Use of Assistive Technology at the Secondary Level

As students progress in their education, they often desire more independence and the ability to complete tasks on their own. This is true for students with LDs as well. It is important for secondary teachers to allow their students ownership and responsibility for their work and learning; utilizing technology is an excellent way to achieve this. Students in their mid to late teens often have more access to devices, both personal and provided by the school. Allowing students with LDs to use this type of assistive technology allows greater freedom, and even the ability to “close the gap” between them and their peers.

Secondary students are often eager to use technology in their learning. In a recent study conducted by Nadia Rousseau, students reported that they appreciated the help they received through the use of assistive technology (AT). They associated it with an increase in the concentration and attention that they brought to tasks. They reported that they were more effective in terms of the time it took them to perform a task (less time) and in terms of their achievement (completion of tasks). Similarly, educators reported that students were more engaged and took action more quickly. They reported that, for several students, AT made all the difference: they were able to complete tasks that they had not been able to complete before (Rousseau et al., 2014).

AT That Can Be Helpful for Students with LDs

During a needs analysis, the use of assistive technology and specific features that have been identified as helpful for students with similar learning disabilities may be suggested. AT can be used to compensate for the student’s difficulties and to support them in learning tasks. AT can reduce the gap between the student’s abilities and the task to be performed.

The following features of assistive technology have been found to be useful for students with ADHD and other LDs, from elementary school to post-secondary education:

Text-to-Speech/Speech-to-Text Software

Text-to-Speech software is able to convert written text to audio and read text on screens, aloud. This can help the student to focus, learn accurate pronunciation of novel words, and prevent errors in accuracy. In addition, with the reading speed set to normal, it can increase comprehension.

When writing, the feedback provided through text-to-speech features can assist students who make errors in sentence structure and/or forget words. The text-to-speech function in the software program is able to read aloud a text that the student has written. When students hear their writing read aloud, they are more likely to hear errors and make the necessary corrections.

Speech-to-text software transcribes spoken word into computer text, allowing the student to bypass the demands of typing or handwriting. Freed from these effortful tasks, students may compose stories that are longer, more complex, and contain fewer errors (Graham,1999).

Idea Generation Software

As students with LDs often struggle to organize their thoughts into written words, assistive technology that supports ideation, or the process of generating ideas, has proven helpful. This skill can be further supported by software that allows a visual representation to be converted to an outline, such as Inspiration. This feature provides students with templates that allow them to organize their ideas in a visual format and allows students to convert these graphic organizers into a written outline. This means that students create a plan before starting to write.

Spelling and Grammar Checkers

Writing tasks involve several complex processes. For this reason, it is not unusual to find that, in spite of having a good command of the rules of spelling and grammar, students with LDs often lack the ability to see their errors. Spelling and grammar checkers can compensate for this difficulty by providing visual alerts to potential errors in a text.

Regardless of the difficulties that are observed, it is important to remember that, even for students with the same identification, the adaptations may be different. The needs analysis must be done in collaboration with educational and medical professionals who are familiar with the student’s areas of difficulty, in order to suggest accommodations that compensate for the deficit.

Choosing Effective AT

There are hundreds of assistive technologies available, and simply too much information for one person to track. To help with this problem, Dr. Todd Cunningham, a clinical psychologist at the University of Toronto/OISE, specializing in AT, and his team of graduate students have gone through and compiled as much information and research as we could find. All this information is available on the website, compiled into summary articles, each one on a different type of AT. The core of the website consists of a series of articles, each one describing a particular type of AT, its main features, and as much relevant, up-to-date research as we could find. These articles will help you understand what each AT is, and if that AT is appropriate for your situation.

Click here to visit the ATSelect website. 

Unless you know how to use it correctly, technology can be more frustrating than helpful. In order to develop a student’s autonomy, the functionality of features of assistive technology must be taught through explicit instruction. Educators should wait until the student has fully mastered one feature before teaching the student how to use another feature.

Click here to access the article Explicit Instruction: A Teaching Strategy in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics for Students with Learning Disabilities.

Using Accessible Texts: Tools and Resources

When a learning task is not specifically targeting a student’s ability to read and comprehend, it can be helpful to make accessible texts available. This simple change helps level the playing field for students with LDs. Watch the following video to see what tools students and teachers at Avon Maitland District School Board use to find and create accessible texts for their classrooms.

Click here to view the transcript of this video.