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Tips For Using Assistive Technology.



Tips For Using Assistive Technology.


Does the dyslexia support that your child receives include the use of assistive technology? 
Have you come across the term 'Assistive Technology' and are keen to explore whatever benefits it can give to a young dyslexic learner?

This article seeks to give you some tips as you explore this topic and also share some thoughts from a good friend of mine, Arran Smith who is someone who is severely dyslexic who has personal experience on using assistive technology on a day to day basis and who will be able to give you some context and realistic expectations about what this technology can give.  More recently, Arran has been visiting schools to advise on assistive technology and currently works part-time at St David's College in Llandudno to find the best technology that helps with learning.

My three 'Top Tips' for using assistive technology are...

1) Understand the challenges the student is experiencing first.


This probably comes as no surprise, but believe me, a lot of assistive technology is purchased with the hope that it helps someone to learn more effectively and they either don't use it or they do for a while but then stop.  For some reason, the motivation is not there.

Why?

In many cases, if the needs of the student are not fully understood then the resultant technology 'solution' won't necessarily be a good fit.  If it is not a good fit, then it doesn't become a good solution to the challenge.  If that is the case, then the student is not going to be motivated to use it.

So my advice is to spend more time on understanding what it is like for the student to study with their current challenges to education.  Are the challenges of a visual stress nature where there is a huge difficulty in reading.  Maybe they can read fine, but it is just hugely exhausting.  The very act of reading is simply using up far too much cognitive resources.  Maybe the student knows what they want to write in essays, but for some reason can't find the words to write or struggle to use a keyboard.
The more you understand these challenges and can articulate them, then you have a  set of criteria by which to judge the usefulness of a piece of software or hardware assistive technology.

2) Explore the tools before you fill the toolbox!


This tip is especially relevant to software where it is relatively easy to 'try before you buy'.
Most assistive technology software providers offer a trial for a month or so to give the user an opportunity to see how it fits with them.
There is so much technology out there that there should be a piece of software that will help, but you might need to look around first.  Don't assume that the first suggestion that comes up will be the best suggestion.  Differences in user interface (style of delivery) may cause problems with distractions or visual stress.  Maybe the software can do the job but it is so complicated.  You will need to work with your child or young person to find the right tool for the job!

3) Be prepared to use different types of assistive technology together to great effect.


Imagine if you will that you are in class and have been told to write an essay.  You know that your work is going to be critiqued for demonstrating learning but equally, it will also be marked for spelling and grammar accuracy and it is this second part that is scary.
The anxiety around spelling and grammar might actually cause the writer to struggle to engage with writing so we need to find a way to make it fun.
One way is to use a couple of types of assistive technology, Mind Mapping and Text to Speech.
Nowadays, you can use mind mapping software (great for non-linear dyslexic minds) to get ideas out of one's head and onto the page (or computer screen) and this part of the process you can do without having to worry about spelling and grammar.  You just need to get the ideas out, right?
With certain pieces of mind mapping software, it is possible to get all your ideas out in a graphical and non-linear way.  Then you can convert it into a Microsoft Word document and you can work making sure that the text is accurately portraying what you want to say.  MS Word has some good features for accuracy, but it might be that you have written your essay in a way that might sound great if communicated verbally but doesn't read well.  So you can use text to speech technology to read out the text and that helps with hearing the grammar issues and many text to speech products have tools that help with literacy accuracy too.
So at the end of the process, you will have produced a creative piece of writing which will be mostly free from mistakes and hopefully you will have achieved higher marks than if you hadn't of used this technology.  It could be that in taking the stress out of the process the information that you share might be praised for being of such high quality becuase the technology has given you the space to think rather than stress.

This is why it is important to explore the different types of software so as to secure maximum benefit!

My personal experience of using assistive technology by Arran Smith.

Aran Smith, Assistive Technology Consultant at David’s College
As a severely dyslexic adult, I use assistive technology every day, for me assistive technology is there to help with productivity and limit the effects of my learning differences. 

I’d like to give you a brief insight into some of the concepts that I use and why use.

Text to Speech: 

Text-to-Speech is exactly what it says on the tin, there is text on the screen or on the page and it reads it out to you. it’s the same concept as you reading out loud or another human reading out loud to you. When you have problems with reading like dyslexia and other literacy difficulties the written word is everywhere.  When I find it difficult for me, I will use text-to-speech on my phone (which is built in)and  I will use software on the computer to read out my emails or read out webpages, these are either third party products or even tools built into the products. I also use Text-to-Speech to read documents or even blog posts that allows me to access the written word and because I’m listening to it the information goes in and stays.

Dictation: 


I have real difficulty with spelling and it’s a really frustrating having to read squiggly lines on documents. I type much more rapidly than my brain thinks but by being able to talk into my computer or my phone it helps me to articulate what I want to say. I can use big words which I would not be able to spell or type but am able to articulate so it’s a really useful tool and it allows me to write these 300 words within a matter of minutes rather than a matter of hours but the main thing is the power of how I can use this to remove the frustrations of writing.

Dictation and Text-to-Speech are my two biggest assistive technology strategies that I use. 

Here are a few others that you may find useful.

Predictive Text


When I’m texting or writing an email on my phone it is very good to see the words I’m looking for coming up in front of me which allows me to type less letters when I can’t use dictation. This is very useful.

Mind Mapping


I’ve always been a big fan of how mind mapping can be used to empty your brain of ideas onto a piece of paper.  This way of working is really useful and satisfying. With my handwriting being pretty much illegible using software to create a mind map helps me to write in a very structured, linear and logical way. I can use this type of technology to build up ideas, reports and even documents.


Using technology in general but more specifically assistive technology it is best to find whatever works for you which has to be the most important thing.



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