Focus on Special Needs

For students with physical or mental impairments, common classroom tasks can be quite daunting. Fortunately, specialized software can strengthen these students’ capabilities and computer skills. Software exists that can read aloud the text of Web pages, teach students about basic phonemic distinctions, translate text to and from Braille, and more.

This month’s Focus On looks at a few of the programs available to help students who have speech impediments, visual problems and learning disabilities.

Students in need of speech therapy and students with hearing disorders will benefit from IBM’s SpeechViewer III, available through Edmark. The program creates engaging and interactive displays of speech, allowing users to see the things they say. Students using the program can begin with simple sound awareness, and progress through exercises designed to fine-tune their control of multiple aspects of speech, such as pitch, loudness, and eventually complex speech patterns. Each exercise offers a choice of animated graphics for age appropriateness, and real-time responses keep students engaged in the activities. These activities are designed to help students master loudness range, voice timing, pitch control, and other elements of speech.

Spectra Patterning allows students to see their voices produce a phoneme, and to practice speaking in such a way that their voices match a model phoneme. In the first activity, the more accurately a student pronounces a phoneme, the closer a snail moves to the top of a hill onscreen. Activities start by teaching individual phonemes, then move to two-phoneme contrasts and multi-phoneme chains. Each activity saves statistics to show students’ improvement.

The program includes all seven Visual Voice Tools, which help students develop fine control of their voices. Each tool accepts vocal input and gives visual feedback in the form of an animated graphic. These tools guide students through multiple aspects of voice, starting with simple sound awareness. Students can practice fine control of pitch, loudness, voicing and breath control for phonation.

In addition, the program can record students’ voices, keep notes, add audio clips, and analyze statistics. An incorporated roster helps teachers manage students’ data, customize settings for each student, and keep annotated notes on each student.

 

Intended for users with low vision and certain learning disabilities, version one of WeMedia’s Talking Browser is available free of charge. The browser is designed to facilitate Internet use on PCs that run Windows 95 or higher. Different from a screen reader, the WeMedia talking browser becomes the actual browser through which one explores the Internet. Users can go from link to link using the up and down arrows on the keyboard, and can either select the text to be read aloud, or let the browser read the entire page. A tutorial helps guide users through the program.

Organized buttons and keystroke commands enable easy navigation. Users can control the appearance of the site by converting pages to text-only for easier visibility. Users can also control the speed and volume at which the browser reads the Web page, as well as the color contrast of the screen. The browser can also assist students who have dyslexia. Version one is available to download for free from the wemedia.com Web site.

 

Also for visually impaired students, BrailleNote is a hand-held note taker with a built-in modem and POP3 e-mail package. The unit is ergonomically designed and lightweight, with Braille and speech capabilities driven by dynamic software. BrailleNote incorporates the latest high-quality, low-power Braille-cell technology with highly intelligible and responsive speech.

BrailleNote features an up-to-date CPU and flash memory for non-volatile data storage. Users can store hundreds of files and pages of Braille, and can read, write and manipulate Braille text. Forward and back Braille translators give flexibility in handling both text and Braille documents. Users can also emboss and print documents without having to reformat them.

The note taker is compatible with Microsoft Word files, which can be accessed without changing the format. It contains a unique calendar and scheduler, address-list manager, and scientific calculator, all of which allow the user to merge data between applications. The BrailleNote can also be plugged into the serial port of a desktop or laptop computer, and, with a screen reader program such as JAWS for Windows, the entire computer will be accessible in Braille.

The unit features an infrared port, internal modem, PCMCIA slot, serial and parallel ports. Thus, it allows for easy interfacing with technology such as printers, embossers and PCs.

 

From Don Johnston Software, the Press to Play Series caters to children with a range of special needs, from learning disabilities to physical impairments. The series consists of three programs, which teach elementary cause and effect. Each program contains several scenes, accompanied by colorful animation with high-quality speech and sound effects. The games can be played in four modes, for various levels of ability, and the program can be customized to meet individual needs.

In the first part of the program, a clear female voice instructs students to press a touch screen, a switch, or the keyboard in order to prompt an animation. Images are large and well defined, and optional sound effects supplement the images. At any time, the teacher or aide can press the letter T for the teacher menu, which allows him or her to customize settings and program options.

Press to Play — Animals includes a number of humorous scenes involving various animals and their actions. Press to Play — Speedy incorporates scenes of Speedy, a young boy in a wheelchair, as he plays games with his friends, moves around in his wheelchair, and plays with his dog. Press to Play — Zoo takes three friends, including Speedy, to a zoo, where they observe the antics of various animals. Activities will cycle automatically, so children can play as long as they like. Increasing levels of independence allow children to practice and build confidence. All three programs also cater to users who are visually impaired.

 

From Aurora Systems comes Aurora Prediction, software with features for students with learning disabilities who need assistance with their writing. As a student types, Aurora Prediction constantly tries to guess what he or she is typing, and lists possible word completions in a prediction window on the side. More than 100,000 words, including more than 20,000 names and places, ensure that almost any word a student needs to spell will be in the dictionary. For more advanced students, Aurora 3.0 offers more than 600,000 vocabulary words.

Aurora can help users choose between homophones by providing definitions and usage examples for more than 2,100 homophones. If a user d'esn’t normally use the prediction window, an option can prompt Aurora to make a sound to notify the user whenever a homophone is typed, so the user can go back and make sure he or she typed the correct word. The program’s vocabulary can be abridged for younger users, or extended for specialized vocabularies.

Aurora Prediction can read word processor documents that students have written, and personalize the software functions according to a user’s specialized vocabulary. This individual vocabulary can then be transferred from one user to another, so instructors can have technical vocabulary ready for any student who enters the class.

The program can be set to mark misspelled words with brackets, or to open a spellcheck window instantly. The list of spelling suggestions is tailored to the individual’s spelling skill level, so that the better a speller one is, the faster the suggestions appear and the closer they are to the spelling typed. For less advanced spellers, the suggestions list will search for words with transposed letters, similar sounding letters, similar looking letters, and completely different spellings with similar sounds. Definitions and usage examples help students choose the right word.

The program also includes a speech component, which will read words aloud from the suggestion window. If a student desires, the program can spell the word aloud, as well. A customizable auto-correction feature includes hundreds of frequently misspelled words. The program uses grammatical rules to help reduce the number of inappropriate suggestions the prediction system makes.

 

—Elizabeth Amberg
eamberg@thejournal.com


Contact Information

SpeechViewer III
Edmark
Redmond, WA
(800) 691-2986
www.edmark.com

Talking Browser
WeMedia
New York, NY
(646) 769-2722
www.wemedia.com

BrailleNote Note Taker
BrailleNote
(800) 722-3393
www.braillenote.com

Press to Play Series
Don Johnston Software
Volo, IL
(800) 999-4660
www.donjohnston.com

Aurora Prediction
Aurora Systems
Burnaby, B.C.
(888) 290-1133
www.Aurora-Systems.com

For students with physical or mental impairments, common classroom tasks can be quite daunting. Fortunately, specialized software can strengthen these students’ capabilities and computer skills. Software exists that can read aloud the text of Web pages, teach students about basic phonemic distinctions, translate text to and from Braille, and more.

This month’s Focus On looks at a few of the programs available to help students who have speech impediments, visual problems and learning disabilities.

Students in need of speech therapy and students with hearing disorders will benefit from IBM’s SpeechViewer III, available through Edmark. The program creates engaging and interactive displays of speech, allowing users to see the things they say. Students using the program can begin with simple sound awareness, and progress through exercises designed to fine-tune their control of multiple aspects of speech, such as pitch, loudness, and eventually complex speech patterns. Each exercise offers a choice of animated graphics for age appropriateness, and real-time responses keep students engaged in the activities. These activities are designed to help students master loudness range, voice timing, pitch control, and other elements of speech.

Spectra Patterning allows students to see their voices produce a phoneme, and to practice speaking in such a way that their voices match a model phoneme. In the first activity, the more accurately a student pronounces a phoneme, the closer a snail moves to the top of a hill onscreen. Activities start by teaching individual phonemes, then move to two-phoneme contrasts and multi-phoneme chains. Each activity saves statistics to show students’ improvement.

The program includes all seven Visual Voice Tools, which help students develop fine control of their voices. Each tool accepts vocal input and gives visual feedback in the form of an animated graphic. These tools guide students through multiple aspects of voice, starting with simple sound awareness. Students can practice fine control of pitch, loudness, voicing and breath control for phonation.

In addition, the program can record students’ voices, keep notes, add audio clips, and analyze statistics. An incorporated roster helps teachers manage students’ data, customize settings for each student, and keep annotated notes on each student.

 

Intended for users with low vision and certain learning disabilities, version one of WeMedia’s Talking Browser is available free of charge. The browser is designed to facilitate Internet use on PCs that run Windows 95 or higher. Different from a screen reader, the WeMedia talking browser becomes the actual browser through which one explores the Internet. Users can go from link to link using the up and down arrows on the keyboard, and can either select the text to be read aloud, or let the browser read the entire page. A tutorial helps guide users through the program.

Organized buttons and keystroke commands enable easy navigation. Users can control the appearance of the site by converting pages to text-only for easier visibility. Users can also control the speed and volume at which the browser reads the Web page, as well as the color contrast of the screen. The browser can also assist students who have dyslexia. Version one is available to download for free from the wemedia.com Web site.

 

Also for visually impaired students, BrailleNote is a hand-held note taker with a built-in modem and POP3 e-mail package. The unit is ergonomically designed and lightweight, with Braille and speech capabilities driven by dynamic software. BrailleNote incorporates the latest high-quality, low-power Braille-cell technology with highly intelligible and responsive speech.

BrailleNote features an up-to-date CPU and flash memory for non-volatile data storage. Users can store hundreds of files and pages of Braille, and can read, write and manipulate Braille text. Forward and back Braille translators give flexibility in handling both text and Braille documents. Users can also emboss and print documents without having to reformat them.

The note taker is compatible with Microsoft Word files, which can be accessed without changing the format. It contains a unique calendar and scheduler, address-list manager, and scientific calculator, all of which allow the user to merge data between applications. The BrailleNote can also be plugged into the serial port of a desktop or laptop computer, and, with a screen reader program such as JAWS for Windows, the entire computer will be accessible in Braille.

The unit features an infrared port, internal modem, PCMCIA slot, serial and parallel ports. Thus, it allows for easy interfacing with technology such as printers, embossers and PCs.

 

From Don Johnston Software, the Press to Play Series caters to children with a range of special needs, from learning disabilities to physical impairments. The series consists of three programs, which teach elementary cause and effect. Each program contains several scenes, accompanied by colorful animation with high-quality speech and sound effects. The games can be played in four modes, for various levels of ability, and the program can be customized to meet individual needs.

In the first part of the program, a clear female voice instructs students to press a touch screen, a switch, or the keyboard in order to prompt an animation. Images are large and well defined, and optional sound effects supplement the images. At any time, the teacher or aide can press the letter T for the teacher menu, which allows him or her to customize settings and program options.

Press to Play — Animals includes a number of humorous scenes involving various animals and their actions. Press to Play — Speedy incorporates scenes of Speedy, a young boy in a wheelchair, as he plays games with his friends, moves around in his wheelchair, and plays with his dog. Press to Play — Zoo takes three friends, including Speedy, to a zoo, where they observe the antics of various animals. Activities will cycle automatically, so children can play as long as they like. Increasing levels of independence allow children to practice and build confidence. All three programs also cater to users who are visually impaired.

 

From Aurora Systems comes Aurora Prediction, software with features for students with learning disabilities who need assistance with their writing. As a student types, Aurora Prediction constantly tries to guess what he or she is typing, and lists possible word completions in a prediction window on the side. More than 100,000 words, including more than 20,000 names and places, ensure that almost any word a student needs to spell will be in the dictionary. For more advanced students, Aurora 3.0 offers more than 600,000 vocabulary words.

Aurora can help users choose between homophones by providing definitions and usage examples for more than 2,100 homophones. If a user d'esn’t normally use the prediction window, an option can prompt Aurora to make a sound to notify the user whenever a homophone is typed, so the user can go back and make sure he or she typed the correct word. The program’s vocabulary can be abridged for younger users, or extended for specialized vocabularies.

Aurora Prediction can read word processor documents that students have written, and personalize the software functions according to a user’s specialized vocabulary. This individual vocabulary can then be transferred from one user to another, so instructors can have technical vocabulary ready for any student who enters the class.

The program can be set to mark misspelled words with brackets, or to open a spellcheck window instantly. The list of spelling suggestions is tailored to the individual’s spelling skill level, so that the better a speller one is, the faster the suggestions appear and the closer they are to the spelling typed. For less advanced spellers, the suggestions list will search for words with transposed letters, similar sounding letters, similar looking letters, and completely different spellings with similar sounds. Definitions and usage examples help students choose the right word.

The program also includes a speech component, which will read words aloud from the suggestion window. If a student desires, the program can spell the word aloud, as well. A customizable auto-correction feature includes hundreds of frequently misspelled words. The program uses grammatical rules to help reduce the number of inappropriate suggestions the prediction system makes.

 

—Elizabeth Amberg
eamberg@thejournal.com


X@XOpenTag000Contact Information

X@XCloseTag000

SpeechViewer III
Edmark
Redmond, WA
(800) 691-2986
www.edmark.com

Talking Browser
WeMedia
New York, NY
(646) 769-2722
www.wemedia.com

BrailleNote Note Taker
BrailleNote
(800) 722-3393
www.braillenote.com

Press to Play Series
Don Johnston Software
Volo, IL
(800) 999-4660
www.donjohnston.com

Aurora Prediction
Aurora Systems
Burnaby, B.C.
(888) 290-1133
www.Aurora-Systems.com

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.

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