Recite logo
  • Technology Overview

    by Lynette Penney | Oct 18, 2012

    A round-up of the most popular assistive technology, software and hardware for children and adults with dyslexia.

     

    Introduction

    Children and adults with dyslexia can now enjoy a great choice of specialist, liberating software and hardware. Technology designed for general use can also be a great help. These include word processors, electronic dictionaries and scanning software (OCR or Optical Character Recognition, which turns print into electronic text). But many specialist packages are particularly aimed at making text more accessible to those with reading and writing problems. This article gives a general outline of the types of software and hardware that are available and gives pointers to where you can find more information.

    Text to Speech, making your computer talk:

    Why do we want a computer to speak?

    A talking computer can act as proof reader, helping you hear any mistakes or inconsistencies in your writing. It can also reduce the strain of reading: for those with concentration or reading problems hearing a long document is a lot easier than reading it conventionally. Computer speech is also important in software for teaching and is often used in spelling programs, for example to reinforce ideas using both sight and hearing.

    How can you make a computer speak?

    There are two ways: pre-recorded (digitised) and generated (synthesised) speech. Pre-recorded speech sounds the most natural but takes up a lot of disk space and can only read out what has already been recorded - it can’t read out something that you have just written.

    Text-to-speech engines (or TTS) generate speech from text and are not limited by disk space. Both dyslexic and visually impaired people have found them to be a great leap forward in making text accessible. However, they use more or less robotic-sounding voices, which, although improving, can be grating. They are not ideal for teaching pronunciation as they will sometimes get the pronunciation wrong - words like read (reed) and read (red) can cause problems.

    What text-to-speech software is available?

    Text-to-speech software varies from basic screen readers where you must copy and paste text into the reader, to advanced packages which combine text to speech with OCR, to convert printed text into speech in one go. The specialist programs include other features to help with reading, spelling and word finding problems. Some of the most popular are:

    CapturaTalk for Android is a revolutionary App that provides literacy support to improve reading and writing skills on Android mobile phones and tablet devices.

    • ClaroRead text to speech software is closely integrated with Microsoft word providing enhanced proof reading tools, as well as speaking aloud practically any text in most applications. The Scanning function allows any document to be scanned and read back with clarity.
    • Read and Write Gold is an easy to use toolbar which sits discreetly on top of any open Windows application. Users are given the opportunity to work in an inclusive manner with their peers by offering additional support when reading or composing text by providing text-to-speech facilities throughout the software program; making it an ideal solution for literacy difficulties, people who have dyslexia or for those learning English as a second language.
    • Write:Outloud word processor with built-in speech and phonic spell checker (available for both PC and Mac)

    If you want to try text-to-speech to see if it useful for you then we recommend downloading and installing BrowseAloud. Developed by Texthelp, the same company behind Read and Write, BrowseAloud reads aloud certified websites including ours and popular sites such as www.google.com and www.bbc.co.uk.

    Phonetic Spell Checkers

    Most word processing programs now come with integrated spell checkers and most common applications, such as Micrsoft Word, come with interactive error alert such as highlighting. But most spell checkers are looking for typing errors not spelling mistakes. Roger Mitton (1996) in his article for the Simplified Spelling Society about computer spell checkers pointed out that research has found that 80-95% of errors could be explained by simple typing errors such as omitting or inserting one letter. However this is not the case with poor spellers or dyslexic people. Many dyslexic children and adults spell phonetically, that is they attempt to spell the word as it sounds. But because the English language is not phonetically regular this does not always give correctly spelt words. Here are some examples of phonetic errors:

    wose for was

    fissics for physics

    nowlige for knowledge

    Spell checkers have been developed specifically to cope with these types of errors and are called “phonetic spell checkers”. Many come with additional features to help users identify the correct word from the suggestion list, such as speech feedback and dictionary definitions.

    Phonetic spell checkers come in two types - handheld, portable spell checkers and software applications. Of all the different makes of electronic, handheld spell checkers we’ve found that only the Franklins Dictionaries can really cope with phonetic errors. The DMQ-570 is a pocket sized spell checker with dictionary and thesaurus, while the Franklin KID-1250 Childrens Dictionary has a speaking dictionary of over 32,000 words and a 500,000 word thesaurus, designed for children in Key Stage 1 and 2. For those who need speech feedback there are other dictionaries available that can also include a calculator and address book.

    Software applications with phonetic spell checker come in two types. There are those that are built into word processors, such as Write:Outloud which uses the same spell checking routine as the Franklin handheld. And there are those that interactively check your spelling in a number of applications such as Read & Write Standard and Read & Write Gold, both of which also offer speech feedback and word prediction within word processing applications.

    Homophones or Confusables

    In his analysis of spelling errors Mitton also found that up to a third of spelling errors were actually real word errors, either because the word is a homophone (word that sound the same but mean different things such as see and sea) or because the error has made another word (for example from and form; then and the). These words are really difficult for dyslexic writers to pick out when proof reading. There are two methods that can be used to pick them up.

    A text-to-speech application can help you identify when the wrong word has been typed by having it read back your work, but this won’t help with homophones. Read & Write Standard, Read & Write Gold and Write:Outloud offer tools to help with both problems. You get speech feedback and a tool for highlighting and correcting homophones within your document, solving both problems.

    Many of the Franklin handheld dictionaries also come with a “confusable” function which gives you alternative spelling for words that sound similar but mean different things.

    Speech Recognition, getting your computer to write!

    Why do we want a computer to understand our speech? If a computer can understand what you are saying, it can do the hard work of turning your ideas into print. A computer has no problems with spelling and has perfect presentation - no messy handwriting ever again! Software that recognises what you are saying and transcribes it is known as Speech Recognition, or sometimes Voice Recognition. It is particularly useful for people who are better at speaking than writing and often includes basic text-to-speech for proof reading your dictation.

    Speech Recognition has progressed enormously over the past decade. But it still has many limitations. Computers cannot automatically understand a voice nor can they discriminate between different voices. So to use the software you must go through a training process that involves reading a script. In the past this has meant reading for up to an hour but the new generation of software has reduced this to about 10 minutes for a normally fluent reader. Users with speech impediments have had varying success and may still prefer the older style packages where you have to speak each word separately, or discretely, i.e. with a noticeable gap between words.

    Remember, too, that dictation is not the same as talking in a conversation. The computer can’t understand “umms” and “aahs” and doesn’t know much about punctuation. The latest packages can estimate full stops and commas but all other punctuation must be dictated. Dictation is a skill that has to be developed.

    Speech Recognition uses a lot of processing power, so needs a modern, fast computer with a lot of memory. There are also other hardware considerations, such as sound quality, so it is vital you get advice from a specialist supplier to minimise the chance of frustration. However with support, training and time practically anyone can work with Speech Recognition, gaining the literacy skills they could never have achieved before.

    What dictation software is available?

    The most popular program for educational use is Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium which includes text-to-speech and has a wide variety of training scripts including those written specifically for children. Dragon Dictate is available for the Mac. For more details on which speech recognition package is suitable for you have a look at our article.

    Concept & Mind Mapping Software:

    Dyslexic people often prefer to process information visually. So they often like to use concept mapping or mind mapping:

    • to organise existing knowledge and ideas;
    • to plan new writing and projects.

    Several packages let you draw maps quickly and easily and the computer has the huge advantage over paper that it is very easy to change or develop a map without having to start again. Other advantages of concept mapping software include the ability to

    • change the layout of the diagram as you go along;
    • use images within the diagram;
    • use brainstorming mode to quickly build up a diagram;
    • spell check diagram;
    • export diagram or a text version of it to other programs.

    Personal preferences vary, but here we’ve tried to summarise the main features of the best programs:

    Inspiration: a flexible concept and Mind mapping program, designed for education, which allows you to switch between a linear-text view and a map view. Image banks enable pictures to be easily added to maps. Inspiration has a word tool for helping with vocabulary.

    Kidspiration (5-11 year olds) is a junior version of Inspiration and is aimed at the primary sector. Inspiration and Kidspiration have the added advantage of built-in speech.

    MindGenius: a flexible Mind Mapping program with an automatic brainstorming mode which enables the map to be viewed in a variety of layouts. Closely integrated to MS Office it allows text outlines and images of maps to be easily imported and exported to many common applications as well as time and project management tools through Outlook.

    Mind Manager: a powerful and comprehensive mind mapping tool that encourages efficient and accurate management of ideas using visual cues. The multi-map view makes handling large amounts of information easier while the review mode lets multiple users add to or change maps; great for groups projects

    For more details visit our introduction to concept mapping.

    References

    Mitton, R. (1996) “English Spelling and the Computer (Studies in Language and Linguistics)”. London: Longman.

  • Speech Recognition, Dyslexia and Disabilities

    by Lynette Penney | Oct 18, 2012

    "Dictating to your computer is so easy. No typing, no more spelling mistakes, it's the dyslexic person's dream."

    Q What’s the most important factor for success? The hardware? The software?

    A No; it’s the person

    The latest software (Dragon NS Preferred 10 Software) has really solved the technical problems. A normally clear speaker, using a recent computer with a decent microphone and with a little experience should get very good recognition results and gain real productivity benefits. We outline later the technical problems which can still arise and that still need to be avoided.

    However, Speech Recognition can still lead to frustration and a lack of success. Today, the main reasons for this will be human, not technical.

    Speech recognition software is more likely to be successful if you are motivated. So, if you have a disability or need to use your hands for something else while writing (e.g. radiologists) and are patient enough to train the software to recognise your voice (in fact, a fairly quick process these days) and learn how to use it, you will probably manage fine.

    In addition, you are more likely to be a “great dictator” if:

    • You can speak fluently and clearly;
    • You use a wide vocabulary;
    • You can find the words you need easily (you have good word retrieval);
    • You already understand word processing & punctuation;
    • You can multi-task – that is, you can use the software whilst composing text;
    • You have as much privacy as you feel you need to dictate confidently.

    None of those bullet points are essential, but the more you can tick, the more likely it is that speech recognition will work for you.

    Support

    It helps a lot to have somebody who knows speech recognition to guide you through the early stages. Ideally, if you can afford it, a professional one-to-one trainer will save you time and give you the best start.

    Accuracy

    Each mistake that you make takes many times longer to correct compared with dictating a word correctly. So it is worth going to a lot of trouble to improve accuracy by one or two percentage points. This is particularly important for dyslexic people who are liable to have more difficulty finding and correcting an error than somebody who reads and spells well.

    Microphone adjustment:

    It is absolutely critical to have the microphone (”mic” or “mike”) properly adjusted, and we suspect that failure to do this is the single most likely cause of frustration and failure at dictation. The setup program might tell you that your microphone is properly adjusted when it is not the case. Sometimes, it is not until you have had the system running for a while that you can be sure that the adjustment is correct.

    Notebooks versus Desktops:

    It is generally the case that a notebook or laptop computer will be slower than a desktop machine of the same specification. It follows that it is all the more important (and, alas! all the more expensive) to have more than the minimum spec if you want a notebook to perform well. The worse performance is partly because of the different chips, the power-saving capabilities and the smaller components on the notebook. It is also often the result of notebooks being “noisier” than desktops, so that the recognition engine has trouble getting a clear signal from your voice. Fan noise can also be an issue if the fan cuts in and out unpredictably.

    Most new computers now give adequate sound input quality. Your best policy is to buy a certified speech-recognition-ready machine.

    You should make it clear to the person selling you a computer that you want it for dictation, and that you will take it back if the sound input quality is not good enough.

    If all else fails, whether with a notebook or desktop, if the sound quality is not good enough you can add a USB microphone. Once again, however, it is helpful to have an expert on hand to help you work out that the computer’s sound processing isn’t good enough.

    Microphones

    For obvious reasons the microphones that are usually provided with the software have to be cheap, and while they may be adequate for sound input quality under favourable conditions, they may be impossible to adjust adequately for many head shapes and so be uncomfortable. And the mics often, in consequence, refuse to keep in position. This is important. If the microphone moves too far away, so that the signal is weaker than it was adjusted for, or if it moves too close so that you have to hold it (causing noise) or so that it brushes your face, or so that it picks your breathing up, this will significantly spoil the sound quality and cause rotten recognition.

    So you will usually get better results with a better microphone than that supplied in the box. Sometimes it may make the difference between success and failure. We recommend the Andrea-NC-181VM, particularly for classroom use. It also has a reputation for being:

    • as accurate as any;
    • robust;
    • comfortable;
    • holding its position;
    • minimising interference from external noises.

    Speech feedback:

    Proof reading, especially from a computer screen, is difficult, especially for dyslexic people. Even the best dictation system will make recognition mistakes.

    To spot these errors, speech feedback is useful, where the computer reads back to you what it has written. Dyslexic people often find that speech feedback helps with grammar as well helping you to realise, for example, that a sentence has no verb. The classic program to do this with is Texthelp Read & Write. Dragon NaturallySpeaking includes its own text to speech synthesis program, which can be useful. However, it is not a full and adequate substitute for Texthelp Read & Write, which features a spell checker and word prediction and can also be useful even in dictation: it can help make a correction when the program hasn’t supplied the correct alternative. Most of all, the text reader window, which highlights each word as it reads it, really helps a dyslexic person by making it much easier to follow the reading and focus on the mistakes. ClaroRead is a similar, but simpler product which has given careful thought to integration with Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

    Training:

    Can be very valuable, both to know how to use the system, and, more fundamentally, to be able to recognise when it is working properly and when not.

    For somebody new to dictation there are a lot of things to get right: diction style, microphone adjustment and positioning, making corrections, punctuation and the voice commands. Training from somebody who knows their stuff will help make the small modifications to speech style (pace, clarity, particularly of unstressed words, evenness of volume) which make a big difference. They will also be able to tell whether the microphone is properly adjusted.

    For those not familiar with computers, some one-to-one training, support, and help with the training reading for poor readers, will make a lot of difference.

    Training the software

    You can train the software to recognise your voice by reading a prepared script from the screen. In addition the program learns as it goes along from what it gets right and from your corrections, so that its accuracy should improve as time goes on. You can skip the training (which normally takes a few minutes) with the latest NaturallySpeaking, and just pitch straight in to dictating. This can be useful with people who have reading problems, for whom the training can be difficult, although for most people we would still recommend doing the training. Another strategy is for a support person to whisper the script phrase by phrase into the user’s ear.

    Keep it simple:

    Even the most sophisticated and expensive dictation system has its own simple version of the WordPad wordprocessor to dictate into. We strongly suggest that you start just by using this, on its own. Get that working well, fluently and with confidence, before you go on to using the other features of your dictation package if you wish.

    It is dictation of passages of text, working well, which will give you a major increase in productivity, with the least to learn. Don’t forget that dictating directly into, say, MS Word will make recognition go slower, unless you have loads of spare power and RAM.

    If you have a mobility problem, such as RSI, then not using mouse and keyboard will also be important to you, and you might want to use the dictation software to navigate around windows and menus.

    Working with children:

    There is still a lot to discover about using dictation systems with children. The points made above about motivation apply in buckets with children. On the whole children are not producing masses of written work, so are less likely to have the motivation tp persevere with speech recognition. But where spelling, handwriting and composing are major problems, then SR can be hugely liberating and allow children to express their ideas on paper fluently for the first time in their lives.

    Dictation systems can encourage children to speak clearly. It is important to make sure that you are familiar with the program and that it is recognising you well before you try it with a child. It is often a good idea to make corrections for the child to start off with, which allows them to see what they have achieved without the extra learning and possible frustrations of correcting errors.

    Studies have shown that students with learning difficulties who use speech recognition have better vocabulary, are more creative, better organised and more motivated and have better all-round literacy skills.

    Which is the best speech recognition system?

    For PCs, we recommend Dragon NaturallySpeaking. For Apple computers there is Dragon Dictate for Mac.

  • Software support for students with dyslexia in FE and HE Colleges

    by Lynette Penney | Oct 18, 2012

    Software across a college not only helps meet the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 but can also provide supportive working environments for all your students and staff.

    This article looks at some of the most popular software solutions that can be used by further education colleges and universities to support those students and staff with dyslexia. Students can also benefit for the many assistive technology solutions available through the Disabled Students’ Allowance.

    Software solutions can range from tools for reading aloud Web pages to those which develop reading strategies and study skills. When selecting software packages it is worth noting that some programs provide site licences, which are more cost-effective than individual licences. Also remember that not all programs will run on a network.

    Accessing text

    Making text accessible is an important step in providing equal access for students with dyslexia and reading difficulties. Technology can provide the solution. Texthelp Read & Write Gold can read aloud PDF files and Web pages with highlighting, and will quickly and accurately read aloud paper documents that you have scanned in. Texthelp Read & Write Gold also provides support for writing and proof reading through its speech-enabled spell checker, dictionary and homophone checker.

    CapturaTalk, another useful tool uses the built-in camera functions of a Windows Mobile Smartphone with assistive software enables one to capture essential information and understand text wherever one is. By taking a photo of text that required to read, CapturaTalk will scan the photograph, recognise the text and read the information aloud. It will also save the scanned file for future reference.

    Study and organisational skills

    Multi-sensory and interactive software can provide teaching and support staff with the right tools to help develop study and organisational skills. Concept-mapping programs such as Inspiration can be used to differentiate teaching to all levels as well as helping individual learners with planning, studying and organisation. For further information on Inspiration and how to use concept or mind mapping both in a teaching and a support environment see our in-depth comparison of concept mapping packages.

    Packages such as Wordswork can help students develop independent learning and studying strategies through case studies, voice-overs and humour. To find out more about how to improve study skills, read our article on suitable packages. Good typing skills are necessary for any user to take full advantage of technology. At the same time they can improve spelling and writing skills. To find out more about the most suitable packages for dyslexic students read our typing tutor article.

    Basic skills

    Finding software to teach basic literacy skills to adults in an age-appropriate manner is difficult but we’ve found some programs that work well. The Spelling Disc provides explanation of basic spelling rules along with practice activities.
    textTHING creates literacy activities for any ability and age at the touch of a button, while the look and feel of the program can be altered for adult learners. It can help develop both reading and spelling skills at all ages.

  • Popular Technology solutions for Students and Adults with Dyslexia

    by Lynette Penney | Oct 18, 2012

    Students at college or university and people in the workplace with dyslexia can benefit greatly from access to specialist software and hardware, enabling them to perform to the best of their abilities.

     

    Students at college or university and people in the workplace with dyslexia can benefit greatly from access to specialist software and hardware, enabling them to perform to the best of their abilities. Financial support for purchasing this equipment may be available through the Disabled Students’ Allowance or Access to Work but it is important to remember to look at the desired outcome of the equipment rather than just the difficulties being faced. Here we highlight some of the technology that has been used successfully and point you towards more information throughout our site.

    Reading and writing support

    There are numerous assistive software packages that can provide additional support when reading and writing. Many of them use text to speech technology to overcome difficulties. Here are some of the most popular packages, but you should also look out for the access tool icon throughout this site as it identifies programs that can help with accessing text on the computer.

    Discreet toolbars such as Texthelp Read & Write provide text to speech and checking support in most applications for proof reading.

    On-screen grids provide instant access to correct spellings and words; see EB WordBanks.

    Dragon speech recognition packages offer an alternative approach for creating documents for those with typing and spelling difficulties.

    Planning and revision skills

    Planning essays, reports or presentations; revising topics and organising to-do lists; planning projects and tracking reminders: these are all tasks that can be affected by dyslexia. Here are some of the most popular approaches for overcoming these difficulties but also look out for the home study icon throughout this site that identifies others.

    Concept-mapping applications provide a visual tool for planning and revising. In addition, some of these programs, such as MindGenius, offer links into Office applications providing additional support.

    Handheld devices for on the move

    As it is not always possible to have access to a computer, it is worth considering the wide range of portable tools that can provide support while on the move. Digital voice recorders can be used to record lectures or meetings to help with note taking, or for dictating reports to be transferred later to speech recognition software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred.

    PDAs running the Palm OS or PocketPC operating systems can provide a wide range of tools to support organisation away from the computer. Scanning pens like the ReadingPen TS Oxford Edition enable information such as references or quotes to be stored digitally for later transfer to a PC. Built-in text to speech software and dictionaries also provide reading support. They can also read aloud scanned in text to help you learn new words and develop your vocabulary skills.

    By means of a high-quality phonetic spell checker, portable spell checkers and dictionaries, such as the Franklin Dictionaries, to provide support for those writing while on the move.

  • Popular Software Solutions for Primary and Secondary Schools

    by Lynette Penney | Oct 18, 2012

    It can be a very difficult and time-consuming process trying to decide which software programs are suitable for use by pupils with dyslexia in the classroom. Therefore, we have highlighted some of the popular choices and also those that we have found work well with pupils with dyslexia.

    For more information on teachers’ resources, such as the Lucid assessment packages, have a look at our assessment and teaching resources category.

    Literacy

    Computers provide multi-sensory support for developing spelling skills: Wordshark reinforces spelling rules through fun games, while the Nessy Learning Programme consists of a complete teaching scheme including worksheets, puzzles and activities for developing reading and spelling skills.

    Computerised speech can be used to develop reading skills: AcceleRead AcceleWrite is a teaching programme which uses speech feedback to accelerate reading development; talking stories such as the Spinout series can get poor readers reading the same information as their peers.

    Multi-sensory software packages can help develop specific areas of reading, such as Clicker Phonics: Clicker Phonics work on the visual and auditory processing skills involved with reading, whereas RocketReader improves reading speed and develop strageies for scan reading.

    Numeracy and Maths

    Research shows that many children with dyslexia struggle with their numeracy skills. Numbershark is a highly recommended computer-based program that allows the pupils to develop their maths skills through a number of different games. It has teacher settings which enable the teacher to set the level that the student is working at and monitor their progress.

    Alternatively, have a look at LifeSkills: Time and Money for an interactive program that will encourage your students to apply numeracy concepts to real-life situations. Audio recordings on this program make it especially useful for students with poor reading skills.

    Writing skills

    Many dyslexic children require writing support whilst in the classroom. EB Wordbanks and Clicker 6 are simple and easy-to-use grids that sit at the bottom of the computer screen. Subject-specific grids can either be downloaded or created from new and work well with a variety of applications, including concept-mapping programs.

    Inspiration and Kidspiration are an excellent way for children to get started on a piece of work by brainstorming and building on their ideas. They are ideal for use across the curriculum and are also a fantastic teaching tool to be used on interactive whiteboards.

    If you are looking for a program to help with all aspects of writing skills then you should look at SOLO from Don Johnston. It is a writing support suite that includes Co:Writer, Write:Outloud, Draft:Builder and Read:Outloud. The suite also includes a teacher’s area where you can set preferences for individual students and monitor their progress.

  • IT Help for Employers and the Workplace

    by Lynette Penney | Oct 18, 2012

    Dyslexia is likely to be one of the most common disabilities affecting your employees. According to the British Dyslexia Association, around 10% of people are dyslexic with about 4% (one in twenty-five) severely affected. How can you, as an employer, help them?

    This article was originally written for the BDA Handbook 2005

    Dyslexia is likely to be one of the most common disabilities affecting your employees. According to the British Dyslexia Association, around 10% of people are dyslexic with about 4% (one in twenty-five) severely affected. Dyslexic employees have different difficulties and some often surprisingly useful abilities to match. People with dyslexia most typically have difficulties when it comes to: reading, writing and learning; remembering; structuring and organising; and reading maps.

    In the workplace this can lead to problems with written communication with colleagues and other stakeholders; with organising work; and with reading instructions. Most dyslexia in employment is probably hidden. Dyslexic people will often:

    • choose a job where their dyslexic difficulties are least likely to cause problems
    • not declare their dyslexia for fear that it will affect their career progress
    • not realise that they are dyslexic as it has never been diagnosed
    • or, if they know they are dyslexic, not realise that dyslexia is a reportable disability

    The Benefits of Dyslexia

    On the plus side, dyslexic people often have strengths in seeing the overall picture, in solving problems quickly and in visual skills. However, their difficulties can lead to unemployment or underemployment. By becoming a dyslexia-friendly workplace you can tap into a large underutilised resource and make the most of all employees’ abilities.

    There is much that employers can do to make the work environment easier for dyslexic employees. The BDA have detailed guidelines for being a dyslexia friendly employer. For example, it is good policy to make sure that all your literature, internal as well as external, electronic as well as paper based, is in plain English and dyslexia friendly. The BDA also have good guidelines on presentation. Many aspects of these will benefit your non dyslexic staff; and improve your communication with customers (remembering that a good few of them are likely to dyslexic too). It will be worth following the guidelines in:

    • recruitment policies and procedures
    • literature
    • reviews and appraisals
    • training
    • personnel and support

    One other thing to consider to make your organisation disability and dyslexia friendly is having a website and intranet that are accessible to people with reading impairments. The Office of the e-Envoy has a set of Guidelines for UK government websites which are excellent for any organisation aiming to satisfy the DDA. Unfortunately they are not keeping these up to date. You can also use Texthelp’s BrowseAloud so that people can listen to your web site, as well as read it. There are more suggestions (NB PAS 78) on our Accessibility page.

    There’s a carrot; it is good policy to do so, and you will be maximising your use of your staff. But there is a stick too: The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 is now in force and will be used by employees who believe that they are being discriminated against because of their dyslexia. And because dyslexia is a ‘hidden disability’ you may not be aware which of your staff are dyslexic and the act still applies to them even if they have not declared their dyslexia.

    Access to Work:

    The DDA says that you must make “reasonable adjustments”. This will often include technological support; computer, specialist software and other electronic aids and gadgets. In many cases in the UK you will be able to get financial support from the Department for Work and Pensions’ (Jobcentre Plus) Access to Work scheme for the adjustments that you make for dyslexic staff.

    This process takes a little time, but the person gets a proper assessment of their strengths and weaknesses and recommendations of specific adjustments, including technology, that will help overcome the difficulties. This will usually produce much better results than a few ad hoc adjustments.

    The technology assessment may recommend a variety of tools depending on the person’s job and their needs. A computer: on their own, editing and spellchecking can make a huge difference to the ability to write. A laptop is often appropriate so that notes can be taken anywhere and work done at home or whilst travelling. Even with the help of technology, dyslexic people will usually need longer to produce the same amount of written material. And many find producing good work in a busy open-plan office difficult.

    The Technology

    Just having access to a custom set up computer with a word processing application can improve the performance of a person with dyslexia. The possibility of editing and spellchecking can make a huge difference to the ability to write. A laptop is often appropriate so that notes can be taken anywhere and work done at home or whilst travelling.

    Computers are not the whole story. There are many more ICT options available both in software and hardware. This section looks at some of the most popular and practical solutions for overcoming difficulties associated with dyslexia in the workplace.

    Turning text into speech

    For proofreading and for reading text on the computer use text-to-speech software. Add a scanner and optical character recognition software (OCR) for converting print into an electronic version that you can listen to. Texthelp Read & Write Gold is the classic tool for dyslexia. It includes text-to-speech and OCR. It also has a dyslexia specific phonetic spell checker, word prediction, help with homophones, a thesaurus, a dictionary, and research and web search tools.

    Dictating into your computer

    Speech recognition software can be easier than typing and makes spelling mistakes a thing of the past. With training and practice, text can be composed quicker than it can be typed. The current market-leader is Dragon NaturallySpeaking. The Premium version is aimed at small-businesses and is fine if you only want to use it with Microsoft Office.

    If you want to dictate into other applications such as contact managers or bespoke applications you will need the Professional version, which includes macro tools enabling it to be used with virtually any program.

    However, there are issues to do with privacy, composing and proofreading which mean that speech recognition is not an automatic panacea. With a portable digital recorder, you can dictate away from your computer and then transcribe it through Dragon later.

    Concept mapping software

    Many people with dyslexia do not like organising information and ideas in a linear fashion. Concept mapping software allows you to use your visual skills to organise existing knowledge and ideas, and to plan new writing and projects.

    Software packages such as MindGenius for Business and Mind Manager have been designed as business tools and can used for planning and creating presentations, for brain storming, and for report and project planning. There is also a version of MindGenius for use in education.

    PDAs for organising time and remembering things

    Time management and organisation can be as much an issue as literacy in the workplace, particularly if your job involves working in different locations, travelling a lot or being away from a computer. Personal Digital Assistants Assistants, running on either the Pocket PC operating systems provide pocket-sized devices with many tools including:

    • calendar with alarm function
    • to-do list
    • contact list
    • memo pad
    • word processor and spreadsheet applications

    They can also be used to take notes by adding a folding keyboard. There are literally thousands of applications available for them - from specialist dictionaries to concept mapping programs. Many mobile phones now come with similar organisational tools and have the added bonus of being able to download emails or access the internet while you are on the move.

    Recorder/dictating machines for notes and memos

    These small devices can record discussions so that you can refer to them later; ideal if you find it difficult taking notes during meetings. You can also use them with speech recognition software to transcribe your own voice notes. Some voice recorders can also store MP3 or other audio files, so you can listen to audio books or recordings of your documents (which you can create with Read & Write Gold) while on the go. If you find that you forget information quickly then you may find a voice memo useful. These can record short messages and most mobile phones or PDAs now include this function.

    Satellite navigation system

    Many people with dyslexia find it difficult to remember directions or read road signs quickly enough. For jobs that involve a lot of travelling a satellite navigation system, added to an iPAQ PDA (or installed in the car), will give you directions as you drive.

  • Dyslexia Friendly Libraries

    by Lynette Penney | Oct 18, 2012

    Dyslexia Friendly Libraries

    With between 4% and 10% of the population affected by dyslexia, it is important for libraries to take into account how they can help people with dyslexia and what additional services your library can provide. In this article we discuss some of the difficulties faced by people with dyslexia and look at the technological tools available to assist dyslexic users.

     

    Introduction

    With between 4% and 10% of the population affected by dyslexia, it is important for libraries to take into account how they can help people with dyslexia and what additional services your library can provide. In this article we discuss some of the difficulties faced by people with dyslexia and how it affects them using a library. We will also look at the technological tools available to assist dyslexic users and how they could be implemented in libraries.

    Although dyslexia is perceived as difficulties with reading and spelling it can also lead to many other problems, particularly:

    • confusion with places, times and dates;
    • difficulty remembering instructions;
    • problems with concentration span;
    • poor organisation skills;
    • poor self-confidence and low self-esteem.

    This combination of problems can make a library a daunting place for a person with dyslexia.

    What has been done so far?

    Many libraries have already implemented policies for dealing with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) which obliges libraries to:

    1. make changes to any policies, practices and procedures which make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people trying to use services;
    2. provide “reasonable” extra help and aids to enable disabled people to use their services;
    3. provide their services in a “reasonable” alternative way if they are inaccessible.

    People who have problems in dealing with the written word, in particular dyslexia, are by far the biggest group of those with disabilities. Many libraries have taken the approach of providing increased loan periods, photocopying facilities and reduced fines for people with dyslexia. But libraries can also use technology, along with some simple ideas, to help overcome many of these problems. So what tools are available and how can a library use them?

    Text-to-Speech and scanning tools:

    Text-to-Speech tools can help many people with reading or visual difficulties to access text. Text-to-speech software reads text on the screen out loud. This helps users with dyslexia or visual impairments to read any catalogues, directories or texts stored electronically including those accessed through the internet. Some specialist packages also include other support tools such as synchronized highlighting and dictionaries to check meanings of new words. Scan and Read programs combine a scanner with optical character recognition software (OCR) and text to speech enabling readers to quickly convert a printed page to an audio version. Products to do this include:

    1. Texthelp Read and Write Gold is a floating toolbar which provides text-to-speech and Scan and Read tools in most Windows applications. It also provides phonetic spell checking, dictionaries and homophone support along with helpful research tools to capture text, images and bibliographic information from any application, including the internet (the Fact Folder and Mapper). Read & Write Gold also incorporates PDFAloud for reading aloud PDF files with highlighting and the Fact Finder for simplifying searching the internet. Another similiar toolbar is ClaroRead Plus.
    2. Kurzweil 3000 is an application that combines text-to-speech and OCR functions and is particularly good at displaying documents on the screen exactly as they appear on paper. Kurzweil 3000 is also easy to learn for those users that aren’t confident with computers and scanners, provides support across a number of languages and is available as a flexible network licences.

    Both these applications can read aloud web pages and DAISY files (a format for electronic books) and are available in both Windows and Mac versions. There are a number of more basic text-to-speech programs without OCR. Details of these packages can be found in our text to speech category.

    There are a couple of issues to take into consideration when providing text-to-speech facilities:

    1. Noise: if you don’t want other users to be disturbed then it is useful to provide headphones with each computer.
    2. Scanning facilities: it can be expensive to provide a scanner at each computer with reading facilities so it may be better to nominate a limited number of machines with scanners. Alternatively a scanner can be placed on a network making it available to a number of computers. Some scanners have automatic document feeders (ADF) which can, like a photocopier, be left to scan in a number of sheets of paper at once. But, these can’t be used with bound books, they must be photocopied first.

    Portable reading solutions:

    The ReadingPen TS (Oxford Dictionary) has been designed to provide scan and read functions on the go. Although it is not capable of reading out a whole page of text at once, this pocket-sized scanning pen will scan in a word or sentence and read it back to you. To help with spelling, it can also read out each letter in a word. The dictionary tool incorporates the Oxford Concise English Dictionary and shows you the definition of the scanned words and cross-references between words in the definition.

    e-Books and Text-to-Speech:

    With the advent of the digital information age numerous books, particularly reference materials and journals, are now available in an electronic format known as e-books. Many libraries have taken advantage of this by providing access to e-book portals where e-books can be searched and downloaded. There are many advantages to viewing text electronically for people with dyslexia, above all the ability to have the text read out to them. It is important to make sure that your e-book service providers can be accessed by text-to-speech engines - this usually requires being able to highlight the text, but it always worth testing which text-to-speech software works best with e-books before you buy them. Another advantage to viewing books on a computer is that you can change the font, size and colour of text - important for many people with either dyslexia or visual impairments. It is also possible to change the colour of the background of electronic text, which is vital for people who suffer from visual stress.

    Visual Stress:

    Many people find that using coloured overlays to change the background colour of the page can reduce visual stress and increase reading fluency. They have what is some times referred to as Meares-Irlen syndrome and it has been estimated that this affects up to 20% of population. Cerium Coloured Overlays are made from robust coloured transparencies for use with all reading tasks on printed materials, however they are not suitable for writing notes.

    Speech Recognition and Libraries:

    Many people with disabilities, including dyslexia, now rely on speech recognition software for writing. They may want to use this technology while working in the library. They can then transcribe directly to computer any notes, references or data they would usually have to write down while working in a library. However, before providing speech recognition facilities, you need to first consider:

    1. Noise: Speech recognition accuracy is affected by background noise level. It can also disturb other library users if they can overhear someone dictating. Therefore it is important for speech recognition facilities to be located in a noise-free area, where it is not going to disturb other users of either the library or the speech recognition facilities.
    2. User files: Each user needs to train the computer to understand their own voice. This means that either user files must be available at all computers via a network or users must use the same machine each time to access their user files. However, they may also prefer to use their own laptop so you should consider some suitable secluded space. The latest version of Dragon Professional allows roaming profiles across the network.

    A suitable speech recognition product is:

    • Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred - highly accurate continuous speech recognition program for Windows used extensively in education.

    Portable dictation solution:

    Another way of providing speech recognition is to let users dictate notes into a digital voice recorder, to transfer them later to a computer for transcription. Such recorders could be provided on loan for use anywhere in the library, with one computer being set aside for transcribing the recordings. However, it would be important to make sure that those who use recording equipment are aware of other library users and do not disrupt other study.

    Models change frequently and a full list of suitable digital recorders can be found in our voice recorder category.

    Orientation Difficulties :

    Many dyslexic people encounter problems with orientation and organisation, which can make it difficult to find your way around a large library. This can be compounded when classmarks are used to organise book collections. For someone with dyslexia a strange numeric code can be much more difficult to remember than a word they are already familiar with. It may also take longer to identify books kept in alphabetical order. Suggestions to help out include:

    1. Offer orientation sessions to new users to show them where to find relevant book collections.
    2. Make staff aware of common difficulties so that they can provide help without embarrassing the user.
    3. Try using colour coding to differentiate different book collections, say periodicals and text books or fiction and non-fiction.
    4. Number confusion is common among people with dyslexia so it is important to put subject names on maps and signs as much as possible.
    5. Inform people when major changes to your library’s layout have been made by providing maps or new orientation sessions.

    Concept Mapping:

     

    Mind Map Education

    Concept and mind mapping are now widely used to take and organise notes and information, as well as to plan essays and projects. Concept mapping software is relatively cheap and can be used by everyone, not just dyslexic users. You can both display information visually and convert it to a linear outline for word processing. You can use it to input notes directly on to the computer and link them to existing documents, web links and images. An example of such a map is shown below:

    Concept Mapping programs include:

    1. Mindgenius Education is a flexible program that enables you to create a variety of different hierarchical concept. Built to work in conjunction with Microsoft Office it is particularly easy to create outlines for Word documents or PowerPoint presentations.
    2. Inspiration is a flexible concept mapping program designed for education and is used widely for outlining reports and essays. But it is also great for creating process maps and other types of visual diagrams such as the example below.

    Electronic Reference Material and Study Skills Packages:

    Presenting information in a multi-sensory environment is much easier for people with dyslexia to take in. You may find that providing electronic resources, such as encyclopaedias, dictionaries or journals would be welcomed by your dyslexic users.

    The problem with traditional, paper based reference materials like dictionaries is that you have to be able to spell the topic or word you are looking up, or at the very least know the order of the alphabet. By using computer-based resources you can search for items using text that has been spell checked or copied from another document. You can also search more than one word at a time, link automatically between related documents or words as well as access multimedia information such as video, audio files or images. Text-to-speech programs can be used to read out text, while the user may also be able to change the font, size and colour of the text to suit their own preferences. Alternatively, you could provide handheld dictionaries, such as one from the Franklin range which, with its phonetic spell checking and speech feedback, can provide dictionary facilities anywhere in your library.

    Study skills packages are another resource you may wish to make available to your dyslexic visitors. One which is used extensively as a resource in libraries and schools is called WordsWork. Suitable for students aged 15 or older it explains dyslexia and suggests strategies for overcoming many of the problems including numerous case studies.

    Conclusion:

    We hope we have given you some ideas for how you could make your library more dyslexia-friendly and tools that are available to help your dyslexic users. If you would like more information about dyslexia or any of the products discussed here, then call us on 01223 420101.

  • Writing Support

    by Lynette Penney | Oct 18, 2012

    People with disabilities such as dyslexia may need support with reading, writing and spelling to help them reach their full potential.

    From children writing essays through to business people producing a report there is a range of software to help create well written documents.

    Simple software such as word grids can provide writing support for anyone who struggles with word retrieval, spelling or typing. They can give you instant access to words or phrases via a pre-defined grid of words. EB WordBanks and EB WordBanks for Primary are great examples and provides editable word grids that sit discretely alongside practically any Windows application such as Word. Hover over a word within the grid to hear it spoken aloud, or click on the word to have it dropped into the document. This ‘point and click’ operation makes text entry quicker and less keyboard orientated whilst the inbuilt speech feedback offers audio support to ensure the correct word is selected. EB WordBanks is also suitable for anyone who may have RSI or other motor difficulties as keyboard strokes are reduced.

    The EB WordBanks Editor tool makes it quick and easy to create new word banks using text from other documents, forms, internet and more. The in-built tools can be used to organise, format and filter the lists before designing and publishing the grid, allowing them to be shared with anyone else using the software.

    There are two versions; EB WordBanks Primary uses content suitable for Year 1 to 6 and EB WordBanks comes pre-installed with wordlists for further & higher education or for those in the workplace. It includes topics on marketing, business, strategy, planning, and information technology along with specialist subjects such as Nursing & Social work.

    For anyone who struggles with spelling and grammar, programs such as Oribi VeritySpell can help. It can provide support in producing documents by offering a means of checking the meaning, spelling and use of words within your document. VeritySpell helps users to grow in confidence whilst increasing their level of vocabulary.

    This easy to use software package can be used in virtually any application and will help you compose well written and accurate documents by providing spelling and homophone support, along with real-word error checking and advice on common grammatical errors, punctuation and word usage.

    Other forms of assistance for writing are word prediction packages. When typing these solutions provides a list of words suitable for the context of your writing; offering speech feedback you can choose the correct word for your document to reducing spelling errors and will also help lower keyboard strokes.

    To boost confidence and increase reading and writing skills across a range of abilities PenFriend XL is a comprehensive literacy aid which includes prediction features. PenFriend XL is ideal for anyone with reading and writing difficulties, such as dyslexia or those with a physical/sensory disability including visual impairment and motor difficulties. It works within your word processor and accurately guesses the word you are typing; when you enter the first or second letter the word appears in the prediction window and with one key press will complete the word for you. It also offers you the next word if you wish.

    Other features of PenFriend XL offers prediction and on-screen keyboards in English and 8 other languages with the ability to learn personal vocabulary patterns. There are 30 word lists or lexicons and you can add new topic words from files, web pages or by typing. Words in the prediction window are highlighted when they are spoken and the colour and fonts of these can be customised to suit your needs.

    Word Prediction features can also be found on other software; for further information read the article called Multi-Function Literacy Software which describes assistive technology including text-to-speech toolbars such as Read & Write and ClaroRead.

  • Visual Impairment Awareness & Assistive Technology

    by Lynette Penney | Oct 18, 2012

    Graham Longly visited iansyst to deliver some Visual Impairment Awareness training. Here he discusses the training delivered and talks about Visual Impairment and the technology available to help.

    During my visits my guide dog and I were made to feel extremely welcome and I was struck by how friendly and professional everyone was.

    There are a lot of myths and assumptions surrounding visual impairment, including: people assuming that all blind people see nothing at all; that all blind people read Braille; that they all have guide dogs; can’t live independently and can’t use a computer. None of these are true. Only about 2-5% see nothing or read Braille, many blind people live on their own independently either through choice or circumstance and there are only around 4500 working guide dogs in this country (compared to 2 million blind people).

    As for blind people not being able to use a computer, there are now many adaptations to make this possible. The computer-based software which makes computer screens accessible to a sight impaired person falls into several main categories. These include: screen readers, which verbalise what a person is typing and what is appearing on the screen; screen magnifiers, which enlarge the text on the screen; and screen reader magnifiers, which do both. In addition to this there is OCR software, which when used with a flatbed scanner will convert the printed word into speech or magnify it. There are also Braille printers, Braille displays (which reproduce the contents of the screen in Braille)and Braille note takers which are a bit like a screen-less laptop with either a Braille or ‘QWERTY’ keyboard. In addition, there are also screen readers and magnifiers for mobile phones and talking mp3 players and digital voice recorders.

    Away from computers, there are many pieces of equipment to make daily living easier – which range from: talking clocks and watches, talking microwave ovens, talking kitchen and bathroom scales, talking digital radios and even a talking measuring jug which tells you how full it is as you fill it. All of these make life a lot easier for a blind person! From a mobility point of view, we now have GPS for the talking phones and note takers as well as some stand alone units which also talk along with some electronic canes which interpret information in a similar way to how a bat would.

    Another myth is that blind people can’t enjoy TV, cinema or the theatre. There is now something called audio description for all of these to enable viewing for the visually impaired. When watching TV (for example) you get extra dialogue when no one is speaking, which describes the non-visual aspects of the programme.

    All of this technology gives blind people independence, access to information and a better quality of life. I think the most significant advances in the last ten years have been access to internet and mobile phones giving us access to internet shopping, Facebook, text messaging, etc. It remains to be seen what advances will be made in the next ten years.

    Written by: Graham Longly, BA GRAD CIPD CMS

    Access Technology Consultant

    RNIB BTCS Accredited Jaws Trainer

    BCAB EyeT4all Trainer

  • Switches and Input devices

    by Lynette Penney | Oct 18, 2012

    Switches and Input devices

    For people with moderate to severe disabilities using a switch to control assistive devices and computers can provide the user with a degree of independence.

    Switches are input devices that can imitate keystrokes and mouse movements and enables access to previously unattainable devices.

    There are a variety of switches available to suit the needs of users with different abilities, providing greater independence for them. Switches require a switch interface to be plugged into the computer.

    The benefit of switches is that provided the user has at least one voluntary movement, it is possible to operate a computer or environmental device. So there are switches which can be operated by chin, head, mouth and even sound, for more profound disabilities, and switches where the pressure can be altered for those who are heavy-handed with their movements, to people who need to use a very light touch. Switches can also provide auditory and tactile feedback.

    General switches can be used with a mouse or in place of a mouse for computer input and sometimes in conjunction with an onscreen keyboard; depending on the severity of disability. They include large button-type switches which are ideal for people whose motor skills may include Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and would find the click action of a mouse painful to use.

    Switch mounting and switch trays are an effective way of providing a stable environment for the switch and will enable the user more control.

    Some of the popular switches include:

    The Adjustable Joggle Switch - Designed for use by individuals with fine motor and upper extremity disabilities. The Amount of pressure required can be adjusted to fit the needs of the users.

    Big Beamer Switch - Operates with stability and freedom and has a large pressure area.

    Big Buddy Button - This robust switch is designed for general input switch applications. Colourful, large button suitable for anyone requiring special needs access to the computer.

  • Note-Taking Support

    by Lynette Penney | Oct 18, 2012

    Note taking is a skill used to save time and help remember important information.

    By actively listening and paraphrasing what is being said you are more likely to understand the information given. However not everyone can process information fast enough to make relevant notes or capable of understanding what the most important ideas are so want to write everything down. People who struggle with reading, writing and spelling will also be disadvantaged when taking notes down quickly.

    This is where note-taking support can help you. There are several solutions for people who have trouble writing information down whilst listening to a lecture, participating in a meeting or taking an interview. These range from recording devices to software which will analyse audio files.

    If you find difficulty in processing information quickly enough to make meaningful short notes from a lecture, interview or meeting, using a device like the compact and ergonomically designed LiveScribe Echo SmartPen could be the perfect tool for you. It captures information quickly and accurately and will benefit anyone needing to link audio with their short notes.

    Using special dotted paper, the SmartPen will remember everything you write, hear and say when using the pen. This information can be uploaded to your computer to sync your handwritten notes with the audio so you can access your recordings at a time of your convenience.

    Digital recorders are ideal for anyone who needs a portable and discrete solution to recording information for use at a later date. The Olympus range of high quality digital recorders provides plenty of in-built memory to record meetings, seminars or lessons, as well as your own comments. Simple organisational features make accessing recordings straightforward. The Olympus recorders can be used with the versatile, small and lightweight zoom Olympus ME-32 Microphone to extend the range of recording quality.

    An innovative piece of software called Audio Notetaker enables you to decipher digital recordings easily. Providing you with a visual representation of your audio file you can add notes, edit, organise and navigate so you can create a more comprehensive and understandable record of your meeting, lecture or interview; ideal for re-listening to the event. There is a Live Notetaking feature so you can record directly onto your laptop whilst highlighting key points with coloured markers. You can even add PowerPoint slides and images alongside your audio recording.

    If you intend to use the Live Notetaking feature of Audio Notetaker why not boost the laptop microphone with an external one such as the Samson Go Mic. This portable USB condenser microphone is ‘plug and play’ so no drivers are required for use with your Mac or PC.

    These innovative assistive technology tools will benefit people with disabilities; such as dyslexia, enabling them to access their recorded information quickly and easily. These solutions will also benefit busy people who need to keep a permanent record of their audio files, such as journalists, students, anyone needing to take minutes of a meeting.

  • 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.

  • Managers

    by Justin Crick | Oct 11, 2012

    Awareness

    Disability can be a sensitive issue in the workplace and at times managers might feel they need some guidance, both as regards their legal obligations and the best way to consult staff.

    Here are some initial principles, which we will be happy to expand upon:

    1. Be aware of disability in the workplace, and consider how it can affect work performance.
    2. Become acquainted with your organisation's disability policy.
    3. Read the Disability Equality Scheme and Action Plan (if a publicly funded organisation).

    Action

    A typical action plan for managers could include the following steps:

    1. Discuss the issue of disability with HR and through that department arrange a workplace needs assessment for disabled staff.
    2. Discuss individual needs with disabled employees and investigate relevant ’reasonable adjustments‘.
    3. Inform HR of any disability issues and individual needs that have been identified.
    4. Direct disabled employees to the equality officer for additional support.
    5. Seek targeted disability-awareness training for both themselves and staff.

    Disabled people bring to the workplace a range of great skills and talents. The right reasonable adjustments will enable these employees to reach their full potential.

  • HR and disability professionals

    by Justin Crick | Oct 11, 2012

    A Framework For Human-Resources Professionals

    Each person will have individual needs, and these will vary according to the particular situation. However, here is a general list of reasonable adjustment practices to consider.

    Recruitment

    Consider the following:

    • Job adverts and application forms should be presented in a dyslexia-friendly format.
    • Offer application forms online or by email attachment.
    • Some dyslexic candidates do not see themselves as 'disabled'. So ask the question: 'Do you have a specific learning difference such as dyslexia?'.
    • Discuss needs and adjustments for the interview process with the individual in advance. Treat each person on a case-by-case basis.

    Adjustments for interviews might include:

    • A briefing on the nature of the applicant's disability to the interview panel and adjustment recommendations. For example: an awareness that the interviewee may take longer to respond to questions, or may have word-finding difficulties.
    • Where appropriate, the offer of tools that can help the candidate if they have difficulty with short-term memory, verbal fluency or organising thoughts when under stress.
    • Making written information as accessible as possible.
    • Providing a map and clear directions to help reduce stress and the possibility of being late.

    Additional adjustments for written tasks might include:

    • Use of a PC and assistive technology.
    • Allowing extra time for reading questions and drafting answers.
    • Presenting questions on preferred layout, paper colour and font.

    Appraisal

    The following factors should be taken into account:

    • Work objectives need to be tailored to take account of the areas of difficulty and individual coping strategies.
    • Both written and verbal recommendations, aims and feedback need to be clearly understood.
    • Some activities can be expected to take longer. For example: reading, drafting written documents, or learning new routines and procedures.
    • Work equipment and the work environment must be appropriate to need.

    Promotions

    Many competent and talented dyslexic employees may be reluctant to seek promotion due to concerns about adapting to new challenges and learning different routines which might exacerbate their difficulties in the short term. They may not be aware of accommodations and strategies to get round their difficulties and build on their strengths. The above suggested recommendations for adjustments to appraisal, interviews and written tests apply equally to promotion issues.

    Performance Management

    Dyslexic employees may be more prone to underperforming under stress, being adversely affected by unreasonable time constraints or lack of support. Before disciplinary procedures are initiated, it is important to consider whether dyslexic-type difficulties can be suspected as a cause of underperformance. If this is the case, a screening test should be offered.

    Dyslexia Assessments

    Naturally, adjustments cannot be made unless employees reveal details of their difficulties. If an employee suspects that he/she may be dyslexic, but has had no formal assessment, the following diagnostic approach is suggested as a possible strategy for employers to follow:
    • a discussion and review of difficulties in their work role and the possible options;
    • an initial screening test that may point to the likelihood of dyslexia;
    • a full diagnostic assessment by a qualified and experienced dyslexia specialist with a current Practising Certificate;
    • It may then be necessary to arrange a workplace needs assessment to determine the most effective and reasonable accommodations. This is carried out by a dyslexia consultant and may be funded through the Access-to-Work scheme – part of the Jobcentre organisation. It must be noted that a diagnostic assessment is not always needed for the Access-to-Work Scheme.
    • A discussion about outcomes, recommendations and an action plan.
    Assessment should aim to clearly identify the individual's needs within their particular job context. This leads to recommendations for reasonable and practical solutions to try in the workplace.

    Training

    It is important that internal training departments and external trainers are made aware of the needs of dyslexic learners.

    Adjustments for training might include these actions:

    • Give dyslexic participants copies of materials well in advance of a session.
    • Give out relevant abbreviations, acronyms and specialist vocabulary before the session.
    • Allow opportunities for enhanced note-taking, including voice recordings of sessions, the use of a laptop or someone to assist with note-taking.
    • Give clear verbal and written instructions. Prioritise, sequence or list tasks.
    • Give adequate time to complete reading or writing tasks.
    • Provide an overview of main points and sum up frequently.
    • Do not ask an individual to read aloud or act as scribe without prior agreement.
    • Be aware of visual, motor or auditory difficulties and use a multi-sensory approach: seeing, hearing and doing.
    • Use visual props (flow charts, mind maps, charts, and diagrams, etc) to clarify points, as well as linear notes with bullet points, headings and sub-headings.
    • Allow breaks and vary activities, so as to avoid information overload.
  • Employees

    by Justin Crick | Oct 11, 2012

    If you are dyslexic, the workplace can be even more challenging. For a dyslexic person, dealing efficiently with organisation, communication, calculations, or short-term memory and concentration can be daily hurdles to overcome. Below are 10 ideas to help you improve your organisation skills:

    1. Define workload and projects into manageable tasks and create a daily "to-do" list.
    2. Prioritise tasks daily and place work-planners and timetables somewhere highly visible.
    3. Schedule the more important work tasks at a time of day when you work best and plan more time for reading and writing tasks.
    4. If possible, take short, regular breaks during the day to avoid overload.
    5. Consider how you can best organise your physical workspace; include lighting, furniture, partitions, sitting away from sources of noise, and the positioning of computer technology.
    6. Assess your own capabilities and consider:
      • What dyslexia means to you: which areas present the greatest challenges and what are your strengths?
      • Adjustments: what changes would help you to do your job more effectively?
    7. Evaluate the opportunities to use software and technology, e.g.
      • digital recorders to assist with note-taking; and PDAs (electronic handheld personal data organisers) to help with organisation.
      • software programs: to type words as text from dictation; to read text out aloud; to organise ideas; or to assist with proof-reading and spelling;
      • other technology tools such as ‘talking’ navigation systems, reading pens and hand-held spellcheckers.
      • There is also software to change the appearance of your PC screen to make text more readable.
    8. When working with complex sets of figures, use a screen ruler or highlighter to mark lines across, or up and down, to follow along a column of figures.
    9. Request individual training in order to make the most of any assistive technology or equipment you may have – it will make all the difference!
    10. Develop your own “workplace strategy”, working with a specialist in dyslexia to help you manage challenges and achieve your full potential.
  • Access to Work

    by Justin Crick | Oct 11, 2012

    It also gives advice to employers and may support them with some of the costs of making reasonable adjustments to meet the disabled or dyslexic employee's needs. It is a government-funded scheme run by Job Centre Plus.

    iansyst provides the whole range of services for Access to Work:

    • Assessments;
    • Assistive Technology (AT) software, hardware and ergonomic solutions;
    • Specialist support for the AT installation with your own IT staff;
    • Support for the individual;
    • Workplace consultancy;
    • Assistive Technology training.

    To be entitled to Access to Work, a person must be one of the following:

    • In a paid job;
    • Unemployed and about to start a job; or
    • Self-employed.

    They must also have an ongoing disability or health condition that stops them from doing aspects of the job.

    Workers and employers should be aware of the support and funding that is available.

    Access to Work could pay towards:

    • Equipment to support the need;
    • Adaptations to premises;
    • Travel to work if public transport is not an option;
    • Communicator at job interviews.

    The Access-to-Work Business Centre considers the needs of each individual.

    The Access-to-Work process is as follows:

    The Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) at your local Jobcentre puts the individual in touch with the appropriate Access-to-Work Business Centre.

    An Access-to-Work adviser talks to the individual and their employer about support – either over the phone or through a visit.

    The Access-to-Work adviser may help to organise specialist advice.

    The specialist adviser e.g. dyslexia specialist arranges an appointment to visit the individual in the workplace to carry out an assessment of needs.

    The specialist writes a report recommending appropriate equipment, support and adjustments and forwards it to the Access-to-Work adviser.

    The Access-to-Work adviser uses the report to help decide on the support required.

    The Employer is then responsible for arranging the agreed support.

    Access to Work can pay up to 100 per cent of the approved costs of making reasonable adjustments if the individual is one of the following:

    • Unemployed and starting a new job;
    • Self-employed;
    • Working for an employer for less than six weeks.

    Whatever the individual's employment status, Access to Work will also pay for up to 100 per cent of the approved costs for:

    • Support workers;
    • Fares to work;
    • Communicator support at interview.

    If the individual has been employed in a job for more than six weeks and needs special equipment and/or adaptations to premises, then the following financial guidelines will apply:

    • employers with 1 to 9 employees will not be expected to share costs
    • employers with 10 to 49 employers will pay the first £300 and 20 per cent of costs up to £10,000
    • employers with 50 to 249 employees will pay the first £500 and 20 per cent of costs up to £10,000
    • large employers with 250 or more employees will pay the first £1,000 and 20 per cent of costs up to £10,000

    The support provided will be reviewed between one and three years.

    For more in-depth information regarding Access To Work

  • Disability in the workplace

    by Justin Crick | Oct 11, 2012

    Developing an Inclusive Culture

    • Disseminate a written disability policy (and where appropriate a Disability Equality Scheme) and clear procedures throughout the organisation.
    • Review office layouts and accessibility.
    • Review organisational policies and procedures to avoid direct or indirect discrimination.
    • Develop consultation initiatives to increase feedback from disabled staff regarding policies and new developments.
    • Ensure opportunities for individuals to request support for disabilities, including at job-application and interview stages.
    • Make information more accessible by publishing it in alternative formats, for example, audio files, or large print.
    • Consider the opportunities to work with specialist disability advisors and suppliers, in addition to identifying funding sources, such as the Access-to-Work grant scheme from Job Centre Plus.
    • Incorporate disability-friendly IT adjustments; for example, consider the opportunities to provide software and assistive technology tools.

    Disability-Awareness Training

    • Provide disability awareness training for all staff.
    • Integrate disability awareness into staff-induction programmes.
    • Consider training mentors or buddies for disabled staff.
    • Provide one-to-one skills training and coaching initiatives from a dyslexia specialist.

    Develop New Communication Strategies

    • Review all communication information, both internal and external, from signage to documents to multi-media. Consider both printed publications and information featured in electronic media.
    • Use a variety of ways to present information, including video, charts, diagrams, and images as well as words on labels and signage.
    • Enable staff to have a choice of coloured backgrounds and fonts on computer screens and coloured overlays for published material.
    • Adopt a clear house style for all written materials.

    Consider how the use of assistive technology and software can support reading digital information, e.g. text-to-speech software that reads information 'out loud' from websites, intranets and documents.

  • What is Dyslexia?

    by Justin Crick | Oct 11, 2012

    It is a persistent condition. Accompanying weaknesses may be identified in areas of speed of processing, short-term memory, organisation, sequencing, spoken language and motor skills. There may be difficulties with auditory and /or visual perception. It is particularly related to mastering and using written language, which may include alphabetic, numeric and musical notation.

    Dyslexia can occur despite normal intellectual ability and teaching. It is constitutional in origin, part of one's make-up and independent of socio-economic or language background.

    Some learners have very well developed creative skills and/or interpersonal skills, others have strong oral skills. All have strengths.

    (Source: The British Dyslexia Association 2006)

    Why is dyslexia a disability?

    The Equality Act 2010 a person has a disability if:

    • they have a physical or mental impairment
    • the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to perform normal day-to-day activities

    For the purposes of the Act, these words have the following meanings:

    • 'substantial' means more than minor or trivial
    • 'long-term' means that the effect of the impairment has lasted or is likely to last for at least twelve months (there are special rules covering recurring or fluctuating conditions)
    • 'normal day-to-day activities' include everyday things like eating, washing, walking and going shopping

    People who have had a disability in the past that meets this definition are also protected by the Act.

    The key question is: how does dyslexia meet the criteria for being a 'disability'?

    The list below should help bring some clarity to these issues:

    • The common attendant symptoms of dyslexia can include one or more of the following difficulties with: written communication, word finding, memory, concentration, time, organisation, direction, rote learning. These could undoubtedly have substantial adverse effects on day-to-day activities.
    • Dyslexic people can often find ways around their difficulties to minimise, overcome or mask the effect of their disability, especially if they are able to do things their way.
    • If, however, for any reason, a dyslexic person cannot find ways round their difficulties, the effects can be severely disabling.

    Dyslexic people may have coping strategies which cease to work under certain circumstances (for example, when someone is placed under excessive stress or a change of job). This must be taken into account when assessing the effects of the disability.

    In addition to considering the strategic organisational aspects, such as culture and policies, each disabled person's work environment and needs will differ and will require specific reasonable adjustments to be made.

    Dyslexia-Friendly Practices

    • Some people may not have had their dyslexic-type difficulties formally identified or may not realise they are dyslexic. Consider offering dyslexia screening.
    • Consult individuals about their own preferences for doing tasks in the most suitable way and at the right pace. Where necessary, make adjustments to work allocation, such as creating an environment with minimal background noise and interruptions.
    • Enable the use of assistive technology to help with a range of skills. For example:
      • a digital recorder for messages and meetings;
      • text-to-speech software and also speech-recognition software;
      • portable spell checkers and grammar-checking software;
      • personal organisers, mobile phones, sat-nav. etc.
    • Consider one-to-one support consultancy from a disability specialist to develop an 'individual workplace strategy' with the most appropriate adjustments for the specific needs of the individual in the context of their role.

    Specialist dyslexia and product training is available through iansyst; these are just some of the products:

  • Repetitive Strain Injury

    by Justin Crick | Oct 11, 2012

    Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a term used to refer to a range of painful conditions often affecting the muscles, tendons or nerves. RSI is mainly caused by the frequent and repetitive use of a particular part of the body; it is usually associated carrying out day-to-day tasks involved in your occupation. The repetitive use of a mouse, typing and poor posture can all contribute to RSI as can not taking enough breaks from the task in hand.

    It is not clear precisely why RSI can develop, or why some people are prone to developing RSI while others are not. However, it is thought that workplace stress can be a contributing factor.

    RSI often involves the upper part of the body, such as the neck, forearm, elbow, wrist and hands, and is sometimes referred to as upper limb disorder (ULD). Symptoms of RSI can vary, and in many cases the sufferer has no swelling, inflammation or indeed any physical signs.

    While workers in any occupation can be at risk from RSI, especially those carrying out repetitive actions, over recent years the occurrence in computer users has risen.

    Speedy treatment of the symptoms, which include pain, tightness, aching, numbness or tingling in the hands, elbows, wrists, shoulders, neck etc is important. The sooner RSI is treated the better the chance of a full recovery.

    However prevention is somewhat better than cure, and looking into practical ways of making reasonable adjustments in the workplace can greatly reduce the risks of staff developing RSI.

    Ensuring that all employees have their computer equipment positioned in the correct way is likely to reduce strain. Providing suitable ergonomic equipment, such as desks, chairs, keyboards and mice, can greatly reduce risks, or help ease existing symptoms. Staff should also be encouraged to take regular breaks from repetitive tasks and if RSI has developed through computer use, then alternative methods of accessing the computer, such as voice-recognition software may help.

    These are just some of the specialist products available from the re-adjust initiative:

  • Visual Impairment

    by Justin Crick | Oct 11, 2012

    Among these two million people, over 370,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted. Many technically blind people have some useful perception of light and shape.

    Some people will be affected by a sight problem from birth, whilst others may inherit an eye condition. Others may lose their sight as the result of an accident, whilst illness can lead to conditions such as diabetic retinopathy.

    Many people with sight problems lead full and independent lives. Some may need assistance with certain tasks and may have to adapt their daily lives, although this is possible and very often achieved with success.

    Age-related eye conditions are the most common cause of sight loss in the UK. Ninety-five per cent of people with sight problems in the UK are sixty-five or over.

    (source – RNIB)

    The most common causes of Visual Impairments are;

    • Macular Degeneration – causes distorted vision, straight lines appear wavy, and objects appear larger or smaller than they really are.
    • Glaucoma – may cause a dull, aching pain and foggy vision
    • Cataracts – can cause blurred vision, colours appear faded and bright lights become dazzling.
    • Diabetic Retinopathy – causes double vision and difficulty focusing
    • Injury or Trauma to the eyes

    Visual Impairment Friendly Practices

    Blind and partially sighted people work in virtually every employment sector and use a range of techniques to help them carry out their job roles. There are products and services that can help you and your employee ensure work is still carried out to the best of their ability. For example;

    Technology

    • Provide access to software that magnifies a portion of a monitor screen or a video magnifier that enables people to see documents more clearly.
    • Make documents available in alternate formats such as Braille, large print or audio.
    • Use screen reading software and dictation software to access electronic documents and web pages.

    Adaptation to the working environment

    • Ensuring that the paths that the employee who is blind or visually impaired will be using are cleared of obstacles.
    • Use lower wattage overhead lights to reduce glare and desk lamps to focus light where needed.

    Effective Communication

    • When starting a conversation, identify yourself and any others who are with you.
    • If the conversation is over or if you are moving from one place to another, clearly indicate this out loud.
    • Feel free to use words like “look”, “see”, or “read”; people who are blind use these words too!
    • When you are leaving the room, say so.

    Specialist visual impairment software and hardware as well as product training is available through the re-adjust initiative; these are just some of the products: