Students with Learning Disabilities


There are a range of technology items that can help students with learning disabilities to participate. These technologies help the student to remember, organize, learn and study. Many can be used to simplify what the students sees, read written text aloud and provide cues for independent learning. These tools are often combined with instructional and behavioral strategies for best outcomes.

copyright © 2000 - 2005 Assistive Technology Training Online Project



Adapting Books Highlighters Electronic Text

Reading can be particularly difficult for students with learning disabilities. See the Reading and Writing Modules for more suggestions.

Adapting Books

When books are adapted, they can making reading more successful and enjoyable for children. Adaptations can include making book easier to use (turning pages, holding), text easier to read (simplify, change) and to remember. The Boston Public Schools Access Technology Center addressed this need in a workshop, Recipe for Adapting Books, that offers a systematic approach to the process of adapting books.



When using hard copy books, try applying color coding to emphasize key points. To do this, use

  • Pens, markers, hightlighter tape, folders, etc.
  • Sticky notes for headings, labels, etc.
  • Sentence strips; story sequence, retelling (manipulatives)

Re-written Text
Text can be re-written in a lower reading level, printed out on re-useable labels and adhered to the pages of a book to make text more accessible for all students in a class.


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Electronic Text

There are an increasing number of books available in e-text format. Benefits of this format includes the ability to change how the text appears. How a student sees the text can impact her ability to read and comprehend. Cluttered pages with little white space and small print makes reading more difficult. With e-text, try resizing the font and controlling the color contrast of the text and background to make onscreen reading easier.

Studies show that when a student can listen to text being read as they follow along, comprehension may be enhanced. Try using books on tape or CD or digitizing text by using scanners and text-to-speech software programs. Several textbook publishers are working towards e-text versions:

Prentice Hall SuccessNet Several Middle and High School textbooks are now available in electronic format. These "iText" versions include the complete textbook which has been enhanced certain images with videos, slide shows and other multi-media elements.

WizeUp.Com works together with publishing companies to create digital versions of college textbooks. Original textbooks are provided in full, page-by-page, graphic-by-graphic—while providing interactive experiences.



Start to Finish Books
These books have been re-written for 2/3 and 4/5 level readers. Over 60 titles are available and come in 3 formats: audiocassette, hardcover book and CD book. Software features include enhancing text with definitions and explanations of text, bookmarked pages, and audible reading.

Project Intersect
Project Intersect is creating a set of digital books, available to be read via the Internet. These books are infused with a wide variety of resources to support comprehension, extend reading strategies, provide background information, improve content area achievement, and to help students meet state standards. Available books include:
Diary of Opal Whiteley
On The Run
Your Genes
Juan Bautista de Anza
American History SourceBook
Gettysburg Address
Mayflower Compact
Poe Short Stories
Letters of Virginia Reed
Romeo & Juliet
Origin of the Species
Huckleberry Finn

Accessible Books Collection (subscription required)

BookShare.Org (subscription required)

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copyright © 2000 - 2005 Assistive Technology Training Online Project



Many students have difficulty combining the mechanics of writing with composing ideas. Try separating the student's writing issues into mechanics vs. composition barriers to help identify AT solutions. For example, when the task involves improved efficiency with forming letters, words and sentences, consider electronic note takers or computers for writing using:

When the tasks involves developing and organizing thoughts and relationships consider software applications such as

Go to the following modules for more suggestions on writing tasks: Low-tech Tools, Universal Design, Simple Modifications and Using Computers for Writing.

copyright © 2000 - 2005 Assistive Technology Training Online Project


Electronic Organizers

Some students are more successful with electronic systems that can provide audible and/or graphical cues. They range from simple pager devices with reminder alarms to organizers that address specific activities such as homework assignments, steps of task, etc. Consider devices that the student can record into as well as playback.

Also check out the Low-tech Tools module for Specialty Devices.

Time Pad (Attainment)
This hand held device is used to record up to 5 messages that can be activated by a timer. Messages such as "copy the Math assignment from the board" or "Bring sneakers to gym class".

Step Pad (Attainment)
Ideal for recording step-by-step instructions. Teachers can record each part of an activity or assignment. Student then presses "play" to hear the cue as often as needed; presses "forward" to hear the next step.

For students who prefer reading the message, look for paging devices that notify the student with quiet vibration.

Voice Recorders
There are several handheld personal note recorders that student/teachers record assignments, instructions, etc.

Memo TalkerMemo Talker (Attainment)
Memo Talker is a 20 second single message recording device.


The Mobile Digital recorder
The Mobile Digital recorder is compatible with both IB< and Dragon software. The student can download his recorded thoughts to a document through voice recognition software programs.


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Hand Held PDA's

Specialized software has been developed for Personal Digital Assistants (PDA's) to assist students with memory impairments. This technology is becoming increasingly popular in school environments.

Schedule Assistant (AbleLink Technologies)
Schedule Assistant is a software application designed to help individuals with disabilities independently manage their day-to-day schedules. It runs on Pocket PC palmtop personal computers (PDA's) using the Windows CE operating system, and allows caregivers to record audio messages or reminders that will automatically activate at the prescribed time and day.

Pocket CoachPocket Coach (AbleLink Technologies)
This software application for Casio PDA's using Windows CE that can provide fully customizable, step-by-step audio instructions or reminders. It includes both graphics and audible directions for task completion.

When using either AbleLink Program, the buttons on the PDA become inactive; all selections and controls are made on the touch screen panel.

PEAT™ (BrainAid)
PEAT™ software is designed to provide cueing and planning assistance for people with memory, attention, and cognitive disorders. A program is created on the computer and sent to a portable device. Students use the device to attend to specifically programmed activities.


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Word Organizers & Concept Webbing

Inspiration (3/02)
Visual learning techniques - graphical ways of working with ideas and presenting information - teach students to clarify their thinking, and to process, organize and prioritize new information. Visual diagrams reveal patterns, interrelationships and interdependencies. They also stimulate creative thinking.

Strategies exist that visually capture ideas generated during brainstorming sessions and group them into concept maps that link ideas to each other in thematic and hierarchal ways. These visual diagrams can be used both in group and individual activities. Both no-tech and software applications are available for this highly effective organizational strategy:

Create Word Walls - The walls are created entirely of words that relate to different themes and activities. They are present in the classroom to help students identify and use them in reading and writing activities. Words can be moved as relationships are discussed. Use word cards/post it's or software programs to create concept maps, idea maps; web; matrix; venn diagram; continuum (timeline, shades, etc). Do it as a group activity or individually.

Word Wall Lists K-3

Word Wall Activities

Software Resources for concept webbing and visual organizing

Inspiration screen shot
Inspiration enlarge image
  • Inspiration and Kidspiration offer electronic concept mapping with simultaneous outlining function. Elements can be added to either version and reflected in both.
Draft Builder screen shot
Draft Builder enlarge image
  • Draft Builder (Don Johnston, Inc)- outlining and graphical versions share the same screen so that relationships between levels and items are apparent.

NOTE: Check out this Great Resource for Study Strategies using graphic organizers!
Computer Based Study Strategies Project (CBSS) Project
Examples of graphic organizers for writing, reading, remembering information and timelining.


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Memory Strategies

There are several available sources for "mnemonic devices" (tricks for remembering facts) that include repetition and association techniques for classroom rules, facts, lists and schedules. See how many of these you use!

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copyright © 2000 - 2005 Assistive Technology Training Online Project


Computer Navigation

Students with learning disabilities may experience problems when working in the computer environment due to cluttered screens, inconsistent navigation commands and remembering how to start a program or how to retrieve stored documents. Computer operating systems and browser features can help. Several other technologies have been developed specifically for this purpose.

The Voyager Suite (AbleLink)
The Voyager Suite offers a cost effective integrated bundle of several applications that are also available separately. The Voyager Desktop Suite, is a bundled package that includes a modified desktop, web browser, email program, and mouse training program. They sit "on top" of the typical windows desktop, and provides simplified, uncluttered screens. A unique customizing feature allows any number of individuals to use a single computer, while having access to only their customized desktop. When Voyager is used in conjunction with the other applications in the Suite each user can have their own custom settings in these applications as well.

  • The Voyager Desktop
    actually fits directly over the Windows desktop and provides a simplified, customizable interface for users with special cognitive needs.
  • Web Trek
    Web Trek enlarge image
    Web Trek
    Web Trek is a picture-based web-browser that enables people to independently browse the Internet and offers many of the features provided by popular mainstream browsers-such as Internet Explorer and Netscape.
  • WebTrek Connect
    This interface uses a picture based email system with audio capabilities for recording and sending messages. The system automatically "reads" incoming messages aloud.
  • Comp Skills
    This program provides self-paced, self-directed training on simple mouse skills


Think and Link
A research and development project addressing the use of e-mail by people with cognitive disabilities.

copyright © 2000 - 2005 Assistive Technology Training Online Project


Using References

Looking up the meaning and spelling of words can be a cumbersome yet necessary task. Technology can make it easier. Electronic devices are increasingly found in classrooms to help kids practice what they know. Kids with disabilities often benefit from their use in becoming more independent.


Portable Reference Devices

Students may experience difficulty getting to reference materials and using them. Hand held electronic talking (dictionary/thesaurus) devices are available to aid vocabulary development. The Franklin website offers a range of reference devices. A couple of classroom favorites are listed below:

Franklin Homework Wiz

Franklin Homework Wiz

Speaking Language Master

Speaking Language Master


Scanners are hand held devices that allow you to scan a single word or phrase and hear it spoken or look up its meaning.

Reading PenReading Pen: is designed for people with reading or learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. It is also useful for people who are learning English, or want the convenience of having a dictionary at their fingertips. Scan a word or line of text, hear the spoken English of the scanned text and its definition, and view the definition on the Pen.


Ultimate Talking Dictionary (Win only)

Online References

There are several reference aids (dictionaries, thesaurus, encyclopedias) on the Internet that can provide improved access to students with disabilities:

Columbia Encyclopedia

Encarta Online (Free abridged service)

Encyclopedia Britannica


Library of Congress

Library Spot

Merriam-Webster Online (talking dictionary service optional)

Reference Desk

Roget's Thesaurus

Word Central Student Dictionary (includes Mad Libs)

Visual Thesaurus


Try using Microsoft Word's hyperlink feature to connect to one of the above links, so that the reference is always available to a student using an Internet-connected computer. Save the file "as" a template so that the reference source can be used repeatedly.

Linking to a Web page in a Word Document (pdf)

copyright © 2000 - 2005 Assistive Technology Training Online Project


Social Skills Training

Students with learning disabilities may have difficulty in situations involving more advanced social interactions. Addressing emotions resulting from various situations and appropriate reactions can be beneficial for some students. Here are some ways that simulate social implications and strategies.

Social Stories
Designed by Carol Gray from the Gray Center, these stories provide information about particular situations for students to practice or be prepared for what is to come

Story Grammar Marker
Tool for problem solving, feelings, direct consequences of actions and resolutions; monitor behavior through discussions. Stories model the discourse skills required for students to think, learn and communicate verbally and in writing.

copyright © 2000 - 2005 Assistive Technology Training Online Project



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copyright © 2000 - 2005 Assistive Technology Training Online Project