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Expert Q&A

Affordable Assistive Technology

When teachers don’t use assistive technology, cost is often a factor. Are there good low tech solutions — or maybe some tools that are free or inexpensive that more teachers might consider?

Yes. If you look at reading, for example, we have multiple domains that students might struggle with. One domain is word reading — being able to recognize or decode individual words, and to do that reasonably fluently. To accommodate for that, text to speech is really the optimal technology. And you can spend $1400 for a program that can read out loud to you, but you can also use free tools. The Natural Reader is free on Macs, and on iPads, they have built-in text to speech, which is one of the best tools out there. It’s free if you have a recent version of the iPad. Google Chrome has text-to-speech built into their system at this point too. So if you have a Chrome Book, you can have the computer read out aloud to you for free.

Those tools are built on having some sort of device already. Audio books are another great way to be able to access text to speech. A lot of libraries have books in audio format, or they’ll have subscriptions to web content that is in audio book format. So students can listen to an audio book, and that audio book is bypassing the need read written text. Or you can go down to the lowest-tech approach, where you might have another person reading a book out loud to you. So in all those cases, what we’re doing is we’re having something or someone translate that text into audible speech, so that the student can understand what’s been written on the page.

For voice recognition, Google Docs has a free program, so students can click onto tools, click onto voice typing in a Google Doc, and get access to an outstanding free voice recognition program. Other students use Siri to talk out loud to their phones, to be able to write things down just using their voice. You can also use an inexpensive voice recorder, and dictate your ideas onto a recording device that you or someone else can transcribe later, just as a way to express your ideas through speaking, without having to write them down. So, again, there’s a real range of technologies that students can use.