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Aiming for Access
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.
Mac's Voice, Dictation Upgrades Are Springboards for Students Who Struggle With Books in Print
A flurry of built-in accessibility features involving voice and dictation from Apple are the latest operating system upgrades that benefit students who are frustrated and turned off when their textbooks and trade books come only in print.
The additions mean students who learn differently have choices in the supports they use during a digital learning opportunity. No user is likely to turn on all the features at one time. However, having a menu of choices can personalize each learning situation.
This shift by technology manufacturers and producers to include accessibility features in an upgrade helps schools with the costs of meeting the education needs of diverse learners. Previously, accessibility for special education students shifted to schools and parents who had no choice but to purchase software or hardware add-ons. Moreover, they had to find the manpower to install and train users in new features or stand-alone devices.
Assistive technology specialists still have heir work cut out for them. Not all features that come with the upgrade are familiar. While the accessibility landscape may be more plentiful and features are getting easier to use, some educators overlook them as aids to support or scaffold learning for students who struggle.
Power in AT
"People still don't understand the power of the built-in accessibility features in their operating system," Mike Marotta told AIM-VA. "The Mac has many well thought out powerful features and I am still amazed how often people look with a blank stare when I bring that up. Using these available features could be the difference-maker for some of our struggling students."
Marotta is a New Jersey-based RESNA-certified assistive technology consultant and trainer. He runs Inclusive Technology Solutions, and is a founder of EdcampAccessNJ. "Not all technology for students with disabilities needs to be complex, expensive, or a separate purchase," as was the practice in the past.
Using these built in tools in the Mac operating system is a great way to determine what supports a student needs without having to purchase anything, he notes. "Some students we find need more support than the built-ins provide." For those students AT specialists and teachers use the built-in tools to assess the student's needs. Only then would a school purchase of a third-party software tool or app, Marotta said.
Tools With AEM=AIM
In the classroom, the choice of accessibility features benefits students who need alternatives to printed textbooks and trade books. The improvements in voice and dictation when used with free AEM=AIM materials are the strategy that will enable students with print disabilities to do grade-level work.
There are some 50 editing and formating commands as choices in the voice dictation feature in Mac's Yosemite upgrade. Real-time dictation is added. This creates the option so that dictated text can be edited and learners can choose and format text as well as copy and paste it.
In Real Time
Students who struggle to decode print could turn on the read-aloud feature to access the content and conduct their research. They could use the upgraded dictation features with free AEM accessible materials to plan, edit, and revise their work. It should be noted that for composition involving lengthy documents, the more powerful AT, Dragon Dictate, might be the preference. A student would choose a tool to read back and hear whether or not what they wrote sounds correct.
Get more information on technology improvements in the following articles:
- "Control Your Mac With Voice Commands & Better Dictation in OS X Yosemite," by Bakari Chavenu on the MakeUseOf website who advises that the more one uses voice dictation the better one gets.
- "Tips for Mac Users," from DyslexiaHelp at the University of Michigan
- "Choose Apple Products for Students with Dyslexia," by AT specialist Jamie Martin on the Noodle website.
And do not forget Microsoft Operating System supports:
- "20 Incredibly Useful Free Microsoft Apps," by Julie Bort on the Business Insider Website.
- "Microsoft Educator Network Hot Topics/Accessibility," curated by Tara Jeffs and Cindy Feist, AT Specialists at Loudoun County Public Schools
- Microsoft Accessibility Resource Centers
Also see ISTE"s "Get Students Talking with Digital Tools," on the ISTE website.
When students struggle to read books in print, a federally-funded program makes it possible for AIM-VA and its counterpart in other states to provide free accessible learning resources to eligible students. Their teachers can have face-to-face training, as well. There are 12 alternative formats that support grade-level learning. In the Commonwealth, check out the AIM-VA homepage. All can ask a special education teacher or school administrator for more information.
Thank you to AIM-VA: Accessible Instructional Materials for sharing this blog with our Reading Rockets audience.