From: Matching technology to needs (Andersson and Draffan, 2005, pp. 73–78) http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/14150/1/The_Book.pdf
Speech Synthesis /screen reading
Software which converts the text information in screen into speech. There are several types of screen readers available ranging from the narator feature built into MS windows and the free browsealoud software for reading websites, to feature rich products such as read and write gold which can cost between £100-£300. Andersson and Draffan point out that trying to navigate a page using voice commands requires memory and good auditory skills and as such may not be suitable for many dyslexic learners. However recent improvements to these systems, including choosing from a range of voices, pauses between words and highlighting words in a range of colour options have been beneficial.
This software offers aims to reduce the amount of keystrokes required to write by producing a list of possible words to choose from as you start to type. It can improve the typing speed of someone who has has a typing speed of around 8-10 words per minute, and for others it could provide vocabulary support. The spectronics website provides a comparison table of features available in different systems (http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/library.asp?article=22248). Word prediction software is often provided as part of a package of assistive technology, such as read and write gold and Kurzweil 3000.
As the processing power and memory of computers has increased, they have been better able to handle speech recognition software, however it can be quite complicated for the user to use plan and think about what they are going to say. They also require high quality sound cards, microphones and a quiet working environment. Dragon naturally speaking is an example of this kind of software which can cost approximately £200.
These are included as part of many programs that require text input such as the Microsoft office suite. There are also a range of browser add-ons which check spelling when completing online forms. These systems can cause problems as it can be difficult for a user to differentiate between different words, and know which words to use. More specialised systems can learn from the errors made by an individual and provide a personalised list of suggestions. Specialised spell checkers, such as the one included as part of read and write gold gives definitions’ of words and checks’ homophones which is beneficial to dyslexic learners.
This software allows users to create visual maps of information which are linked by relationship strands. This can be very useful for organising ideas as part of a report or project. There are a number of free versions available to download or use on line, including freemind, mind24, bubbl.us and mindomo.
A conceptual model of ICT needs of the dyslexic student (Smythe et al., 2005, pp. 87–90, http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/14150/1/The_Book.pdf) identifies the following assistive technology:
A magnifier allows users to concentrate on a specific part of the screen. There is a magnifier built into Microsoft windows however it is can be difficult to use. Other free alternatives exist including the virtual magnifying glass available from http://magnifier.sourceforge.net/ and included in the free ‘accessapps’ which can run from a USB drive and can be downloaded here: http://www.rsc-ne-scotland.ac.uk/accessapps/
Text to speech software
This software converts texts into an audio file which the user can replay at their own convenience. They often includes modifiable options such as different voices and speeds. Although they are useful for playing basic text, they do not take into account any formatting, which can lead to confusion. Free versions are available including the online ‘read the words’ (http://www.readthewords.com/) and the downloadable Dspeach available from http://dimio.altervista.org/.