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Reading Tools for People with Learning Disabilities

Some people with learning disabilities experience problems with reading, for a variety of reasons. Solutions may involve modifying the font size, typeface, or color contrast, multimodal presentation of text, availability of easy-to-use dictionaries, and masking text that isn't being read.

This article covers some of the mainstream and AT solutions to these writing problems.

Mainstream Options

Office-type programs have options for making the text larger and therefore more legible to some people with learning disabilities. They also have options for changing typeface, type color, and background color, any or all of which may be useful.

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Assistive Technology Software and People with Learning Disabilities

The term "learning disability" is usually defined as involving difficulties with reading, writing, math, memory, or other cognitive functions among people with average or above-average intelligence. Because there is such a wide variation among individual needs and preferences, people with learning disabilities are often best served by software with a variety of customizable features. These features may also be of use to individuals with more temporary needs, such as beginning readers and ESL students. This article talks about some of these tools and the needs they address.

Assistive Technology Strategies for Reading

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Free AAC Software for iPhone/iPodTouch/ iPad Devices

Many free alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) apps are available for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. This article summarizes the capabilities of the most useful of these apps as well as providing links to the products' iTunes pages.

For an introduction to AAC, please see the articles on Alternative and Augmentative Communication--What Is It? and Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) -- What are the options?

Introduction

One benefit of using free apps is that they can be used to explore whether AAC is beneficial to an individual, and what type of AAC is beneficial, without requiring a financial commitment beyond the necessary hardware. They also tend to have simple designs so that they are very intuitive and can be used with little or no training or configuration.

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Free Computer AT Already in Macintosh Computers

The Macintosh OS X operating system built-in accessibility features to make the monitor, keyboard, or mouse easier to use for many people. This article provides information on these features, including how to turn them on and use them. Some of these features are also available in earlier Macintosh systems; please contact us if you would like more information. Another good resource on Macintosh accessibility is the AT Mac blog.

Mouse Assistance/Alternatives

MouseKeys

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Free Computer AT Already in Windows Computers

The Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8 operating systems all include a wide range of built-in accessibility features. These can be activated to make the monitor, keyboard, or mouse easier to use for many people. This article provides information on these features, including how to turn them on and use them in all three versions of Windows. Most of these features are also available in earlier Windows systems.

Mouse Assistance/Alternatives

MouseKeys

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New App for DAISY Audio Books

Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) has released an app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch that allows users to download and read their more than 60,000 DAISY Consortium.

">DAISY books in audio. You must be an RFB&D member to use the service, and the app costs $19.99.

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Making Browsers More Accessible

Browsers are the software programs used to access the web, such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and Opera. All have accessibility features built in; you can add more features by downloading add-ons. This article covers what's available for each of these popular browsers.

Internet Explorer

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Accessible Voting

The Help American Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 mandates that people with disabilities be able to vote independently and privately. This mandate may involve machines that are either specifically designed as accessible alternatives, or are used by all voters but have mandated accessibility features.

Accessible voting machines should have the following capabilities:

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Gaming Systems (Wii, etc.)

Gaming systems like Playstation, Wii, and XBox are powerful technologies for education, entertainment, and exercise.  They include a console, a handheld controller, game media, and a connector to a television for display.  Some connect to the Internet as well.

They can be used to play physical games or mental puzzles, chat by voice or text with others, browse the web, and watch videos.

There are specialized input devices for different activities, and some have been created or modified for people with disabilities.  New controllers include object, face, and voice recognition technologies -- exciting options for accessibility.

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Alternative and Augmentative Communication--What Is It?

People may have difficulty speaking due to a physical injury or a disability (e.g., cerebral palsy), a cognitive impairment (such as brain injury or autism), or both physical and cognitive disabilities. Some of these people use alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) strategies for communication. This article covers the general principles of AAC; more information about specific strategies is in our article about Alternative and Augmentative Communication--What are the Options?

AAC needs to be matched to the user's physical and cognitive capabilities, but also to the immediacy of their communication needs. If someone is trying to communicate, it is better to quickly provide simple but reasonably effective strategies, such as a sheet of paper with pictures that she can point to, than to wait until more sophisticated options are available.

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