Assistive Technology Discussion
See also Instructional Design
Beginning Tuesday, September 19th, 2006 through Friday, September 22nd, there was a guest discussion on the NIFL-Technology list on “Assistive Technology, Instructional Technology, and Universal Design Strategies for Adult Literacy” with guest facilitator Dr. Dave Edyburn of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
In advance of the discussion, to learn more about Universal Design and technology the Center for Applied Special Technologies has some useful information:
Title: Assistive Technology, Instructional Technology, and Universal Design Strategies for Adult Literacy
Adult literacy professionals and volunteers are well aware of the effects of school failure and the lifelong impact of failing to acquire functional reading skills. In this online event, Dr. Dave Edyburn a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, will engage participants in a discussion about three forms of technology and their application for adult literacy learners and programs.
On day one, participants will be introduced to the concept of assistive technology and learn about products that have been designed to support struggling readers.
On day two, conversations will focus on instructional technology. That is, how can technology be used to teach and assess critical literacy skills.
On day three, participants will learn about universal design for learning and the promise of this approach to address the needs of diverse learners in ways that combine the best attributes of assistive and instructional technology.
Participants in this online event will have the opportunity to learn about practical applications of technology in adult literacy programs, ask questions, and obtain information about software and web resources.
Dave L. Edyburn, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Exceptional Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Dr. Edyburn’s teaching and research interests focus on the use of technology to enhance teaching, learning, and performance.
He has authored over 100 articles and book chapters on assistive and instructional technology. He is a co-editor of the recently published book, Handbook of Special Education Technology Research and Practice.
He is a past president of the Special Education Technology Special Interest Group (SETSIG) in the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) as well as a past president of the Technology and Media (TAM) Division of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). He is a frequent conference presenter and national workshop leader.
What is assistive technology?
From Dr. Edyburn: Many people think assistive technology is a strange and unfamiliar topic that doesn't have much relevance to their daily life. However, the essence of assistive technology involves using tools to augment and extend ability.
Here's the federal definition of an assistive technology device:
Assistive technology device means any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.
This definition originally appeared in the 1988 Tech Act and has been subsequently referenced in all federal laws involving technology and individuals with disabilities. In addition, all 50 states have adopted a version of this definition.
As we dissect the operational concepts in the definition of assistive technology it is necessary to highlight the word ANY. Assistive technology is anything that enhances the functional performance of an individual with a disability. This will become a critical issue in our discussions as we explore the application of technology for enhancing reading performance.
Historically, assistive technology has been applied to overcoming the limitations posed by physical and sensory impairments. For example, an impairment of a limb has generated solutions like crutches and wheelchairs to enhance personal mobility. Likewise, hearing impairments have generated a variety of amplification systems. Consider how the telephone was originally invented as a system to enhance communication with an individual who was hard of hearing.
Only recently have advances in the technology marketplace created solutions that allow technology to be used to amplify impairments that involve cognition. As a result, at the present time we do not have the legacy of knowledge, products, and research on assistive technology for reading that we have in other areas of assistive technology.
If you would like to learn more about the foundations of assistive technology, consider the following resources:
1. Free Online Course Module
Introduction to Assistive Technology http://atto.buffalo.edu/registered/ATBasics/Foundation/intro/index.php
2. Brief/Accessible Introduction
Edyburn, D.L. (2003). What every teacher needs to know about assistive technology. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
3. Comprehensive/Authoritative Text
Cook, A.M., & Hussey, S,M. (2002). Assistive technology: Principles and practices (2nd ed.). St. Louis, MO: Mosby.
What is available in the way of assistive technology?
From Dr. Edyburn:
What does it mean when we say an adult can't read? Often we immediately think about all the diagnostic categories that may explain why a person is a non-reader or has acquired only basic literacy skills.
A critical issue associated with providing assistive technology to children and youth is known as assistive technology consideration. This is a federal mandate that requires teams to consider the use of assistive technology when planning a student's individual education plan (IEP). However, those of us providing adult literacy services have no such mandate. As a result, when do we consider whether or not a client could benefit from assistive technology to enhance his/her functional reading performance? What types of technologies do we consider? Why should we consider assistive technology rather than providing the kinds of instructional services we have always provided through our agency?
I have written about a problem I call the assistive technology consideration paradox. That is, how do I consider assistive technology if I don't know what types of tools and solutions are available? I suspect this paradox is also true for many adult literacy service providers and volunteers.
Overcoming the assistive technology consideration paradox requires the development of excellent training materials and decision support aids. It also means we would need to utilize a professional knowledge base about how assistive technology enhances reading performance. We need clear indicators about performance deficits and how specific technologies could be expected to compensate for limitations in ways that we could document the outcomes. Unfortunately, the current state of practice falls quite short of these expectations.
In the meantime, a variety of individuals and organizations have created tools for helping visitors locate the most appropriate assistive technology. Naturally this involves a great deal of time to research to find potential solutions. And, trial and error to implement the tools in order to find the right combination of assistive technology tools that enhance the reading abilities of each individual.
Explore the following assistive technology consideration resources to understand the types of assistive technology solutions that may assist the adult learners you work with:
1. The voice of an adult with learning disabilities who is a clear advocate for assistive technology.
LD Resources http://www.ldresources.com
2. Schwab Learning Foundation database for locating assistive technology tools.
Assistive Technology Tools: Reading http://www.schwablearning.org/articles.asp?r=1071&f=tech&x=10&y=10
3. Georgia Tools for Life database and resources for locating assistive technology tools.
Learning Disabilities and Assistive Technology http://www.gatfl.org/ldguide/default.htm
4. Video overview of assistive technology products.
Georgia Assistive Technology Project http://coefaculty.valdosta.edu/spe/ATRB/Video_Tips.htm
Ways to address learning differences, from Susan Jones
"amplify impairments that involve cognition"?
That doesn't seem desirable to me!
While this hasn't been done via technology, I think it has been done in assorted ways, shapes, and contexts for a long time. Certainly not all, but many teachers have looked for different ways to make knowledge accessible to students, or their children, or their apprentices. So, I think we have models for "how can you make something cognitively accessble" - and if we can figure out the task, we can figure out a way for technology to make the task easier.
The most obvious one is repetition, and the assorted "skill and drill" (or 'kill and drill,') software already exists in abundance. However, I think it would be wise to examine more complex applications of "repetition" and its integration into the larger learning picture, for better development of technology that can most efficiently provide opportunities for repetition and transfer to application levels of a cognitive skill, and transfer from technology-dependent to independent where applicable, which I would think is more often for things cognitive.
Another one is bridging from known to unknown knowledge, and from concrete to abstract. What's out there for that?
A third one is making learning multisensory, which is an area of, I think, incredibly untapped potential. THings are still somewhat in the "put a text on the computer" stage, which doesn't begin to tap the differences in technology and texts - and the possibilities of integrating computers with other forms of technology as basic as big ol' manipulatives.
One here-and-now issue here (college, developmental education) is "what do we *do* with these folks who've managed to assess into our pre-college reading and/or writing courses, but who have a long, long way to go to get to college level?" And more specifically, do we perpetually cycle between "isolated skills work" which tends not to transfer, and "holistic learning," which can be frustrating because different students are missing different pieces of that whole.
One idea that piqued our director in a discussion yesterday was the idea of using assistive technology to bridge the decoding and fluency gap, so that work on comprehension would not be limited by decoding and fluency issues. We looked at Thinking Reader.
What research has been done?
From Dr. Edyburn:
Q: What solid research had been done in the area of assistive technology/universal design to document its effectiveness? Can you cite any specific studies?
A: A timely question. These days it seems that everyone is interested in questions about the efficacy of technology. However, there are a number of challenges associated with providing convincing evidence or proof of effectiveness.
Historically, the outcome of assistive technology was determined between an individual with a disability and the service provider. A person arrived with a performance problem and left with some sort of solution. No formal measure was made of enhanced performance. During these days, if data was collected, it took the form of satisfaction data. The first calls to formally measure the outcomes of assistive technology appeared in the literature in 1995.
While progress has been made toward measuring the outcomes of assistive technology in recent years, we are far from having recognized, reliable, and valid measures of assistive technology outcome. The research literature is primarily descriptive and case based. In situations where we have excellent single subject designs, critics argue that the evidence is inadequate for large-scale/policy decisions.
The advent of universal design for learning is also problematic from a research stand point. Currently there is significant discussion about whether universal design for learning is an intervention (and therefore must be subjected to empirical investigation) or a philosophy. As a result, I am of the opinion that universal design for learning has gained widespread attention as a design strategy rather than based on a research knowledge base indicating a validated intervention procedure. Despite the fact that UDL has impacted federal education policy, we are hard pressed to provide research evidence of its efficacy. This suggests that some other change strategy besides research is at work.
All this is not to say that we don't have a research base. Quite the opposite. The problem lies in the challenge of defining a quality standard before examining the current body of evidence. When this happens an entire knowledge base is dismissed as being inadequate.
Personally, I would like to suggest we review of body of evidence on a topic and then determine how much confidence we can place in the accumulated evidence. In almost all cases we will note the need for more research. However, in many cases we will find ample evidence for making some types of decisions.
The issue of research will be a theme in all of our discussions this week. As a result, I will wait to share my interpretive views of individual studies until I can link them to specific topics.
In the meantime, it may be helpful to direct you to two recent projects that I have conducted that serve to make the research knowledge base more accessible to the entire profession. Improving access to the knowledge base without strict judgments of quality will illustrate the wide range of evidence we have about different components of technology in special education and allow users to draw their own conclusions for the decisions at hand. I believe this is necessary and appropriate during the emerging development of a young discipline linke special education technology.
The first is a comprehensive (900+ pages) handbook on technology in special education. Several chapters are relevant to partipants in this discussion (the relationship between AT and UDL; technology and reading). This book represents the first scholarly compilation of the research and practice literature. [Full disclosure: In addition to serving as one of the editors for this book, my company is the publisher and distributor.]
Edyburn, D., Higgins, K., & Boone, R. (Eds.). (2005). Handbook of special education technology research and practice . Whitefish Bay, WI: Knowledge by Design, Inc. Access the table of contents: http://www.knowledge-by-design.com
The second resource is an annual review of the literature that I conduct that answers the question: What have we learned lately? Basically I review the contents of 31 journals to extract the most relevant articles related to technology in special eucation and then create a comprehensive index that allows users to locate what we have learned by disability, curriculum area, grade level, and technology topic. If you only have time to read one article a year, this one will help you stay current. To learn more about the review process and access online copies of the published reviews (1999-2003), visit: http://www.uwm.edu/~edyburn/what.html.
Resources for stuggling readers
From Dr. Edyburn:
In an earlier message I highlighted the challenges associated with the assistive technology consideration paradox. How do I consider assistive technology if I don't know what types of tools and solutions are available?
Many individuals and groups have tried to develop protocols to help assess the need for assistive technology. Ideally, the needs assessment will align with specific types of tools that may be relevant to explore with an individual to determine whether or not they enhance functional performance.
Below is a list of four resources for adult literacy educators interested in expanding their assessment of the need for assistive technology for struggling readers.
Hey! Can I Try That? http://www.otap-oregon.org/Stuhdbkhey.PDF
A free student handbook for choosing and using assistive technology.
Texas Assistive Technology Network http://www.texasat.net/default.aspx?name=trainmod.reading
An awesome collection of resources on assistive technology supports for struggling readers.
Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (WATI) Assessment Forms http://www.wati.org/Products/pdf/Assessment_Forms_only.pdf
A comprehensive collection of reproducible assistive technology assessment forms.
Fritschi's Assistive Technology Tool Chart http://fritschi.home.mindspring.com/tools2.html
A chart that organizes a variety of assistive technologies by area of need with vendor links.
Strategies for finding the right book
From Dr. Edyburn:
Adult literacy educators spend considerable time and effort matching readers with the "right" book. Using assessment concepts such as instructional level, independent level, and frustration level, we seek to find texts that match the skill level of a struggling reader.
What role can technology play in finding the right book? Let's consider some strategies:
1. Locate online reading materials that are designed to support multiple reading/interest levels.
Windows to the Universe http://www.windows.ucar.edu
Select a topic through the series of menus. Once you reach the content level you will notice three bars in the top-center of the screen: beginner, intermediate, advanced. Click on each button and notice how the text is rewritten for each level. Also explore the button for English to Spanish translation. What if all instructional materials were written at multiple interest/reading levels? And, multilingual?
2. Access a product line that provides a management system for reading materials written at multiple levels of difficulty.
There are a variety of companies that distribute comprehensive collections of leveled reading materials.
Reading A to Z http://www.readinga-z.com/
100 Book Challenge http://100bookchallenge.com/
Leveled Books http://www.leveledbooks.com
3. Beyond Readability
A new scientific advance in the analysis of text difficulty has replaced readability estimates as a means of matching readers with appropriate texts. Learn more about Lexiles and how to use the Lexile database to locate appropriate reading materials for the adult learners you work with.
The Lexile Reading Framework http://www.lexile.com
4. Provide Leveled Reading Materials in Multiple Formats
The Don Johnston company has created a book series known as Start-to-Finish. Each book is carefully analyzed for its reading level to assist educators in matching texts to students. However, the distinguishing feature of this product is that each book comes in three formats: traditional print paperback, audio tape, and CDROM. The instructional design principle is that in an instructional setting, the reader may want to read the book on the computer with text to speech supports. However, they can practice reading at home with the printed book or audio tape. Since each book is in each format, flexibility for the teacher and the reader is maximized.
Start to Finish Books http://www.donjohnston.com
I've outlined some strategies that involve the use of technology as part of the process for matching students with the right book. Have you used other strategies or tools that helped you find the right book for struggling adult readers?
Typography and Universal Design - What fonts are easiest to read?
From Dr. Edyburn:
Q: I am very interested in (and have been researching) the issue of typography as a universal design concept as it applies to print materials and websites. I do a lot of presenting on this particular issue. Are you aware of these concepts and how they apply to reading for all learners, but especially for those with cognitive and/or sensory impairments? I would be interested in your information or a conversation if you would like more information.
A: Thanks for sharing this connection between topography and UDL. This is not a topic I have studied so I don't have much to share. I hope you will consider sharing more information with the members of this list.
Reading researchers have long been interested in the role that font style and size has on reading performance. One study that may be of interest:
Mansfield, J.S., Legge, G.E., and Bane, M.C. (1996). Psychophysics of reading. XV: Font effects in normal and low vision. Available online: http://www.iovs.org/cgi/content/abstract/37/8/1492
More recently, many studies have looked at various aspects of fonts relative to online reading or reading e-books. Some resources that may be of interest:
Which fonts do children prefer to read online? http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/3W/fontJR.htm
Dillon, A. (1992) Reading from paper versus screens: a critical review of the empirical literature. Ergonomics, 35(10), 1297-1326.
Finally, concerning the design of digital text, you may be interested in learning more about the concept of cascading style sheets (CSS):
Wikipedia: CSS http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cascading_Style_Sheets
Essentially this new style of web programming separates the functions of presenting text from the content. Traditionally, designers determined how users would view their content. With CSS, content and form are separated. This means that content can be manipulated quickly and easily be simply preparing a new style sheet. In the near future, we expect users will set their own CSS which will then control the format of the text (e.g., colors, style, size) that is presented to them when they visit any web page.
Fieldtrip: Take a few minutes to experience CSS today, visit:
CSS Zen Garden http://www.csszengarden.com
Notice what the web page looks like when you first arrive. Then, click on the links on the right hand side of the page. Then, use your back button to go back to the original page. Repeat these steps several times.
Did you notice that the content stays the same despite the wide variations in design styles? Can you envision the value of CSS for struggling readers that may want to set their own color contrasts or font style or font size? Can you appreciate the value of separating the work of the author (create the information) from the work of the designer (make a CSS to make the information look interesting) from the preference of the reader (which style to I like best?)?
CSS represents an important advance that has resulted from the forces of assistive technology, accessible web design, and universal design converging. As such it provides an interesting glimpse of the future design of reading materials.
Fonts and Design, from Tina Luffman
Hi Dave and all,
As a Tech Writing student in college, we were trained to use serif fonts for paper-based writing and sans serif fonts for electronic-based writing. For example, one would use Times New Roman for writing papers but Arial for creating text in html for a Web page. I was also privileged to teach a junior level composition course for NAU in which we used The Non-Designer's Design Book by Robin Williams. In this book we learned the CRAP principle: Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. It is a great book, and I recommend it to anyone making PowerPoints, Web pages, or any other type of graphical and text combination design for eye friendly, reader friendly purposes.
Tina Luffman Coordinator, Developmental Education Verde Valley Campus tina_luffman_at_yc.edu
Web sites and accessiblity, from Craig Alinder
A side issue related to this topic are the accessibility standards that are supposed to be used in website design and how most websites are completely inaccessible to the visually and the hearing impaired, even though they need not be. Many companies find it to be too much work to edit each and every page of their website. But there will come a day when it is illegal to operate a website without proper accessibility, just as it is illegal to operate a business without an accessibility ramp. The W3C, World Wide Web Consortium, has developed standards for web developers to follow to allow the latest assistive technologies to work properly. You can check out their Web Accessibility website here: [ http://www.w3.org/WAI/ ]http://www.w3.org/WAI/.
Then there is also the issue that Susan mentioned of designers not wanting people to be able to adjust the font of their browser and such, because such adjustments would wreak havoc on their artistic control.
Craig Alinder Escuela del Sol Montessori Albuquerque, NM 87110 http://www.loancentralstation.net
More on typography, from Pat Anderson
I am more than happy to share information with you with regard to the topic of typography and making text easier to read. There is not much "research" but I am attaching a brief article (although a bit outdated) so that you can get the gist of what I refer to as typography and universal design. Once you understand the basic principles, you will see good (and mostly bad) examples everywhere. The need for this information occurs because prior to such widespread use of computers, graphic designers and printers understood and followed the "rules" of typography and making print materials more readable (i.e., accessible). Most of the rest of us do not fully comprehend what makes print materials more readable or accessible. This also includes the use of color.
There is also an article that was printed in the Jan/Feb 1997 issue of TEACHING Exceptional Children (p. 32 - 35) - "Creating Readable Handouts, Worksheets, Overheads, Tests, Review Materials, Study Guides, and Homework Assignments Through Effective Typographic Design" that is a more comprehensive explanation of this concept.
Contact me for more information if you would like.
Patricia L. Anderson CT State Department of Education Bureau of Special Education P.O. Box 2219 Hartford, CT 06145-2219 patricia.anderson_at_ct.gov
Software for Reading Instruction
From Dr. Edyburn:
When a teacher makes a decision to use technology with his/her students they are immediately challenged by infrastructure issues. That is, do we have enough computers? How do I find the right software?
Access to sufficient numbers of computers is clearly in a problem in classroom settings. However, it is also a challenge in tutoring environments. The adult literacy program may be dependent on old donated computers that don't have enough memory to run new software products or lack the capability to access the Internet. Clearly access to adequate hardware is a significant barrier to using technology in instructionally meaningful ways.
Even when adequate computers are available, it is critically important that high-quality software be selected for use. The time required to locate, try out, and acquire high-quality software is so great it often derails the instructional technology process. Hence there is an urgent need to share success stories about what works.
1. Below is a list of reading instruction software programs that were designed to provide carefully sequenced instruction and feature extensive student management systems for monitoring and reporting student progress:
Balanced Literacy http://www.intellitools.com/
Lexia Early Learning http://www.lexialearning.com/
Simon Sounds It Out http://www.donjohnston.com
2. Some software products that focus specifically on skill development:
Reading for Meaning http://www.tomsnyder.com/products/product.asp?SKU=RFMROM&Subject=LanguageArts
3. Here is an innovative product that focuses on improving reading through individual performance assessment of oral reading
Soliloquy Reading Assistant http://www.soliloquylearning.com/
Each of the programs listed above have been found to be effective with adult learners in some situations. However, software is subject to the same criticisms as print reading materials. That is, while adult learners may have skill levels comparable to young children, it is not appropriate to use childrenUs materials to teach them to read. As a result, software must be carefully reviewed by the adult literacy staff to assess the age-appropriateness/suitability of each product for their clients.
Your Turn: What Works?
Now that I have shared an initial list of instructional technology resources, let me invite the readers of this list to share their thoughts. What instructional technology products have you found useful in your work? Why do you think the product is valuable for the adults you work with? When possible, please tell us the title, vendor, and a web site where we can go to learn more about the product.
Practical ideas for using assistive technology with struggling readers
From Dr. Edyburn:
Some of our readers may be wondering when we are going to get to the practical stuff? After dealing with all the foundational ideas today, now seems like a good time to share some practical ideas for using assistive technology with struggling adult readers.
Let's consider some challenges that your clients might experience and what types of technology tools you might want to explore with them.
Instructional Challenge: Is the reading problem due to the inability to see the text because of its size?
Strategy: Use the screen magnification tools found inside the Access Control Panel on your computer. These built-in tools allow you to magnify the screen, control the mouse speed, modify output for hearing problems, and more. These tools are free and already installed on every computer shipped in the U.S. (however, your technology staff may have locked out your ability to access them...). Learn more using the following tutorials:
Windows Access Control Panel http://www.microsoft.com/enable/products/windowsxp/default.aspx
Macintosh Access Control Panel http://www.apple.com/accessibility/
Instructional Challenge: Is the reading problem due to the fact that reading is slow and laborious? Is comprehension negatively affected due to inadequate reading fluency?
Strategy: Part of the attraction of the term "print disabled" involves the clarity that it suggests interventions that simply bypass the decoding aspects of reading in order to focus on acquisition and use of information. That is, if an adult is truly print disabled, why not teach him as if he were blind?
Strategy: Provide evidence of a print disability and subscribe to BookShare.org (http://www.bookshare.org) to obtain digital copies of copyrighted books. These digital files can then be used on a computer to listen to books an individual could not read independently.
Strategy: Provide evidence of a print disability and qualify for free audio materials from the American Printing House for the Blind (http://www.aph.org) or Recordings for the Blind and Dsylexic (http://www.rfbd.org).
Strategy: Teach your client to copy digital text and paste it into a text to speech program. Examples of free products include [Windows] ReadPlease (http://www.readplease.com) and [Macintosh] TextEdit (Macintosh System Software). This strategy may also be used with commercial talking word processors such as WordQ (http://www.wordq.com) and Write OutLoud (http://www.donjohnston.com).
Instructional Challenge: Is the reading problem due to the fact the client must read materials assigned by others that do not match his/her independent reading levels?
Strategy: Scan and read systems are integrated technology solutions that involve a scanner, specialized optical character recognition (OCR) software, and a computer. Originally developed as a tool for independence for individuals who are blind, scan and read systems have significant application for individuals with reading and learning disabilities. Learn more about three leading products: Kurzweil 3000 (http://www.kurzweiledu.com/), Read and Write Gold (http://www.texthelp.com), and WYNN (http://www.freedomscientific.com/LSG/products/wynn.asp).
Instructional Challenge: Does the client need reading support in multiple environments?
Strategy: A new tool has important implications for the provision of assistive technology devices and support services. Key to Access (http://www.readingmadeez.com/KeyToAccess.php) is a portable USB drive for Windows computers. This pocket-key-chain-sized device contains eight accessibility programs that allows user to have their assistive technology tools available on any computer they use (e.g., home, work, learning center) without installing any special software. Among the tools are a scan and read tool and talking word processor. Now your clients can carry a talking word processor around in their pocket and learn how to listen to any text on any Windows computer.
Instructional Challenge: Does your client need reading support outside of your center to independently practice his/her reading skills?
Strategy: Talking web browsers are a strategy that make the entire Internet talk. Obtain BrowseAloud (http://www.browsealoud.com/) [free, Windows and Macintosh] or, obtain a 30-day trial version of Reading Bar (http://www.readplease.com/english/readingbar.php) [Windows, Internet Explorer] and try it out. Once it is installed, open any web page, highlight any word, and click the play button to have the word spoken. This tool will read individual sentences or whole web pages. As a result, these easy to use tools enable your clients can access the level of reading support they need on any web page.
From Dr. Edyburn:
Historically, reading was a perceptual/sensory/cognitive processing task. When disease, age, or impairment interfered with the various subprocesses, reading performance was negatively impacted. For thousands of years, there was no single technology that could compensate for a reading impairment. As a result, individuals suffered the effects of their inability to read. As we know, the costs are great at both the personal and society level. Some individuals learned to accommodate their reading disability by becoming an auditory learner. Others relied on having someone read to them. Successful accommodations often masks a reading problem.
An interesting case study in the area of assistive technology and reading involves the widespread acceptance and use of eye glasses. Seldom do eye glass users consider their glasses as assistive technology. However, they fully recognize the fact that their reading performance is better when then use their glasses then when they try to read without them. This example poses an interesting quandary: Why do we discriminate between different forms of assistive technology in what we consider allowable? That is, why do some people get to use eye glasses while we prevent others from using scan and read technologies?
Over the past 5-10 years the marketplace has made significant advances in the nature of assistive technology devices that are now available. Unfortunately, the field of reading has been slow to acknowledge that technology could/should be used to compensate for impairments that limit functional performance. As a result, existing technologies force us to consider some difficult issues. Unfortunately, we lack principles, frameworks, research evidence, metaphors, and experience to guide our thinking and deliberations about the use of technology to enhance functional reading performance.
Allow me to outline a few issues that may serve as discussion starters:
--How much evidence do we need that an individual is struggling to achieve the developmental milestones on the journey of becoming a successful reader? When do we supplement our instructional efforts with compensatory technologies that bypass the decoding aspects of reading and allow struggling readers to focus on the comprehension components and application of new information?
--How much evidence of change (i.e., enhanced performance) do we need to see in order to deem an assistive technology successful? It is sufficient that a struggling adult reader simply likes completing reading tasks with a specific assistive technology? Or, if we notice more time spent engaged in reading is that enough evidence to support the provision of assistive technology? Or, do we expect achievement gaps to significantly close?
--Many people will argue that listening to a text is not the same as reading a text. They suggest that the media shift that occurs when print is converted into auditory formats (e.g., books vs. audio books; text vs. text to speech) involves different cognitive processes and should not be considered equivalent to what is called reading. I wonder if this means that when someone uses cruise control on the highway that we can longer say they are driving (i.e., should we say they are steering?).
--Dependency. Often we decline to consider assistive technologies because we are worried the individual will become dependent on the tool. Is this concern misplaced? For example, do experienced writers give up their word processor? Should roofers give up their electric nail guns? Should the priority delivery person give up their bar code reader? Should cashiers foresake their scanners and cash registers? How do we clarify the relationships between an individual, a task, a tool and functional performance?
--Bias. How we define reading must be carefully considered. Hehir (2005) has noted that "ableism" is an insidious form of discrimination that creates barriers for individuals with disabilities based on the cultural attitudes of the able-bodied. For example, he observes that most people value intrinsic spelling ability and devalue the performance of those individuals who rely on spelling checkers. When reading is defined as an organic process (perceptual/sensory/cognitive processing), there is no role for assistive technology. Therefore, individuals that use text to speech technologies can not be called readers because they rely on an external aid.
--Measurement Constructs. Much of the current controversies associated with reading assistive technologies in K-12 schools is grounded in notions of assessment. We design tests and policies about accommodations that permit assistive technology in the form of eye glasses but ban assistive technology in the form of text to speech products. We believe raw unaided performance is a more robust measure of reading performance and thus institutionalize discrimination against individuals that have impairments in the perceptual/sensory/cognitive processing that interfere with the completion of the task in the same ways as their nonhandicapped peers. How should the use of technology supports be normed in test development in ways that produce reliable and valid measures of readers using reading assistive technologies?
--Limited research base for informing practice. The research on adult users of reading assistive technologies is very limited. As a result, we know little about whether struggling adult readers will use assistive technology. Similarly, we know little about the long term effect of reading assistive technologies by struggling adult readers.
--The cost of not being able to read. Given what we know about the economic consequences of not learning to read, at what point does it become good public policy to purchase scan and read systems so that individuals can process information at levels comparable to their nonhandicapped peers? If an individual who can not read begins to believe they can not learn, do we need any more evidence about the value of a social investment in reading assistive technologies to justify the cost?
The issues outlined here are a small sample of the many important questions that must be answered about the use of assistive technology and reading. Indeed, considerably more work is needed in this very important area in order to allow adult struggling readers to have equal access to the marketplace of ideas that are currently stored in print formats just beyond their reach.
Hehir, T. (2005). New directions in special education: Eliminating ableism in policy and practice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Educational Publishing Group.
Resources for non-native speakers of English
From Dr. Edyburn:
In many adult education settings, some of our students are challenged in their reading because English is not their first language. Bilingual education has its proponents of English only and simultaneous bilingual instruction. My purpose is not to debate the merits of each approach but rather to highlight some materials that you may find useful to add to your instructional technology toolkit for helping bilingual struggling readers.
Below are several free multilingual reading resources:
The Literacy Center http://www.literacycenter.net/
Early literacy resource materials available in English, Spanish, German, and French. Ideal for parents to use with their children. Direct use with adults must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
A web-based jukebox of digital stories. Read stories in 18 different languages and follow text captions using a technique known as Same Language Subtitling.
Read Please http://www.readplease.com
We mentioned this product previously as an example of free text to speech assistive technology. However, if you revisit this page, and access the download page, you can download multilingual voices so that the text will be read in a native language voice. Among the languages supported: British English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Google Language Tools http://www.google.com/language_tools?hl=en
Google provides a method for users to use the Google interface in their native language. On this resource page they also provide language translation tools that can be used to translate individual words or short text passages. Bilingual students often use these type of tools to try and understand the meaning of a text passage by reading it in both languages.
I've outlined some resources for multilingual reading materials. Have you used other strategies or tools that you have found effective for struggling adult readers?