Literacy software and other assistive technology help students reach academic goals
Reading and writing never came easily to Aimee Bjornstad during her college career. Visual field loss in her left eye made it difficult for her to follow line breaks in text books, and a head injury suffered as a teenager slowed her ability to recognize words.
But with help from ITaP’s Assistive Technology Center (ATC), Bjornstad didn’t allow her learning disabilities to stop her from accomplishing her goals. She used literacy software supported by the ATC to complete reading and writing assignments, graduating in the spring of 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology.
“I would not have succeeded to the degree that I have if assistive technology was not available to me,” Bjornstad says.
Bjornstad relied on applications such as Kurzweil 3000 and Read&Write GOLD, which feature text-to-speech tools that allow users to hear words as they appear on a computer screen. The auditory reinforcement helped Bjornstad nearly double her reading speed and identify errors in her writing.
“If I hear my writing, then I can recognize the mistakes,” Bjornstad says. “In a sense, having a software program that can read my work back to me is like having someone proofread by reading aloud.”
Read&Write GOLD, available to all faculty, staff and students with a Purdue career account, is one of the primary tools Bjornstad turned to for reading and writing assistance. The software, which opens as a movable desktop toolbar, boasts more than two dozen tools and video tutorials to help users study, write papers, and work with scanned documents, PDFs, websites and graphics. The text-to-speech feature allows users to highlight sections within a document to be read back aloud, with control over speed, voice, pronunciation and translation.
Purdue users can access Read&Write GOLD for PCs or Macs (Purdue career account required) from any ITaP computer lab. Read&Write GOLD Web tools made for use via Web browsers anywhere, as well as on tablets and mobile devices, can be accessed using login information found on the ATC website.
Those familiar with the software say it is especially beneficial for people with disabilities that affect learning and for non-native English speakers, but can be helpful to anyone.
“Some people struggle with reading and writing but don’t necessarily get identified as a person with a learning disability,” ITaP assistive technology specialist David Schwarte says. “Instead of a program that just fixes errors, the tools within Read&Write GOLD help students along the path of learning.”
Beyond literacy software, the ATC, located in Stewart Center, Room 111, is dedicated to supporting the Office of Institutional Equity’s mission and University compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act by helping students with all forms of disabilities access technology.
Software programs like JAWS, a screen reader, and Zoom Text Magnifier, a screen enhancer, provide benefits for people with visual impairments, while Naturally Speaking voice recognition software and alternative keyboards and pointing devices help students who have difficulty using a standard keyboard and mouse. Many of these technologies are available at ITaP computer labs or can be made available on ITaP-supported computers upon request within 24 hours.
Promoting Web accessibility among faculty, staff and students is another initiative spearheaded by the ATC to ensure that individuals with disabilities can access online information, such as course material uploaded to Blackboard Learn. Resources for creating accessible documents in compliance with Purdue’s Web accessibility policy are available at the Purdue Web Accessibility website, including tutorials on creating accessible Microsoft Office documents.
“When creating online documents for the classroom and audiences outside the University, it’s important that faculty and staff take into account people with disabilities,” ITaP assistive technology specialist Dean Brusnighan says. “The resources listed on the Purdue Web Accessibility website provide tips and techniques faculty can use to improve the accessibility of documents as they are created.”
For more information on ATC services or to schedule a consultation on teaching students with disabilities and supporting access to information technology, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Writer: Jonathan Hines, technology writer, ITaP, 765-496-7998, email@example.com
Sources: Aimee Bjornstad, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dean Brusnighan, ITaP assistive technology specialist, 765-494-9082, email@example.com
David Schwarte, ITaP assistive technology specialist, 765-494-4387, firstname.lastname@example.org
Last updated: June 26, 2013