Thursday, August 30, 2012

Writing and Spelling TTS, Word Prediction, Spellcheck, Supports

This is part of a series of blogs our Director, Alan Knue, has composed to help people increase their reading and writing efficiency

As stated in Reading with Text-to-Speech, the text-to-speech feature (TTS) can be very useful for students who have difficulty reading.Text-to-speech (TTS) can be very useful for students who have difficulty reading. TTS is also very important as a writing support. Students can hear the letters, words, and sentences as they are typed, making it easier to detect when the words are types incorrectly. In conjunction with spell check in word processors, a student can see misspelled words easier and then have each letter in the word read out loud, aiding the student in learning the actual spelling of a word. If a student has difficulty knowing which word is correct in a spellcheck list, TTS can also be used to read the spell check list out loud.
Word processors, such as Microsoft Word, have additional features that help students in increasing writing and spelling speed and accuracy. Abbreviation/expansion and auto-correction help increase typing speed. Many programs also provide a built in Dictionary and Thesaurus, which can allow a student to look up definitions for unfamiliar words or find synonyms. 
What about students who have difficulty coming up with or correctly spelling words? Word prediction can help a student select the correct word as they type by “predicting” which words the user is trying to type and listing them to be selected. Word prediction learns with the student and aids in finding the correct spelling of a word. Coupled with TTS for reading, word prediction can be a powerful tool in assisting spelling and writing. Assistance with making a distinction between homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled differently (i.e., see and sea) by providing a definition or by giving an example in context can be used in conjunction with word prediction to aid in choosing the right word. Many of the software programs listed in Reading with Text-to-Speech include word prediction and homophone support.
Word prediction will not increase writing speed, as it is meant as an aid in selecting the correct word in terms of sentence placement and spelling and this is often a relatively slow process. It has been demonstrated that students who learn to keyboard have greater success in writing. Simple aids, such as keyboard covers and typing programs can be employed to help students learn to keyboard effectively. Becoming even an average keyboardist will improve writing speed.
Speech recognition programs are also popular writing aids, but are they for you? Find out in the next blog post.

As always our AT Specialists are available to work with and explore the specific needs of students and their support team when determining what options might work best. These products and many others are available for short term loan through WATAP's Device Lending Library to help individuals make an informed decision about what products will work best for them.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Writing and Reading Support Built-in to Common Word Processing Programs

This is part of a series of blogs our Director, Alan Knue, has composed to help people increase their reading and writing efficiency

Chances are, if you’ve ever used a computer you have used a word processing program. Composing an email, editing a document, formatting a newsletter, and posting a blog are all examples of word processing. Word processing offers users the ability to create documents, change the typeface, increase or decrease the font size, and otherwise manipulate, save, and print text.
Some word processing programs are more feature rich than others. While WordPad and Notepad do the job just fine, they offer little literacy support in the way of correctional cues, prediction, or feedback. Common writing support tools include Spellchecker and AutoCorrect. Spellchecker flags words in a document that are not spelled correctly by placing a red squiggly or dotted line under the misspelled word. Users can access the electronic dictionary and select the corrected word. For students who have difficulty writing, Spellchecker will easily distinguish misspelled words and offer corrections which could aid the student with their writing confidence. This feature has become ubiquitous not only in commercially available word processing programs such as Microsoft Word and Pages, but also in free word processing tools such as OpenOffice Writer and online processors like Adobe Buzzword. Firefox, Chrome, and Safari web browsers also include Spellchecker in fields where you can enter text. There is a free Spellchecker plug-in available for Internet Explorer as well.
AutoCorrect, also known as flexible or phonetic spelling, automatically corrects common spelling errors and improper capitalization, as well as, inserts common symbols or special characters thus by saving time for the writer. This function has become quite common among smart phone users composing SMS messages. There can be a disadvantage though, as some auto corrections result in completely incorrect text replacement. In fact, there are websites devoted to what has become known as “AutoCorrect fail.” For students who need writing support, AutoCorrect in conjunction with word processing programs should be used judiciously and with supervision as the corrections are undetectable visually and happen “in line” meaning once the user has pressed the space bar or enter key, the correction has already taken place without notification. As discussed in Reading with Text-To-Speech, TTS offers students audio feedback for their composed or received documents. The most current version of Microsoft Office 2010 offers a Text-To-Speech feature called “Speak.” To enable Speak, you will need to add it to the Quick Access Toolbar.
Contact our AT Specialists for more information about built in accessibility of Microsoft products. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The 20th Annual Governor's Employer Awards Program

The Governors Committee on Disability Issues and Employment is honoring businesses and agencies that demonstrate exemplary hiring practices for people with disabilities through its Employer Awards Program. The Awards program recognizes employers for their proactive and positive practices bringing more visibility to the value of hiring people with disabilities. Our goal is to spotlight the great work being done across the state to raise awareness on the increasing number of persons with disability who have been successful in seeking and maintaining employment.
In addition, the GCDE is also recognizing an individual with a disability who has exhibited outstanding leadership. The Governors Trophy in Memory of Carolyn Blair Brown will be presented to an individual with a disability who has significantly enhanced the empowerment of people withdisabilities. This year, 2012, will be the 20th Governors Employer Awards Program. Winning nominees will be honored in a celebration in Olympia in fall 2012. With the attached materials, we ask you to join us in recognizing leaders in thedisability community and employers by nominating private, nonprofit, and government entities that show, by example, the use of best practices in recruiting, hiring, retaining and promoting individuals with disabilities. The nomination deadline is August 30, 2012. Electronic applications should be submitted to:
People with disabilities are a tremendous resource and we are proud torecognize their many contributions. Thank you for all that you do supportworkers with disabilities and for your participation in the nomination process.

Reading with Text-to-Speech

Image of word highlighting feature for text-to-speech
For students with reading disabilities, completing reading assignments for class can be time consuming and frustrating. There is software that can help students not only keep up on reading assignments but also have a better idea what they have read. One of the most helpful features offered by many of these software programs is called text-to-speech (TTS). The ability to hear text read out loud is the important component in TTS that aids a student in reading speed and comprehension. Most software products that offer TTS also provide a feature that highlights the word being read out loud so that students can follow along and will associate the word on the computer screen with what they hear. This gives students a better understanding of what the word is and how that word should sound when they read it without the assistance of the software. Reading webpages and electronic documents is easily accomplished using TTS but many reading assignments come from books or printed handouts. Some software programs include the option to scan and convert hardcopy pages into a variety of electronic text formats including word documents, and then using TTS, these pages can be read out loud. Several software programs also have the ability to convert any electronic text to an audio file that could then be listened to on a digital music or mp3 player, which is a useful aid for keeping up with many reading assignments. When looking at the various products available with TTS and other reading, writing, and spelling aids, it is important to think about what features and supports the student needs. The software interface can range from simple, fewer-featured toolbars, such as WordQ, TextHelp Read & Write, or ClaroRead, that work with existing software such as Microsoft Office and internet browsers. More inclusive programs, such as WYNN or Kurzweil 3000, have their own word processors, study aids, and web browsers built into the user interface. If a student doesn’t need a fully featured all-in-one program, you can save time and money by investing in a simpler program with just those features that meet the specific needs of your student. But for students who would benefit from study aids and many of the other features discussed above it is often easier to go with a full featured program instead of trying to use multiple simpler programs in conjunction with one another. As always our AT Specialists are available to work with and explore the specific needs of students and their support team when determining what options might work best. These products and many others are available for short term loan through WATAP's Device Lending Library to help individuals make an informed decision about what products will work best for them.  

This is the first in a series of blogs our Director has composed to help people increase their reading and writing efficiency.