Illustration of assistive technology

Mobile devices by nature of their design are for personal use. We store personal information on them, we carry them with us, we use them dozens of times a day. Some of these devices even recognize our faces, fingerprints and our voices. Mobile technology is bridging the gap between the inherent shortcomings of our brain and the tasks we ask of it every day. Long and short term memory is being supplemented, and in some cases replaced, with powerful tools available on our mobile technology. Now that is getting personal! For people with learning disabilities (LDs) and possible memory deficits, personalization is key. It allows the user to organize and personalize the tools they need as well as the environment that they operate in.

Here are some types of Assistive Technology which are available on standard mobile devices:

Intelligent Personal Assistant or Knowledge Navigator

Mobile assistants are becoming more powerful and are being adopted in various forms by all major mobile technology developers. Google is developing Google Now technology,2 Apple continues to expand Siri1 and Microsoft has created Cortana3. Using personal data and GPS location data, mobile assistance can provide smart information and assistance on a whole range of topics, including: dictation, reading emails, texting, making a reminder, calling someone, restaurant reservations, solving math problems, getting the weather, looking up basic information, performing a web search, getting directions and finding alternate routes, real time and geo tagged reminders, package tracking, etc. Although these are powerful tools, there are much greater personal assistants being developed.

Reminder Software

We have all used various methods of recording reminders, from to-do lists on the fridge to writing on our hands. The mobile technology of today makes it much easier to record the things we need to remember to do. There are literally thousands of programs that can be used to store and retrieve to-do or reminder lists. These programs can be device-based or stored in the cloud. They can be simple, colour-coded and feature-rich, including prioritization/completion tracking and can include date and time reminder alarms. They can even remind you to do something when you arrive at a destination. Cloud- or web-based options can be handy for people with LDs as well, as reminders can be accessed from anywhere. Help your child make a habit of using an organizer by prompting them to enter important information while they are in the beginning stages of using this technology. It can change how they work and how efficient they can become!

Calendar Applications

Calendar applications can make a huge difference in the organization of anyone’s life. We have all experienced the situation where you can’t make a decision about a meeting until you check the fridge calendar at home. Having multiple calendars is not efficient, particularly for anyone who experiences difficulties with organizing and prioritizing tasks. With mobile calendars, cloud-based options, and calendar subscriptions, it is possible for someone with LDs to keep all of their appointments and activities accessible all of the time. Consider having a family set of calendars that are shared so you can help your entire family stay organized. Google, Microsoft and Apple all provide free web-based calendar options for mobile devices, and they can usually talk to each other. iCal is a universal calendar system that allows you to subscribe to calendars that are available online. Imagine creating an online calendar for all of your family members that all of you could simply subscribe to and then all future changes and updates would be automatically entered into your mobile devices! That would make tracking family activities a much simpler task.

Dual Cameras

Cameras serve many purposes on mobile devices. They can assist someone with LDs in many ways. First, visual communication through applications such as FaceTime or Skype can simplify communication for everyone. Second, video cameras and still cameras can provide individuals with alternate forms of expression. Instead of a written assignment, talk to your child’s teacher about the possibility of filming and editing a rant using their mobile device. Third, a camera can be used as a simple tool to capture information that might often be written down, making it easy for an individual to capture and save important information quickly. Finally, the camera could be used as a scanner to capture text and convert it to speech, allowing an individual access to mobile text-to-speech capabilities.

Dictionary, Thesaurus, Notes and Bookmarks

Built into the operating system of most Smartphones are powerful dictionary and thesaurus tools that are only a click away from any word on the screen. It is also possible to easily make notes, bookmarks and highlight text within eBook readers for reference later. These tools make comprehension and study of digital print resources easier than ever, particularly for students with LDs.

Phonetic Word Prediction

Phonetic spelling can be enabled in the accessibility settings of many devices allowing assistive word prediction accuracy to be improved for users with spelling difficulties.  Speech is now available for word predication so that the correct word can be selected by sight and by sound.

Speech-to-Text

Speech-to-text technology has evolved over the past two decades into a powerful tool for all technology users, but particularly for people with LDs who are struggling in translating their thoughts into words and sentences. It initially was available as software for desktop computers and is now very functional on mobile devices. It is increasingly being integrated into operating systems, applications and web browsers and the accuracy is very high.  It is important to remember that speech-to-text works best when the user speaks in full sentences, with fluency and with good volume.

Speak Notifications

Periodically, error messages and warnings will appear on the screen of mobile devices. These can sometimes be challenging for struggling readers. Clicking “OK” is not always the best option. With notification speech enabled, these messages are read aloud for the user so they are capable of making the correct choice.

Text-to-Speech – with Highlighted Speak Selection

A text-to-speech (TTS) system, originally referred to as speech synthesis, converts normal language text into speech, and has been available for decades on personal home computers. Now it is available with multiple voices, dialects and languages on your mobile device. Text-to-speech on mobile devices can be customized for male or female voices, speed and language, quite easily in the settings of the device. Most operating systems provide a built-in voice and many applications provide additional voice options.

A recently added feature to mobile devices is that of highlighted text during text-to-speech reading. This feature allows readers to follow along while the article or text is being read aloud. Speed settings can be customized and the colour of highlighting in some cases can be selected. This feature has previously only been available on desktop and laptop computers with expensive software. Now it is increasingly being included in the operating systems of mobile devices.

Font Size and Font Type – Dyslexie Font – A Weighted Font for Readers with Reading Disabilities

Fonts, size and spacing all play a role in the ease with which a person can read. Unfortunately, almost all books are published in the same font size, type and spacing. These features are not customizable in fixed print, but on a mobile device all that changes. Here is a clip of a font that is available in some apps for readers with reading disabilities. It is called Dyslexie and it is weighted font that has been developed so that each letter is different from every other letter.

Example of dyslexie font

(Image source: http://creativebits.org/print/font_people_dyslexia_dyslexie)

Dyslexie Font from Dyslexie Font on Vimeo.

Guided Access

An accessibility option available to help teachers and parents working with children with LDs is Guided Access. When enabled, it allows parents and teachers to have students focus on one app at a time. If attention is an issue, this can help the learner engage more fully with a specific app to improve their learning.

What is coming next to your mobile device?

There are many reasons to learn to use the tools and apps on your mobile device.  They can provide tremendous supports for learners in so many ways.  In the future, there will be many new mobile technology developments,5 possibly including:

  • Tablets with flexible and re-sizable screens
  • Glasses that become our phones
  • Contact lens screens with built-in processors
  • Faster networks
  • Smaller devices – Watches
  • Wearable technologies
  • Powerful Digital Assistants
  • Battery and Wireless charging technology improvements
  • Biologically embedded technology
  • Health and Nutrition monitoring

Useful Apps that can expand the functionality of your mobile device.6

The table below is a collection of apps for students, teachers and parents.  They can assist and support learning in a variety of domains and subjects.  Click on each link to be directed to the website or the Apple App Store.  Full descriptions, cost, reviews and vetting information are available.  Although this list is specific to Apple devices, many of these applications are available for Android devices, less so for Microsoft.

Assistive and Adaptive

Choice Board Creator

Claro Speak

ClaroPDF Pro

Claro ScanPen

Dragon Anywhere

Firefly

Google

Mobile Mouse

NeoSpeech

Prizmo

Quick Reader

Readiris

Read&Write

Siri

Statement

Touch Chat

Take Creative Vocal Recorder

Word Q

 

Art

Animation Creator

Brushes Redux

My Colouring Book

How to Draw

Adobe PS Express

Spin Art

 

Audiobooks

Audible

iBooks

Scribd

Overdrive

 

Augmented and Virtual Reality

Aurasma

Google Cardboard

Google VR Street View

Layar

 

Blogging

Tumblr

WordPress

Coding

Cargo Bot

Foos

Hopscotch

Kodable

LightBot

Tynker

Swift Playgrounds

 

Collaboration

Padlet

Post-It

 

Creative

Adobe Spark

Book Creator

Creative Cloud Tutorials

Educreations

Explain Everything

Puppet Pals

Strip Designer

Videoscribe

Voki Ed

 

Early Learning

ABCYa

BitsBoard

Duck Duck Moose

Reading Eggs

Starfall

 

eBooks

iBooks

Kindle

Kobo

RAZ Kids

Scribd

 

Educational Games

Threes

1010!

2048

Cross Fingers

Dots Free

Lego Instruct

LuxTouch

Mahjong

Mancala

Minecraft

Plague

SmartGo

Solebon

Sudoku

tChess

Zentominos

 

eLearning

Adobe Connect

D2L Assignment

D2L Binder

D2L Brightspace

D2L Portfolio

Edmodo

Edsby

iTunes U

 

Finance

BitCoin

Learn: How to Invest

 

Graphic Organizers

Inspiration Maps

Mindomo

Simple Mind

Geography

ESRI

Geocaching

Google Earth

Google Maps

Mini Metro

Topo Maps

Trails

Waze

 

Health

Canadian Red Cross First Aid Daily Workout

Get Enough Help

Jamie Oliver

Lose it

My Fitness Pal

My Food Guide

Seafood Watch

St. John Ambulance First Aid

 

Languages

Chinese Skill

Duolingo

Google Translator

 

LEGO Mindstorms

EV3 Programming

EV3 Programmer

Fix the Factory

Magisto

Robot Commander

Stop Motion

 

Life Skills

Air Canada

Parks Canada Learn to Camp

Drivers Ed.

Expedia

Gardening for Beginners

G1 Genius

Kayak

Knots

Quick Cues

Parks Canada

Survival Guide

Transit

TripAdvisor

Via

Weather Network

 

MakerSpaces

Design

Makers Empire 3D

Wiki How

 

Math – Primary

BigSeed

Calcbot

Cool Math Games

Dragon Box Algebra

Mathies Manipulatives

Math Learning Center

mPower TVO

Motion Math

Numbers

Prodigy

Quick Math

Wuzzit Trouble

 

Math – Junior / Int

Algebra Touch

Cool Math Games

Dreambox

Easy Measure

Graphing Calculator

Khan Academy

Motion Math

Natural Twenty

Number Line 1&2

Pocket CAS

Area & Perimeter Quiz

Photomath

SumDog

Units

Wolfram Alpha

 

Math – High School

Algebra Touch

Easy Measure

Graphing Calculator

Khan Academy

PCalc

Photomath

Wolfram Alpha

 

Media & Communication

Edsby

NFB

Youtube

Skype

Slack

Montessori

Exploration Learning

 

Music

Drum Kit

GarageBand

GyroSynth

Guitar by Smule

Magic Piano

Ocarina

Shazam

Virtuoso Piano

Xylophone

 

Organization

Clear

Epic Win

PlanBoard

Sesame

Seesaw

Symbaloo

 

Photography

Camera +

Camera Art FX

Flickr

1SE

Presentations

Google Cast

Google Slides

Keynote

PowerPoint

Prezi

Radio – Streaming

CBC Music

CBC Radio

iHeartRadio

Jamendo

Jango Radio

NPR News

SoundCloud

Tune In Radio

 

Reading

Comixology

DC Comics

Epic

Goodreads

Kids A to Z

Instapaper

Marvel Comics

Minecraft Story Mode

Scribd

Star Trek Comics

 

Reference

Dictionary

Freesaurus

National Geographic Kids

Wikipedia

 

Robotics

Dash&Dots

Sphero

 

Science

Beaker

Distant Suns

Do It Yourself

F-SIM Space Shuttle

iSeismometer

Leafsnap

Molecules

Moon Globe

NASA

The Elements

Science Glossary

Science 360

Simple Planes

Simple Physics

Simple Rockets

SPARKvue

Skyview

Self-Regulation

Breathe, Think, Do

Choiceworks

My Mood Tracker

Naturespace

This for That

TimeStation

Zones of Regulation

 

SMART Board Tools

AirServer

Kahoot

Plickers

Poll Everywhere

Reflector

SMART Notebook

Socrative Student

 

Social Networking

Facebook

Google+

Instagram

Pinterest

Twitter

Spelling and Phonics

4 Pics 1 Word

7 Little Words

Fry Words

Pocket Phonics

Spelling City

 

Storage

Dropbox

Google Drive

OneDrive

 

Study Tools

Flipcards

Quizlet

Study

 

Tools

AppBox Pro

iPocket Tools

myLogger

QR Code Reader

Scannable

Tally Counter

 

Writing

Mental Note

Google Docs

Office 365

Pages

Paperport Notes

 

Video Creation

iMotion HD

iMotion Remote

iMovie

Stop Motion Studio

References:

  1. Apple Inc. (2017). iOS 10. Retrieved from: http://www.apple.com/ca/ios/ios-10/
  1. (n.d.). The world’s most popular mobile OS. Retrieved from: https://www.android.com/
  1. Windows Central. (2017). Windows 10 Mobile. Retrieved from: http://www.windowscentral.com/windows-10-mobile
  1. (2011.) The font for people with dyslexia: dyslexie. Retrieved from: http://creativebits.org/print/font_people_dyslexia_dyslexie
  1. Fawcett, K. (2014). The Future is Here: What’s Next for Mobile Phones? Retrieved from: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/the-future-is-here-whats-next-for-mobile-phones-180951479/
  1. Apple Inc. (2017). Your music, movies and TV shows take centre stage. Retrieved from: http://www.apple.com/ca/itunes/

About the author:

Michael Kerr has been an educator for the past 22 years with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board and during this time he has worked with students with learning disabilities in both a regular classroom environment and as a resource teacher.  He has always incorporated technology in his teaching and has embraced the use of assistive technology since its modern inception.  From 2007 to 2012, he was a teacher and Resource Services Consultant at the Ministry of Education, Provincial Demonstration Schools, Sagonaska in Belleville where he worked closely with students with severe learning disabilities in reading.  During this time, he successfully established a mobile assistive technology program using iPods at the school.  Michael was also responsible for delivering numerous workshops to students, parents, teachers, administrators, and school board consultants.  He currently teaches a learning and life skills program with a focus on technology skills in Cobourg, Ontario.