Thursday, July 21, 2011

Free Assistive Tech Tools Make Learning Accessible to All

Technology provides a terrific way to remove the obstacles to learning.  Fortunately, many of the tools available are free but what are they?  I reached out to my PLN through Facebook, Twitter, Classroom 2.0 and Google+ to find out.  Here are the fabulous resources shared by my PLN. 

Assistive Tech Starter Kit
The following accessibility tools are recommended to get started with assistive technology.

These are all free (or cheap) and provide both effective Text-To-Speech (thus access to content) and those with Word-by-Word highlighting help build sight-word recognition. One of the best uses of text to speech is to support writing with "read back" editing.
Resource courtesy of Ira Socol 

Reading Collections
  • Bookshare - Accessible Book Collection
    Bookshare® is free for all U.S. students with qualifying disabilities, thanks to an award from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs. Bookshare offers a searchable online library with approximately 90,000 digital books, textbooks, teacher-recommended reading, periodicals and assistive technology tools.
  • Project Gutenberg
    36,000 free ebooks to download
  • KidsClick
    Sort materials by reading level.
  • Tar Heel Reader
    This is a collection of free, easy-to-read, and accessible books on a wide range of topics. The books may be downloaded as slide shows in PowerPoint, Impress, or Flash format. Each book can be speech enabled and accessed using multiple interfaces, including touch screens, the IntelliKeys with custom overlays, and 1 to 3 switches. 
Audio and Video Collections

  • LibroVox
    Extensive collection of free audio books read by volunteers
  • dotSub
    Video collection with sub-titles in multiple languages

This fabulous toolkit will get you started and keep you going when it comes to learning about the best UDL tools.  
Site Administrators:   Joyce Valenza  Karen Janowski
Resource courtesy of Lisa Parisi

Mobile Learning for Special Needs Wiki
This wiki has a lot of information on using mobile tech with students who have special needs.  Here are some of the resources you will discover on this site.
  • Apps Lists - iPod touch and iPad applications ("apps") to use with students with disabilities.
  • Accessories - Includes a list of stands, cases, input devices, and speakers for use with students with  special needs.
  • Video Case Studies - See what it looks like to use mobile apps.
Resource courtesy of Lisa Nielsen

Advice and Recommendations from an Expert
Assistive technology has to be targeted, so it's not one particular product, but the right product for a specific need in a specific kid (and sometimes for a specific point in time).

  • CAST is a great organizational resource
  • Eileen Marzola has a good handle on this and has written and spoken on the topic.
  • Voice Recognition
    In my own work, I like voice-recognition software for adolescents and adults. Any product that reads the word for kids who can't do so themselves is a good thing -- some better than others.
    • Dragon Naturally speaking is pretty good
    • Ginger is a Software I did a few pilots with (a writing revision tool for kids with challenges in writing) which worked reasonably well and they are often updating it to make it better
    • Kurzweil is worth the money for someone who really needs it, but there are other programs that will read text and each one has its own functionality
    • Read, Write and Gold was recommended to me by a Canadian colleague and I hope to check it out soon
  • iPad
    My jury is still out on that, so I have to defer to those who have used it with students. I would consider, is it more of a motivational tool or truly an assistive tool?
Courtesy of Esther Klein Friedman

Connect with others using assistive tech
Join others interested in using assistive technology.  Here are two groups to get started.
Resource courtesy of Sharon Duffy Eilts

Get the latest Scoop on Assistive Tech with Scoop.It!
Scoop.It allows you to curate a beautiful collection of information about your favorite topic.  Here is one that focuses on assistive Tech.
Resource courtesy of Heather Peretz

A collection of assistive tech resources that includes the following gems:
  • Let Your Fingers Learn - LIve binder of special education apps
  • Apps - Good listing of assistive technology apps
  • Assistive Tech Freeware - The following is what I believe to be good AT and useful software weeded out from all the freeware that's available.
Resource courtesy of Mitch Weisburgh

Assistive Tech Collection from Cybraryman
The internet catalog for students, teachers, administrators & parents with relevant links personally selected by an educator/author with over 30 years of experience.
Resource courtesy of Jerry Blumengarten

Examples of Using Assistive Tech for Learning
Resource written by and courtesy of Karen Chichester
This article will tell you how to make any book interactive using QR codes.
Resource courtesy of
Scott Newcomb

Not so free products

If you really want to purchase software, here are suggestions, but I recommend you start with free tools.  This has the benefit of empowering students to use tools on their own at no cost and if necessary, you can move to a paid for tool later. 
    • WYNN or Read-and-Write
      Literacy software tool designed to enhance success for individuals with reading challenges and writing difficulties.
    • Kurzweil3000
      Several innovative educators recommend steering clear of this overpriced option.
    • IntellikeysThis is a tool that teachers love because they have the ability to customize the input device to meet each student's needs. Some educators who use iPads, say that iPads can do what Intellikeys do more affordably and effectively.  
      -Video about custom overlays:​m/videos_itk04.html.   
      -Their Facebook page is here
Resource courtesy of Paul Doliner Ira Socol


  1. Thank you for compiling this extensive list of AT resources. And thank you for including the UDL Tech Toolkit wiki. My belief is if more educators used these kinds of resources, we would have less of a need for general/special education distinctions. All students would have access to what they need to never lose their love for learning.

  2. Thank you so much for this list! This is priceless!! Will retweet!!

  3. I'll suggest a couple of things, including building a progression of literacy supports from FoxVox - Firefox on PC - and SpeakingFox -Firefox on MacOS up through WordTalk and Balabolka, and on to WYNN. That's my list, what I use everyday, along with VLingo and Speech-to-Text in Windows, VLingo, and the native Android App.

    The trick is making Task-Based decisions individually, not school decisions.

    You might also check my blog for links to the Freedom Stick suite of open source apps