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Connected: Digital Literacy for Gen Z

Dr. Julie Wood

Julie M. Wood, a former public school teacher and reading specialist, is a nationally recognized educational consultant with a special interest in digital learning tools. Join Julie in 2012 as she shares best practices in using educational technology and media in the classroom and at home.

Digital tools for kids with special needs

May 3, 2013

You might think that with all the talk about customizing digital tools for young children with individual needs, we'd hear even more about specific technologies that can help. I was mulling this thought over the other day when I discovered an unread Marshall Memo on my coffee table from a couple of weeks ago. I love the Marshall Memo, especially since Kim Marshall takes the time to read 44 journals every week and report back on the big take-aways. Sometimes I put it aside to read the New Yorker or click around on the Huffington Post, but it's a mistake. When I do get around to reading the Memo there are always a few gems that I can put into practice immediately.

Here's what I learned (issue #449). There are several amazing websites that do an excellent job of incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. As you know, UDL is all about creating learning environments that meet the needs of all types of learners—closed captioning for the hearing impaired, read-aloud capabilities for the visually impaired, for example.

Where can you get more information? Experts Nancy Stockall, Lindsay Dennis, and Melinda Miller provide a thoughtful advice and links in their article, "Right from the Start: Universal Design for Preschool" (Teaching Exceptional Children, September/October 2012). The authors point out that children benefit enormously from the types of learning experiences that engage them on a variety of levels such as: Seeing, hearing, speaking, singing, and movement. Through technology, more children than ever can access exciting, UDL-based experiences to help them learn. Let's take a look.

  • For learning tools—everything from text-to-speech, writing tools, and writing aids specifically designed for children with handwriting issues, visit the UDL Tech Toolkit Wiki
  • To help children create and publish their own books, as well as have them read back to them, see CAST's UDL Book Builder. Try it out by sitting down with a child and helping him create an original book. Then share the book with friends. Or begin by reading books other people have created for the world to see.
  • To view stories told in sign language (with subtitles and an audio option) visit Signed Stories. The literary categories you'll find here include: Adventure, fairytales and folktales, slimy scary books, and funny stories. Delve in!
  • Go to the award-winning The Mother Goose Book Club to find children's nursery rhymes sung aloud by fun characters. Also, see "Rhyme Activity Tips for Parents and Teachers" to learn more about how reading, reciting, and singing along with Mother Goose rhymes can give beginning readers a boost.

Oh, and one more! I just learned of a free app called TapToTalk, currently featured on the Common Sense Media website. TapToTalk can help children with limited speech capabilities communicate their ideas. Children can point to digital pictures in a broad range of categories (places, things, and actions, for example) and the app will respond by saying a sentence out loud.

Visit some of these websites let us know what YOU think! What additional resources have YOU found to be particularly beneficial for the preschoolers in your life, especially those with individual needs? Write back. Share your ideas with the group!


I was excited about the website -- until I got there. The weblink is for British Sign Language which is a totally different language from American Sign Language. They do say one can buy the ASL versions, but there is not link or information on how to do that.

I am currently getting my teaching certificate and these technology learning tools are effective applications that I can easily use in the classroom. I am curious about the Marshall Memos. What exactly is that? Also, there are so many apps out there, how do you decide which ones to use and how do you organize all of the technological possibilities?

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"What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person ..." —

Carl Sagan