Technology has changed the face of education and for many students with disabilities, it has levelled up the playing field and enabled them to realise their true potential. Assistive Technology can be as simple as a magnifying glass for someone with a visual impairment, as everyday as a smartphone calendar app helping those with specific learning difficulties plan their study or as complex as eye tracking technology which enables those with significant mobility impairments to use a computer. We’ve listed some assistive technology which is commonly used in higher education in Ireland below and grouped them by disability – that is types that are commonly used by students with those disabilities. The list is by no means exhaustive but is designed to give you an indication of what is out there.
Scroll to to learn more about the types of AT that might be useful for different types of disabilities.
Screen Reading Software
Screen reading software enables students who are blind/visually impaired to access and navigate their way around computers. The software reads aloud buttons, body, text, websites etc. and allows blind users to access most of the computers functions using keyboard shortcuts and tabbing. The most commonly used screen reader is called JAWS.
Scanning/Text to Speech Software
Kurzweil 1000 is a screen reading tool for blind and visually impaired users. It works on a personal computer in conjunction with a scanner to convert the printed word into speech. It allows the student to edit scanned documents. Typed text is spoken aloud as the student types. Kurzweil can even speak a highlighted section of text before the student cuts, copies or pastes.
Kurzweil 3000 allows text to be scanned from a paper source and read back by the software while the student listens. The student can highlight important information and annotate the document.
Screen Magnification Software
E.g. ZoomText. This software magnifies the image on a computer screen to enable students with visual impairments to see the screen more clearly. Screen magnification often requires a larger monitor. This allows sufficient information to be displayed on the screen for the student to continue to make sense of the data and its relationship to the document as a whole.
Voice recognition software
Voice recognition systems enable individuals with to dictate a document to the computer as an alternative to using the keyboard and mouse input e.g. Dragon Naturally Speaking. Consistent speech patterns are required and as well as a short period of training the software to recognise your speech patterns, a certain amount of editing post dictation is required.
Deaf / Hearing Impaired
Induction Loop Systems
Examples Include: ‘The Ezee Loop’ The Ezee Loop is a portable induction loop system. It consists of a panel that is placed on a table or in any discreet position, where it creates a magnetic field. A microphone on the front of the panel picks up sound and the magnetic field relays this sound to hearing aid users or students using personal communicators or listeners (hearing aid users must switch to the ‘T’ position in order to benefit from the system). This is perfect for one-to-one conversations or small group discussions.
Real Time Captioning Systems
Examples Include: ‘Speedtext’. Speedtext is an electronic notetaking service in which a Speedtext operator will attend an event (conferences, seminars, meetings, lectures etc) and transcribe live what is being said – the transcribed text is then viewed in real time by the Deaf or hard of hearing person on a separate computer screen. This service is particularly useful to Deaf people whose preferred language is English.
Voice recognition software
E.g. Dragon Naturally Speaking. Voice recognition systems enable individuals with to dictate a document to the computer as an alternative to using the keyboard and mouse input. Consistent speech patterns are required and as well as a short period of training the software to recognise your speech patterns, a certain amount of editing post dictation is required.
Adapted or Ergonomic keyboards are specially designed and shaped to suit. Some features include two-way tilts, wrist rests and split angle key layouts and in some cases the whole shape and layout of the keyboard is altered radically. Single-handed models are also available. The keyboards are designed specifically to reduce strains, movements, twists and tensions and thus reduce the pain and effort of typing. They are most suitable for students with hand dexterity difficulties.
E.g. ‘Trackerballs’. These types of AT offer an alternative mouse input method. They are useful for students who have fine motor control difficulties and those who find it difficult controlling a standard mouse.
E.g. ‘Ergonomic Furniture’. This includes furniture such as tables and chairs which are height adjustable to suit the specific posture and support the needs of individual students, so as to enable them to operate a computer and study for longer periods of time.
Specific Learning Difficulty e.g. Dyslexia
Mind Mapping Software
E.g. ‘Inspiration’. Mind mapping software helps students to plan projects visually and understand ideas through connecting visual concepts. Inspiration is a Windows based organisational and study skills tool, which assists students with the organisation and planning of written tasks. It is particularly valuable for those who tend to think in non-linear fashion, such as students with dyslexia.
Reading and Writing Tools
E.g. Read & Write Gold, Kurweil 3000. These tools have a wide range of specialist facilities which can help students both digest written text and compose it with accurate spelling and grammar. They include a read-back facility, word completion, word suggestion, automatic corrections, the capacity to screen-read spelling options, homophone recognition and a speaking thesaurus as well as added on project planning tools. These packages have been specifically designed for computer users with dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties.