Having the ability to write text opens up a world of communication, expression and other worthwhile pursuits. There are a number of tools to help with our text input and this guide will outline the most common of these and help you to understand who they might be useful for.
An important factor when using many of these tools is in providing digital resources. This might mean emailing work to learners or having it available on a shared drive. This means that learners can use the combination of tools that benefits them most while using their preferred input method and any accessibility settings on their device.
Prediction tools are used to complete words, reinforce spellings and to improve the speed of sentence construction. When a learner begins typing the tool begins to list a number of words that it thinks (based on probability) that the learner meant to type.
There are features in this tool that can alter the number of predictions, the range of words (complex/simple), whether the suggestions are read out loud and to what extent the tool learns from what the user has typed previously.
This tool is built into a range of platforms and most users will know it from typing searches in Google or typing on a mobile phone keyboard.
Beyond spell-checkers, there are tools that can give visual dictionaries and make grammar suggestions while the learner types. Useful and non-intrusive, but naturally not all corrections are to be believed. Grammarly is a popular browser extension that can make suggestions when you are typing.
This is essentially useful for creating simple and logical structures to present the learners’ ideas. They often have support for text, pictures, audio, video and web-links.
These tools are popular as they teach learners about structuring their ideas, many mind mapping tools recognise this and offer the facility of turning the completing mindmap into an essay template complete with all the titles and content the student created.
Focusing on the physical input device can help learners with their typing speed. Keyboards can come in different shapes, sizes, colours and have key-guards, lower/upper case, shortcut keys and other input methods built in.
Last but not least is voice, this is a method that we have covered in depth here.
We have discussed the tools, but how are they made available? Well the good news is there are a wide variety of packages, the bad news is…there are a wide variety of packages. We have given some of the main ones here, but as always take advice where possible and consider the learner’s individual needs.
These attempt to combine a number of tools into a toolbar that can be customised to fit the user. The tools have a great deal of customisation available and work in a number of different programmes – including internet browsers.
Alternative Word Processors
Rather than using tools to make mainstream software accessible these seek to create platforms with the accessibility built in. Here are a few examples:
Clicker is available for younger students and has a number of the above tools, alongside with the ability to create resources.
Doscplus is focused on college-level students and has an interface to match this, but still keeps a variety of useful tools.
SymWriter is a symbol based word processor, allowing students to use a combination of words and symbols to express themselves.
Using discrete tools can be better in certain instances. An example would be JAWS, which is specifically designed to help those with visual impairments.
If you open most on-screen keyboards they will have prediction built in, Microsoft Office has a spellchecker with some grammar correction.
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If you have questions about this or other assistive technology related topics please get in touch with TechAbility.