Answered by Cindy Perras, M.Ed., OCT, Educational Consultant, LDAO. Adapted from an article for TA@l'école, written by Nathalie Paquet-Bélanger
All students have access to various educational supports to help them to reach their full academic potential. For many students with learning disabilities (LDs), assistive technology is an essential, not additional, support.
When an assessment from a qualified professional recommends the use of assistive technology for a student with a learning disability, the assistive technology must be included in the student’s IEP and educators have a legal obligation to make these tools available to the student.
Question 1: Some types of assistive technology appear to give students an advantage in achieving outcomes. For example, Ginger software corrects grammar and spelling. Is this really fair for the other students?
The recommendation for the use of assistive technology must come from a professional assessment (by a psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, etc.), and it must be included in the student’s IEP. The purpose of this recommendation is to allow the student to access the curriculum, to provide compensatory instructional and assessment strategies and to support the student in her learning so that she can reach her full academic potential.
Providing assistive technology to a student with LDs is no different than providing hearing aids to a student with a visual impairment, providing Braille materials to a student with a visual impairment, or providing adaptive equipment to a student with a physical challenge – all students should be provided with the materials, resources, and equipment they need to access the curriculum and achieve the learning outcomes – this is fair and equitable for all students.
Question 2: If a student with LDs uses text-to-speech to read texts during a comprehension assessment, doesn’t this amount to assessing his/her ability to listen?
Text-to-speech (TTS) is a type of speech synthesis application, which converts digital or print text into spoken voice output. Examples of TTS assistive technology include Kurzweil for computers and built-in screen readers on iPads and iPhones.
For students with LDs that impact reading, for example, students with phonological processing difficulties, TTS can be a valuable tool to support and improved reading skills. Often, TTS programs will highlight words as they are read aloud (dynamic tracking), allowing the student to follow along and improve decoding, word recognition, reading fluency, and comprehension.
On an assessment, TTS does not increase a student’s ability to comprehend text; rather, it allows the student to access information within the text so that she can demonstrate her knowledge and understanding of the reading passage.
Question 3: Some of my colleagues discourage students from using their assistive technology during quizzes and spelling tests. Is this an appropriate practice?
According to Ontario Regulation 181/98: IDENTIFICATION AND PLACEMENT OF EXCEPTIONAL PUPILS, an IEP must be developed for students identified as exceptional. The IEP includes a statement of strengths and needs as well as the appropriate instructional, environmental and assessment accommodations, including assistive technology (AT). Therefore, students with LDs who have AT included on their IEP as an instructional and assessment accommodation must be provided with access to their AT for all tests, quizzes, and provincial assessments. For additional information, please refer to pages 28 and 29 of the IEP Resource Guide
To learn more about assistive technology and how it can be used to support reading, view the LD@school video, "Building Reading Skills through Assistive Technology".
Cindy Perras is the English Educational Consultant with the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario, working as a member of the LD@school Team and LD@school/TA@l’école Advisory Committee. Cindy is an educator with 35 years of experience in special education, as a teacher, Consultant, Coordinator, and parent. Her professional qualifications include a Masters of Education degree from Brock University, a Bachelor of Education degree from the Ontario Teachers’ Education College, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Windsor, and a Specialist in Special Education; additionally, Cindy has completed the PhD coursework at OISE/UT. Cindy enjoys researching and writing articles for LD@school, connecting with Ontario school district administrators and educators, and assisting with planning for the Educators’ Institute.