By E.A. Draffan.
1. Portable USB Pen drive (flash drive) software.
EduApps range, including My StudyBar.
2. Downloadable software.
3. Planning, Organisation and Time Management.
MyCorkboard, TimeLeft, Stickies, myTasks, Jot Notes, EverNote,
XMind, Freemind, DropBox, Apple iCloud,
Microsoft Sky Drive, Google Drive.
OpenOffice, WordWeb 6, FreeSpell, ProSpell, tinySpell.
Analytical Eye Typing Tutor, Sense-lang Touch Typing,
A.I.Type, eType, Edword.
AMIS, NaturalReader, FX Software, Reading Level Calculator.
Big Simple Talking Calculator, Power Calculator,
FRS Talking Calculator,
7. Working on the web.
BrowseAloud, NaturalReader, ATbar.
Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Opera, Safari Additions.
Some free assistive technology programs lack the sophistication of the majority of the more commercially developed programs, but they can make up a very useful toolkit. They may not always be updated as regularly as products backed by larger companies so it is important to check the system requirements. Some developers offer a basic version of their program free and ask for support for versions with more features.
The following groups of software tend to be Windows-based but there are also many free Android and Apple programs. Some of them are in B.D.A. tech Apps page. It’s important to be aware that some download webpages may not be altogether as secure as one would wish. Always make sure your virus checker is up to date and you have a firewall in place as you need to take care when downloading what are known as executable files (.exe). Final health warning! Make sure you have backed up your system, set up a restore point and read the instructions.
1. Portable USB Pen drive (flash drive) software.
Many small programs can run directly from a pen drive. These usually work on a Microsoft Windows operating system and are known as Portable Apps. The website for these apps has a huge list that can be searched or browsed under various categories including Accessibility with the following offerings:
- Dicom Portable – word completion utility.
- Firefox Accessibility Extension – Make Firefox more accessible.
- On-Screen Keyboard Portable – Easily access an on-screen keyboard.
- Virtual Magnifying Glass Portable – A full-featured screen magnifier.
- AccessApps, – a range of solutions to support writing, reading and planning, as well as sensory, cognitive and physical difficulties.
- TeachApps, – a collection of software specifically designed for teachers or lecturers.
- LearnApps, – specifically designed for learners.
- MyStudyBar, – providing a suite of apps to support literacy that works well when used alongside a word processor. See B.D.A. Tech comments Word file and PDF file.
- MyVisBar, – a high contrast floating toolbar, designed to support learners with visual difficulties.
- MyAccess, – accessible applications providing inclusive e-learning options for all.
- Create&Convert, – support to publish accessible documents and online information for all.
- Accessible Formatting WordBar – create accessible Word documents
2. Downloadable software.
Many of the technologies available for the pen drives can also be downloaded and used as part of a useful toolkit on any Windows computer. They are often useful on older computers that do not have the power or file space of the later models.
The software can be found under the ‘Products’ heading; freeware on the EmpTech website.
3. Planning, Organisation and Time Management.
Calendars online or ones that synchronise with Google calendar can be very helpful as they can be shared with others. Microsoft Outlook that comes with Microsoft Office offers this support, but if you just want a fun desktop saver with reminders, try MyCorkboard. There are all sorts of themes and it can be customised to suit your needs with notes and a clock etc.
If you find that you always run out of time, it may be worth using TimeLeft that allows you to set times and have reminders with sticky notes, plus a stopwatch all on the desktop. Stickies from Zhorn Software is a sticky note program for reminders with customisable settings and system-tray keystroke access.
Not everyone enjoys making mind maps for planning or organising materials, so the other option is myTasks, a simple to use ‘to do’ list with easy categorisation, filters and text based searches, and Jot Notes from Kingstairs (these are free 30 day trial programs).
EverNote, which is offered as a free download, or a service online, and even as an app on most phones, is not just an instant note maker. You can drag and drop note items from the web and electronic documents, and attach pictures to provide a scrolling record of notes, search and work with an entire collection of other programs that allow you to annotate videos, or turn notes into audio files, and make quizzes for revision with Evernote Peek. The company also have a schools section with guides and resources.
However, if mind mapping suits your needs and you can cope with simple style maps then XMind offers you the chance to develop ideas within symbols with icons or on a branch, different layouts and the ability to import and export to other programs, including commercial mind mapping applications. There is also Freemind that works with words once again placed on branches rather than in symbols, although it is possible to group items with images and link different concepts.
If you need to organise your files and share them with others then DropBox can be downloaded onto your computer or downloaded onto your mobile as an app and folders can be set up to be shared with whoever you want. It can also be used online in the same way as the Apple iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive.
Whilst writing documents in Microsoft Word, it is possible to check the thesaurus and other reference books via the short cut keys ‘Shift plus F7’. Spell checking, autocorrect and autotext can all help. However, if you are not using Microsoft Office it may be worth downloading OpenOffice, a free Office suite that supports Microsoft Office files and offers word-processing, spreadsheet, database and drawing applications. A thesaurus and dictionary that works as a standalone program is WordWeb 6 for Windows and as an iPhone app. It offers audio pronunciations, synonyms, confusables and the option of the Oxford and Chambers dictionaries.
When it comes to spell checking, this also tends to occur within the word processor, which is not always helpful if you are using a simple text editor. This is when FreeSpell and ProSpell can be helpful or tinySpell 1.9 which checks spelling in Windows applications and web forms where there is no built in spell checker. It is worth downloading the British English Dictionary when you download this spell checker which can also be used on a pendrive.
If speed is still an issue, or word finding is difficult, then it is possible that word prediction may help. A.I.Type is available for the PC, Android phone and can be found on ATbar. It offers users a selection of words as you type. Another option is eType that offers auto-completion with a dictionary or translation if you want to use other languages. Both programs work in any text editing situation whether on or off line.
Finally if you want a really simple word processor that will work well for younger writers, try Edword as it has a reduced number of menu items, but looks very similar to Microsoft Word and has all the basics needed. It can be used with text to speech programs and symbols.
And see B.D.A. Tech page on Writing with ‘pay-for’ software.
There are now many free apps for reading ebooks on mobile phones and tablets but often these ebook readers are also available for download. Examples include Kindle, Blio, Stanza and Kobo. If you want to use Daisy books that guarantee text to speech, then AMIS that has been designed for those with visual impairments will read Daisy Talking Books as well as the free TPB Reader. Neither have a particularly special interface but they can be useful if fonts and colours also need to be changed to aid reading.WordTalk provides text to speech feedback and text highlighting when proofreading in Microsoft Word. There are plenty of other text to speech readers such NaturalReader that works with Internet Explorer, Word, Adobe Reader, Outlook and plain text. And see B.D.A. Tech page on Text to Speech.
If reading on screen causes visual stress it may be worth trying the options offered by FX Software such as the T-Bar that covers an area of the screen with a tinted overlay and the Vu-bar on-screen ruler that can be used to follow text on any application.
Finally in this section if you are worried about the reading level of a web page then Reading Level Calculator is a tool that can estimate the level based on word length and syllables.
6. Calculators.Some calculators that come as part of the computer or tablets operating system are small and not very student friendly. It may be worth trying the Big Simple Talking Calculator which is a full screen calculator that is easy to read with speech output for answers. Power Calculator 1.5 allows for many more complex mathematical functions and the FRS Talking Calculator is an onscreen talking calculator with large keys and the sums are seen vertically, which is ideal for younger users. See B.D.A. Tech Apps page for ‘pay-for’ calculators.
7. Working on the web.
This last section will not be looking at apps for portable technologies but the add-ons or plug-ins that can be used with browsers such as text to speech and dictionaries etc. There are add-on or plug-in market places for all the main web browsers. These have been mentioned and they are worth visiting although they are about as daunting as the app stores.If it just text to speech that is required when surfing the net, it is worth trying programs that work across all browsers such as BrowseAloud and BrowseAloud Plus. They work with websites that have subscribed to these TextHelp applications, websites, such as B.D.A. Tech, and offer hover dual highlighting, text selection, translator and dictionary, screen masking and an MP3 Maker. The readers mentioned above, such as NaturalReader, will also read accessible web pages.
ATbar is a toolbar that can be added as a ‘bookmark’ or ‘favorite’ to all the main browsers and it will provide text to speech, spell checking, a dictionary, the chance to change the look and feel of the web pages if possible, as well as word prediction to help with text creation. Many other plugins can be added via the market place such as Readable that clears the clutter from pages or various calculators and thesauri and translators.
But going back to the individual browsers that have their own plugins, here are just a few that have been tried and tested.
The Mozilla Firefox Toolbar Additions include a plugin to change the background colour of a website with Color That Site! or just the tabs on your browser with Colorfultabs. Wikilook and Dictionary.com provide information and definitions and Text to Voice 1.05 allows for sections of accessible web pages to be read aloud.
The toolbar additions for Internet Explorer include CleanPage that reduce web page clutter, the ieSpell for instant spell checking in forms that do not have a built in spell checker. RoboForm password manager is very helpful if you tend to forget your passwords and VozMe provides text to speech.
Google’s Chrome browser uses its own toolbar to provide spell checking, translation along with extensions such as Voice Search Chrome for dictating in queries and After the Deadline spell checker. Its version of password support is called LastPass password manager and there is the hand Webscreen shot for taking snapshots of more than the screen size, Easy Reader clear clutter from the webpages and MyNotesApp is there for instant notes whilst surfing.
You do not always have to be online to run Chrome apps in your browser. Google have a list of apps that may be useful when you are offline such as Gmail, Google calendar, Quick note, Jolicloud, Scientific calculator, Task Timer, and World clock (You do not need to Google the time of various countries or depend on your desktop clock settings).
Although not such a popular browser, Opera has some very useful mouse gestures for flicking between pages and also offers voice dictation and Autocomplete for the text input box. It has password support with Password hasher, a handy scientific Calculator and Taskboard for jobs that need to be done.
Safari can be used on all computers not just the Apple Mac and it has an app for creating passwords, 1Password create passwords and easy PDF reader called PDF Browser Plugin and Cooliris for full screen picture and video watching.
All of these add-ons or extensions and toolbars are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to finding free programs for your computer and portable technologies. The internet is full of blogs and wikis written by experts and ‘not so experts’ telling you about the latest app or piece of software that might help. It really is a case of buyer beware and asking those who have already tried some free options as opposed to the commercial assistive technologies. Freeware can provide an easy way to try ideas that might help with studying or work but many are not specifically designed to support dyslexia. There is always the B.D.A. helpline and B.D.A. New Technologies committee e-mail enquiry service. Do make contact if you are worried about any choices concerning the use of assistive technologies.
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