1999 Conference Proceedings

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SOFTWARE OPTIONS FOR ASSISTING WITH WRITING

Deanna Kemp and Constance McAvoy

There are many new software products on the market that will assist with writing problems. Each product has unique uses, applications, and limitations.

Traditionally adaptive products focused primarily on the needs of users with physical disabilities and visual impairments. For those with physical disabilities, the range of products include alternate pointing devices, keyboards, switches, abbreviation expansion and word prediction software. Software such as screen magnification, screen review, optical character recognition,and braille translation are available for those users with visual impairments. These options have been available for many years. Persons who experienced problems with writing had few technological options to address their difficulties.

In the past, users who had writing problems tried word prediction, and abbreviation expansion programs which were initially designed for individuals with physical impairments who would benefit from the reduction of keystrokes. While these products may have provided some limited assistance, they left many would-be writers frustrated and feeling unsuccessful. Frustration resulted from the fact that word prediction could actually reduce oneÕs writing productivity because this software requires the user to scan a window of predicted words and select the appropriate word, thereby interfering with the actual composing process. Individuals with only writing challenges who type more than 15 to 20 words per minute often find word prediction to be ineffective for their needs.

SOFTWARE OPTIONS FOR ASSISTING WITH WRITING

As well, word processing programs had few or limited features that provided adequate assistance with writing problems. Spell checkers provide an example of this limitation. Most provided spelling suggestions for errors based on the first letters typed rather than the phonetic sound of the first letters typed. Spell checkers that use a phonetic algorithm would be more beneficial for assisting with writing problems.

Current standard word processing programs now include features that can be quite beneficial for some writers. While these features may not be seem to be adaptive, they can provide assistance with the writing process. Many people do not realize that they can customize parts of the word processing programs to address specific writing challenges such as organizational difficulties. Identifying these features is the first step towards making best use of the available options.

Word processing programs can be complemented with specialized software programs which have been recently developed that provide guidance, support, and strategies for writing. The products each provide different options and target different approaches for writing assistance.

SOFTWARE OPTIONS FOR ASSISTING WITH WRITING

Determining the appropriate programs and features that will provide the most assistance becomes a dilemma facing teachers, service providers, and writers. Assessing the specific writing tasks that the writer finds difficult is the first step towards establishing plan of support. Other factors to examine include: the writerÕs motivation, level of computer skills, and literacy skills. It is also useful to consider the expectations for the writing assignments (format, layout, length, etc) and equipment available. The products and features of programs can be divided into two groups: those that are part of a standard word processing package, and those that are a stand-alone application program specifically designed to assist with writing.

STANDARD FEATURES OF WORD PROCESSING SOFTWARE

ADAPTIVE SOFTWARE PROGRAMS

Write: OutLoud

TextHelp

Inspiration

ADAPTIVE SOFTWARE PROGRAMS

American Heritage Dictionary

Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred

The presenters will provide a demo of the features of Word 97, and the above adaptive application programs with a description of the suggested uses and limitations. The intent is to provide an overview of the products, the ways in which they can assist with writing, and strategies for implementing their use.

It is hoped that the participants will have a better understanding of the usefulness of each of the features and programs covered in this session in order to better assist clients and students with choosing the appropriate software options to enhance writing skills.


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