Blogs About Reading

Aiming for Access

June Behrmann

June Behrmann is a longtime special education teacher (pre-K to grade 6) who retired for about two seconds, and is now prospecting for accessible instructional resources. Follow June on Twitter @aimnoncat. Thank you to AIM-VA: Accessible Instructional Materials for sharing this blog with us.

Does Assistive Tech Support Young Writers with Disabilities?

December 2, 2015

NaNoWriMo is a marathon writing event that challenges participants to write the first draft of a 50,000­ word novel in November. There are local chapters in more than 600 regions around the world that organize in-­person workshops and write­-ins throughout the month. 

Struggling Writers

Special education students who struggle to compose even a single paragraph may not be ready for this contest; but assistive technology (AT) specialists are proving that success is at hand when students with disabilities are supported with just-"write" technology tools — but that is not all there is to it. 

Part of the success requires that teachers also be trained in a writing process, in the use of the tech tools that their students are using, and often in behavior strategies needed for writing independently. 


I asked AT specialists where I last taught in Fairfax County, Virginia (FCPS) to identify the technology tools now in use that turn struggling students into writers. Rachel Connelly and Lisa Givens polled the AT team. The following tools currently help to chart a path to productivity for students in grades 5 and up:

Success In Action

Two reluctant writers in grade 5 use different tools with MS Word tables and are getting positive results. 

  • MS Word tables, Word Q+Speak Q: One elementary school student willingly brainstorms using MS Word tables. He composes sentences mentally then dictates them using this software. It offers speech recognition, speech feedback for word choice, and word prediction for spelling.
  • Google Voice Typing with MS Word tables: This student uses tables to brainstorm ideas, then turns on  Google Voice Typing to compose sentences. In the past, handwriting and keyboarding demands stood in his way. Now, he willingly composes up to 3 paragraphs.

Google Voice Typing is also working for a postsecondary student on a jobsite. He speaks instead of types to document and self-assess his work. He started by composing single sentences but now communicates by writing proper paragraphs.

Using Word Q+Speak Q software for his Grade 7 student has reduced his dependency on human scribes. He  is now composing more writing on his own in a shorter time frame. This journey comes in small steps as he is looks for adult prompting for each sentence that he writes. . His example helps to show that teacher training for technology use may involve tool use with additional behavior strategies needed to increase writing independence. 

Application Across Grades

 Many students with learning disabilities, including dyslexia, use Co:Writer on desktop and laptop computers. Co:Writer works with many applications—MS Word, web browsers, Google Docs, blogs, e-e-mail, and more. The software anticipates and supplies intended spelling. It identifies grammar mistakes and suggests rewording in real time so writers produce text in a timely way. 

But wait! A novel switch helped this sixth grader with writing. A student with autism balked at writing by hand or using the often-successful writing software, Co-Writer, on a desktop computer. He was given the Co-Writer App for the iPad. As letters are typed, the app predicts the intended word based on grammar-smart word prediction. He reads and selects words that then are placed it into a document. Built-in text to speech reads aloud his composition at the letter, word, or sentence level on the draft as he moves on to   editing.


The last example is a middle school student with physical disabilities. He uses a laptop with Co: Writer, MS Word & Google Apps for Education (GAFE). This core suite of productivity applications is free to schools and educational institutions from Google.

For more about assistive technology supports in FCPS, check out the school distirict's website. Find Microsoft Word Strategies, Fonts, Screen Readers, Online Tools, iPad Features, Accessible Text and Writing Supports.

Thank you to AIM-VA: Accessible Instructional Materials for sharing this blog with our Reading Rockets audience.

Add comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
"There is no frigate like a book, to take us lands away" — Emily Dickinson