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Multi-Function Literacy Support Software

by Lynette Penney | Oct 18, 2012

Multi-function packages that help with reading and writing are becoming a lot more powerful.

People with reading and writing difficulties live in a world totally dominated by words.

The internet, e-mails, books, newspapers and even this article are completely inaccessible to some people and for others they present a constant challenge in their education, work and personal life.

Literacy support often comes in the form of one-to-one support from teachers and other professionals; helping individuals to create, compose, proof-read and absorb information.

This type of support is extremely effective, but sometimes it can be difficult to access, very demanding for professionals and costly in resources.

Assistive software offers an alternative way of overcoming the challenges faced by people with reading and writing difficulties. However, with the wide range of assistive software available it can often be confusing and sometimes expensive to provide individual programs to cover all the assistance required.

As technology has improved and developed, more and more people are exploring software packages which offer multiple features in one package. This software, which is sometimes called multifunctional literacy support software, can offer greater flexibility, better value and more independence for the user. Typical features include text-to-speech, phonetic spell checkers, dictionary support and writing frameworks, among others.

But how does technology help? For reading support, people can use software to read back text so that they can ‘hear’ the words as if they were being spoken by another person.

This is known as text-to-speech or computer generated synthesised speech. A talking computer can act as a proof reader, helping you hear any mistakes or inconsistencies in your writing.

Technology can also reduce the strain of reading: for those with concentration or reading problems hearing and reading a long document is a lot easier than reading it conventionally.

Computer speech is also an important component in software for teaching and is often used in spelling programs, for example to reinforce ideas using both sight and hearing. Documents, Web pages and e-mails can be read back using this technology.

For books and other printed materials, users can scan these into a computer and have them read back. The voice type and speed can be changed to suit individual preferences and there is the added benefit of dual highlighting within some of the programs which can help users track along as the text is being read.

As well as hearing words read out, users can access dictionary definitions to aid comprehension and there is picture support for those with severe literacy difficulties.

For writing support, people can use software to help with word and sentence construction. This might be in the form of simple word banks or writing frames that can be configured with subject specific words and phrases that can be easily inserted into a document at a click of a button.

It might also be in the form of phonetic spelling support, whereby users are presented with a list of alternative suggestions that can be read back with text-to-speech or explored further using dictionary definitions.

Six of the Best

There are a growing number of multifunction packages available, but choosing the right package will ultimately come down to a number of factors such as cost, functionality, ease of use and compatibility.

In the following section we look in more detail at six widely used packages. They fall into one of two broad categories: products that work alongside other applications such as MS Word and those that have their own environment for word processing.

Buyers may also want to consider whether a package is compatible with solutions that are already in place to reduce the need to learn a whole new environment.

Read & Write Gold and ClaroRead Plus consist of a toolkit of applications to support literacy across the Windows environment. This global approach gives support wherever it is needed, within emails, on the Internet and within Microsoft Office.

Both products support the use of scanners to convert printed materials such as books and magazines into Word documents.

Read & Write provides simultaneous reading and dual highlighting of text. The sentence is highlighted in yellow and each word is coloured blue when spoken (although it is possible to change the colour combinations).

This encourages the user to “read along” with the text and aids comprehension and focus.

ClaroRead, instead will highlight individual words as they are spoken and also has a focus feature which greys out everything either side of the text currently reading.

Both packages offer a wide selection of electronic voices, and it is possible to change the speed and correct wrongly pronounced words. This is important as wrongly pronounced words can cause a loss of comprehension.

They also both enable text to be converted to audio files enabling text to be absorbed while away from the computer. ClaroRead will also convert text into a video file, enabling users to see and hear the text on iPods/iPhones and other compatible smart phones.

Read and Write’s phonetic spell checking tool opens in a clear box displaying the sentence, word suggestions and dictionary definitions all of which are speech enabled. A further tool will check the text for homophones – with example phrases and speech to help the user identify the correct ‘sounds like’ word for the context of their sentence.

ClaroRead enhances the proofing tools in Microsoft Word allowing the user to check for spelling and homophones at the same time. There is picture support, dictionary definitions and synonyms displayed which can all be read back to the user.

Both packages offer word prediction, a tool that can enable students to use more advanced vocabulary and potentially speed up typing for the slow typist.

Other tools included with Read and Write are dictionary and picture dictionary support, a verb checker, study skills tools such as highlighters (now includes Harvard style referencing), fact finder (to quickly do a web search) and a fact folder (to collect web research) as well as a vocabulary tool to quickly produce word lists containing each word, along with their definition and a picture relating to the word.

Claro Software’s ClaroCapture also allows the user to collect information from various sources.

Kurzweil 3000, Write Online, Clicker and Solo offer literacy support within their own environment, so additional word processing packages such as Microsoft Word are not required, but no general support is provided across the Windows platform in programs such as the internet, e-mail and Microsoft Office.

Kurzweil 3000 provides a comprehensive collection of tools to support the writing process. Features such as text to speech; speaks whilst typing and reads dictionary definitions aloud, study skills tools such as bookmarks, highlighting and sticky notes, also available are multi-language definitions; useful for learners of English as a Second Language.

Write Online is a web based tool offering wordbank support, prediction and text to speech whenever the student has access to the Web. It is also now possible to load the program onto a computer for use when the Internet is not available.

There is also a concept mapping tool to help with the planning and organisation. Wordbanks can be tailored to the curriculum with words and phrases available through point and click.

There is a large bank of readymade wordbanks and it is easy to create your own. The Analysis tool will give an insight into how the student is working by giving a complete history of time spent creating the document, spelling errors and the “pasted” text.

Documents created in Write Online can be saved in other formats such as Microsoft Word.

Clicker 6 offers reading and writing support for pupils of all abilities. This versatile software offers grid support, wordbanks, a talking word processor, switch support and over 2500 curriculum pictures to help with understanding. Clicker 6 incorporates Clicker Paint to encourage creativity for projects undertaken by the pupils.

The online LearningGrid portal offers a wealth of free grids to support students across the curriculum.The grids are easy to develop “in house” and offer a range of support from basic communication to foreign language support.

This program can be found in over 90% of UK primary schools (Crick Software) but is often overlooked as a mainstream literacy support tool.

Additional resources that can be purchased for Clicker include Oxford Reading Tree and Planet Wobble “talking books”, Clicker Phonics, a phonics program to help develop speaking and listening,

Documents created in Clicker can be saved in HTML format only. Word will open HTML documents, but the symbols are not retained.

Solo Suite is made up of four programs Read Out Loud to read web based content and eBooks, Write Out Loud a talking word processor which includes spell and homophone checkers and a built in dictionary; a word prediction package called Co:Writer with topic specific vocabulary support; and DRAFT:Builder to help structure the writing.

The software also has a bibliography tool to create citations.