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Benefits of Assistive Technology in Writing for Students with Disabilities

Courtney Keefe
University of New England
EDU 721- Using Technology within Inclusion Education
January 15, 2015

Learning to communicate through writing in an essential life skill. Writing is a functional

requirement in academics, employment, and life skills. Children and adults use countless forms
of writing to communicate understanding, express feelings, share ideas, and express points of
view. With the fast growing usage of technology during adolescent years multiple forms of
writing are used to establish and maintain relationships, share events and make social
connections. Students with learning disabilities may experience difficulties in writing. This
research reviews how high and low tech assistive technology devices can aid students with
learning disabilities in writing allowing them to demonstrate their knowledge and communicate
more effectively.
Many factors contribute to difficulties in writing for students with disabilities. Some
students experience language delays or impairments which contribute to the difficulty in
producing or mastering written language. Other students many have fine or gross motor delays
making writing physically difficult for them. Mental or physical disabilities can make language
acquisition and usage difficult. High and low tech assistive aids offer students with disabilities
the opportunity to be more successful in many forms of writing.
The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) states that any equipment that is used to
improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities is considered assistive technology
(Maor, D., Currie, J, & Drewry, R., 2011). The United States uses an inclusive approach to
assistive technology where individual determination of need is based on evaluation of each
individual child. Family members, teachers, professional support service providers, and special
education teachers make up the IEP team who determine the needs of each child. Assistive
technology must be considered during the IEP process as a possible need for every student
identified with a disability. If the IEP determines assistive technology will allow the student to

work toward his or her full capabilities then an assistive technology implementation plan must be
incorporated into the IEP (Dell, A., Newton, D., & Petroff, J., 2012).
Assistive technology enables access to and assistance with writing for students with
disabilities who might otherwise be unsuccessful. Some students benefit from low tech
modifications. Providing a student a pen to write with because it has less resistance than a pencil
is a low tech solution. Changing the margins on writing paper, providing a pencil grip, or using a
clipboard for stability of the paper are all simple forms of low tech assistive technology that can
benefit many students (Caverly, D, 2008). Slanted writing tables are also used for some students
who need a modified surface for writing. Low tech writing devices support students legibility
(Peterson-Karlan, G., Hourcade, J., & Parette, P., 2008). Students with developmental
dysgraphia experience spatial difficulty, motor control, and dyslexia. These students may form
letters incorrectly, have illegible handwriting, and struggle with spacing and margins. Low tech
assistive technologies may help students with dysgraphia overcome some of these frustrations
making the writing process less of a struggle (Hetzroni, O., & Shrieber, B., 2004).
Low tech options do not always provide satisfactory assistance to students with
disabilities. Technology ranging from modified keyboards, word processing, voice recognition,
and web-based programs offer a wide variety of opportunities for students to be assisted.
Modified keyboards can offer devices like sticky keys. These specialized keyboards filter the
keystroke response time so that one press of a key for any amount of time equals one keystroke
(Caverly, D, 2008). Alternative keyboards can also be used with letters arranged in alphabetical
order rather than the standard QWERTY format.
Many reports show that students with learning disabilities who have written language
difficulties benefit from word processing tools (Hetzroni, O., & Shrieber, B., 2004). The ability

to produce a text document that can be read, spell checked, edited, saved, and presented to the
teacher can be very motivating for some students. These technologies are not meant to replace
the writing process, but rather support students who struggle to write.
High tech assistive technology devices can assist students with disabilities in the writing
process. Word prediction software is available in programs like Co-Writer and Read-Write Gold.
Each of these programs allows students to keystroke a letter or initial phoneme. The software
predicts a list of possible words that may be the intended word allowing the student to select the
desired word. As the programs build over multiple uses, individual word lists can be created
with high frequency usage of words of the student. Each of these programs offer relevant word
choices for the student to choose in order to make the sentences complete (Caverly, D, 2008).
Word prediction programs can offer additional support with automatic word spacing, and
automatic capitalization of a word following ending punctuation (Peterson-Karlan, G., Hourcade,
J., & Parette, P., 2008). Speech recognition software can also be added to these program allowing
the student to use voice commands to open or close files, save documents, navigate the web, and
even dictate text (Caverly, D, 2008).
Students with disabilities who experience difficulties in writing are often limited in the
way they communicate with their peers in the rapidly demanding forms of social communication
and social media. Students with and without learning disabilities must learn to navigate their
way through the myriad of technological devices used today. Students have to be proficient at
using the internet, reading or writing blogs, texting, and sending e-mails. As stated by Wollak,
B. & Koppenhaver, D., students must be able to navigate, comprehend, analyze, synthesize, and
construct digital texts on the web (2011). Teachers must supply students with disabilities

opportunities to apply new technologies in the classroom to prepare them for a technologically
driven world.
Students with and without learning disabilities improve the quality of their writing with
increased writing opportunities. This is especially true for students with disabilities who
experience difficulties in the writing process. Increased opportunities enhances communication
skills, increases independence, and builds confidence. Assistive technology, whether high or low
tech, aids students with disabilities in making the learning environment more accessible
increasing productivity. The increase in completed writing results in higher academic
achievement, and increased social interaction preparing students for greater independence as
adults. Assistive technology provides access and assistance to students with disabilities who
might not otherwise experience success in writing. The assistance provided must be specific to
the needs of each child.
Caverly, D. C. (2008). Techtalk: Assistive Technology for Writing. Journal Of Developmental
Education, 31(3), 36-37.
Dell, A., Newton, D., & Petroff, J. (2012). Assistive Technology in the Classroom: Enhancing
the School Experiences of Students with Disabilities, 2nd Ed., Boston, Pearson.
Hetzroni, O. E., & Shrieber, B. (2004). Word Processing as an Assistive Technology Tool for
Enhancing Academic Outcomes of Students with Writing Disabilities in the General
Classroom. Journal Of Learning Disabilities, 37(2), 143-154.

Maor, D., Currie, J., & Drewry, R. (2011). The Effectiveness of Assistive Technologies for
Children with Special Needs: A Review of Research-Based Studies. European Journal
Of Special Needs Education, 26(3), 283-298.
Peterson-Karlan, G., Hourcade, J. J., & Parette, P. (2008). A Review of Assistive Technology
and Writing Skills for Students with Physical and Educational Disabilities. Physical
Disabilities: Education And Related Services, 26(2), 13-32.
Wollak, B. A., & Koppenhaver, D. A. (2011). Developing Technology-Supported, EvidenceBased Writing Instruction for Adolescents with Significant Writing Disabilities. Assistive
Technology Outcomes And Benefits, 7(1), 1-23.