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Assistive Technology for Students with Learning Disabilities from

Lisa Richards, Educational Outreach Writer

For students with learning disabilities (LD), succeeding in the classroom has historically been a challenge. In the past, there were limited tools available to meet the specific needs associated with the various types of learning disabilities. In today's technologically advanced society, however, this has changed for the better. People with LD and those who teach them now have access to computers, devices, and programs that are helping to improve the educational outlook for students of all ages. These types of tools are known as assistive technology and they can drastically improve how and what a student learns. Additionally, it also helps to alleviate the stress and frustration that LD students face in a learning environment.

Before starting with assistive technology, students and their parents must have a grasp of what it is and what it can and cannot do for them. The simplest explanation of assistive technology is that it is technology that allows people to compensate for, or work around, their disability. By doing so they are able to improve their ability to function both in and out of the classroom, and are better able to learn and perform on par with other students. Some of these aids are specifically designed for people with learning disabilities in mind, while others are general programs that can also be of benefit to students with LD.

When using assistive technology, people must have a realistic view about how they can be of help. One can expect assistive devices to help students with classroom instruction and as a result help their overall understanding, performance and ability to accomplish the work. They also help students so that they are better able to perform in classrooms with other students. It cannot, however, replace a proper instructor or improve on the teachings of the student's instructor. It is not and should not be seen as a cure and may not work the same or favorably for everyone.

Available assistive technology includes programs that help LD students with writing difficulties. Some of these are writing and/or note taking programs such as those that include speech-to-text recognition. Others may have recording capabilities to help students with note taking during lectures, such as computer pens. Proofreading programs are also valuable for the student that has difficulties with spelling and word usage. Assistive applications are also available to help students with phonics. Customizable or alternative keyboards are useful for LD students who have difficulty comprehending traditional keyboards or who have trouble with handwriting. Handwriting difficulties can greatly hinder a student's ability to perform and/or focus. Alternative keyboards can be helpful by offering alternatives for keys such as graphics, fewer keys, or keys that are grouped by color, for example. Other assistive technology programs or devices that are useful include those that help with organization and math. Applications on computers and hand-held devices are available to help with one's organizational needs. Assistive programs that can aid students with math include talking calculators and electronic math worksheets.

Sight, hearing, and attention disorders are all areas that also benefit from the use of assistive devices. Devices that can help LD students with difficulties involving attention or listening include personal FM listening systems and tape recording devices. The FM listening devices are assistive listening devices that help listeners focus by transmitting the voice of the speaker directly to the user's ear. The microphone is a wireless transmitter that the speaker wears while the listener wears an earphone to receive the transmission. Computer pens that are paper-based also help with listening and aid memory. Other tools for listening and attention include talking word processors and talking spell checks. Optical character recognition systems are used to scan material that is printed and "speaks" the text. People may also use braille embossers to turn text files into braille copies. Audio books are a solution for students who have attention difficulties as well as visual limitations. For example, students with dyslexia can become better at decoding words, and as a result become better readers, by listening and visually following along with the text.

A learning disability makes it a challenge for students to progress at the same rate as their peers. Fortunately, technology has helped to make it easier for students to overcome the difficulties that their disabilities have created. Computers, and even cell phones and tablets, have programs or applications that may be used to compensate. It is important that parents and students educate themselves on the devices that are available and determine which technologies are most effective for their individual needs.

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