
has a larger format and is intended to be used to access newspapers and
textbooks. Amazon will be testing out how college students can use this
technology to access their textbooks. With the cost of college textbooks and
the merging of this technology- it is clear that someday soon, all students
will access their textbooks utilizing Kindle based technology of one sort or
Finally, for some students who need to be truly engaged in
the reading experience there is none better than having access to Audible.com.
Audible.com gives students access to a wide range of novels, chapter books ,
and bestsellers which are all professionally narrated and can be played on an
iPod. This is a very engaging medium and having the portability of your books
on your iPod is very appealing. With an Audible.com account books are simply
downloaded to your computer and transferred to your iTunes library for easy
transfer to your iPod. This is certainly a viable alternative to making text
a couple of weeks ago Intel announced the Intel Reader which is a small
portable device (1.4 pounds) with a camera with built in optical character
recognition (OCR) and text to speech support. It is hard to imagine all of the
technology that is built into this device that can be used to quickly OCR a
document and have it read almost instantaneously. At a price point of $1500
dollars the Intel Reader is moderately priced for such an assistive technology
system. The Intel Reader can also be purchased with a Portable Capture Station
making it relatively fast for the student to capture the pages. The Intel
Reader has a 5 megapixel camera with a built-in flash that can quickly process
the pages and begin to read even before the entire text is converted. From all
reports the text to speech engine is pretty good and the user can make
adjustments to the speed at which the text is read. By all accounts the Intel
Reader is a technological marvel for students with reading disabilities that
need to have access to a portable tool to convert the text.
As you see a lot has changed as advances in mainstream
technology have taken a foothold in
making text more accessible for students with reading disabilities.
Certainly there are pluses and minuses with each of the technologies and it is important
to weigh them before committing to one solution or another. In certain
instances you may need to rely on several of the aforementioned solutions as
part of your assistive technology reading toolkit. If you have questions about
these technologies please consult with your child’s Child Study Team who can
help guide you through the decision making process.
Oct 26th , 2009
Brian S. Friedlander, Ph.D
When I first came across Ginger sometime last spring, I was struck by quality of the spell checking and the innovation that I saw. While I was excited to learn about this new innovative assistive technology, it wasn’t until I actually used it with students diagnosed with dyslexia that I saw how valuable it was to them. Students who have been diagnosed with dyslexia typically present with a learning disorder that impacts in the areas of reading and well as in written language. While dyslexia impacts in a student’s ability to read, more often than not, it also impacts more in their ability to write. Typically students with dyslexia will have trouble organizing their ideas, spelling words correctly, and constructing clearly organized paragraphs. This is where Ginger can assist. Unlike other spell checking applications, Ginger is unique and uses algorithms and a database to seek out the context of how the word is being used. With these methodologies, Ginger is able with a very high degree of probability to correctly suggest the word that was intended by the writer. If you have worked with students with writing disabilities, you know just how challenging it is for them to get their ideas down on paper due to their spelling difficulties. In many cases, students with writing disabilities will choose to use smaller words that they know they can spell, then take the risk of spelling a word they want to use but just can’t figure out how to spell it. Even when these students use a standard spell checker, more often than not the word they want is not suggested because they are so far afield. Students with dyslexia typically spell very phonetically or will tend to drop out letters that they just don’t hear in the word. This is where Ginger comes in. Ginger allows the student the ability to get their ideas down without slowing them down and forcing them to check their spelling. The idea of fluency is important when writing and for all of us who do writing you know that the most important part of the process is getting your ideas down first before you edit. Using other writing assistive technologies has a tendency to break that flow, and force the student to focus at the word level, instead of allowing the student to get their ideas down.
Ginger allows students the freedom to know that they can get their ideas down first and when they are finished they can invoke Ginger to check their work. This really frees up the students to use words that they might not even want to attempt to try, because they know that Ginger is in the background ready to assist them when needed. Ginger has the uncanny ability to look at not only the misspelling but to look at the word in context to help make the appropriate suggestion. The ability to process the student’s written work after they are done writing one sentence at time really helps the student to focus on their intent and to see if their ideas flow. If needed, students can use Ginger’s text to speech (TTS) supports that comes with a Premium Membership to listen to the computer read their work and the suggested words. All in all, Ginger provides a level of support that will give students the confidence to get their ideas out with the words that they want to use. If you are working with students with dyslexia and spelling disorders, I urge you to take a test run of Ginger and download the 14 day trial and see what happens. While Ginger works great for student with dyslexia you should also consider it for students who are just starting to write and for English Language Learners whose native language is not English. Like myself, you will be amazed just how good this software is in providing students with the spelling supports they need. In recognition of National Dyslexia Awareness Month, Ginger Software is offering a 20 percent discount to home users until the end of November. You can go to the Ginger Software Store by clicking here
In my next post, I will take a look at the text to speech capabilities (TTS) in Ginger Premium to support students who may have difficulty reading the suggested corrections.