2002 Conference Proceedings

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Marlene McIntosh
Cambrian College
The Glenn Crombie Centre for disability services
1400 Barrydowne Rd
Sudbury, Ontario P3A 3V8 Canada
Phone: (705) 566-8101 x. 7219
Fax: (705) 566-5452
Email: mrmcintosh@cambrianc.on.ca

Software exists today that allows students with learning disabilities to read and write using voice input and text-to-voice.

This technology demonstration includes considerations that teachers, technicians, and students should take into account when purchasing or recommending assistive software, what type of reading and writing difficulties can be helped with the software, how testing can be accomplished, etc. Marlene will demonstrate three software products: textHELP! Read and Write, Kurzweil 3000, and Dragon NaturallySpeaking. This presentation is an introduction to the software and its use in the classroom.


Using Software with Students with Learning Disabilities
By Marlene McIntosh, BSc, MBA candidate, Cambrian College, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

At Cambrian College, we use three software programs for students with learning disabilities: Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Kurzweil 3000, and textHelp - Read and Write.
Although there is no "guarantee" that the software will help any one student, nor will it help two students in the same way, in my experience, it can help!


Kurzweil 3000 is a program that students can use to scan in textbooks, magazines, newspapers, etc, and it reads the text aloud. The page is scanned in exactly as it appears in print, so this allows the student to follow the text as it is being read to them. In addition, there is a "highlighting" feature that allows students to extract some of the text, and this can be used for study purposes. It is an excellent program, and one that I recommend highly.

The price is approximately $3000 Cdn ($1800 US) for the version that scans in colour, or $1700 Cdn ($900 US) for the version that scans in black and white. (I would recommend a colour version for students that have diagrams or maps etc and MUST see them in colour). The Read version (no scanning) retails for $300-$400 Cdn ($175-$250). We have one copy of the Scan version in our lab, and several copies of the read version. A student scans, saves, and then moves to another computer to listen to it. It's more economical that way.

An example of a good use for Kurzweil: Scan in a test for a student that requires a reader/scribe. The test can be read to the student by Kurzweil, the student can type their answers directly onto the test, listen to their answers to determine if they are answering correctly, or the student can leave their answers in voice format (they can record their answers directly into the document using a microphone). The instructor then uses Kurzweil to open the file, listen to the answers, and mark the test.


TextHelp is a program that students can use in the writing process. It also is a screen reader (it can read almost anything that the user places the mouse on, on the screen).

The price for this software is $300 Cdn ($175 US).

The student types, highlights their text, and listens to it. They can correct anything that sounds "strange" or "funny". This software answers the question "Is that what I meant to say?"

Then, the student uses TextHelp to check their spelling. Many students with learning disabilities have a difficult time choosing the correct word from the list of words that appears in the speller, but a simple click on each word and textHelp reads the word aloud so that the student can narrow down their choice. After checking their spelling, the student then allows textHelp to check for homonyms (again, another thing that many students with learning disabilities have difficulty with). TextHelp reads the word and a short definition of it. Great for words like "Their They're There"!

The thesaurus contains definitions and sample sentences, allowing students to choose appropriate vocabulary (not using "baby words" - as one of my students says). I have the student type, listen and correct, check spelling (check and correct), highlight what they are unsure of (with a highlighter pen) so that someone else can check it, check homonyms spelling (check and correct), highlight what they are unsure of again, so that someone else can check it. I actually have these step printed on a card that they keep with them so that they know they've gone through all of these steps. It helps them to have control over their writing - more than some of them have ever had!


Dragon NaturallySpeaking is a voice dictation program that allows students to dictate into the computer without typing. This is useful for students with learning disabilities who have good vocabulary and good speech capabilities, and who can think aloud. It is useful for the student who has difficulty writing - by the time they figure out how to spell the word they're searching for, they forget what they wanted to say.

The price for this software is $300 Cdn ($175 US).

The student begins with a 15 minute training session, and then watches the "Quick Tour" to see what the program can do, then continues training for another 2 hours (my recommendation here is to schedule 4 half hour sessions to complete this part). The student reads from material that they are able to read OR has a helper read to them and they repeat the words to train the computer. Keep in mind that this portion should be words/text that the student will actually use - not words that they cannot pronounce or will never use. (Sometimes figuring this part out is difficult.) After this period, and with the help of an assistant, the student can begin dictation with a relative comfort level.


Dragon NaturallySpeaking and textHelp - Read and Write are an excellent combination as the student can dictate and then listen to what they've written, check for spelling and homonym errors, etc.


Nothing is guaranteed, and after all - it's just a computer - but these programs may help some students with learning disabilities.

There are more programs coming out every day, so it can't help but get better and better!

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