The "Write" Tools Can Make a Difference

Setting out to complete a task without the correct set of tools can leave one feeling frustrated and even inept. While we would never think of putting ourselves in this situation, that is precisely what we do when we ask students with disabilities to succeed in a standard curriculum without supports. Perhaps one of the most necessary and yet challenging curricular tasks that students with disabilities are asked to engage in is writing. Whether students are considered to have a mild disability or whether their disability has had a more significant impact on their overall functioning, the quantity and quality of their writing is often significantly lower than that of their peers. While this is an area where some of the greatest advancements in the technology industry have been made, many students with disabilities are denied access to tools that can make a difference in their ability to generate a greater amount of quality text independently.

For the majority of students, the tools required for writing are simply a writing instrument and a piece of paper. However, there are students in our classrooms for whom the task of writing is not only laborious, but in some instances, impossible. Debra Bierly and Susan McCloskey-Dale (1999) offer these suggestions in identifying students for whom the mechanics of writing is a problem:

  • Students whose printing or cursive writing is illegible to some degree

  • Students whose rate of production is slow and laborious

  • Students who experience fatigue while trying to write

  • Students who cannot hold a writing instrument and who must rely on a scribe

Solutions for students with mild writing issues range from something as simple as equipping them with a pencil grip or differently lined paper to providing a slant board or a clipboard positioned and secured with dycem, a non-slip surface material. Access to a keyboard is also an effective alternative for many students. For students whose fine-motor skills limit their ability to use a standard keyboard, a number of alternatives can produce positive results. These may include adding a keyguard to a standard keyboard or using other keyboard alternatives, including the following:

  • smaller or larger surface keyboard

  • trackball, joystick, touch window, or switch

  • on-screen keyboard

  • word prediction software

  • voice recognition software

For other students, the struggle is not with the task of producing legible print, but with one or more aspects of the task of composition, specifically the areas of planning, drafting, revising, and editing. Indicators of a problem in one or more of these areas include:

  • inability to generate content

  • inability to organize thoughts

  • sequencing problems

  • poor sentence and paragraph structure

  • incorrect grammar usage

A rapidly developing area of assistive technology is supports for students who struggle with the composition aspect of writing. Examples of such supports include:

  • Language arts instructional software

  • Multimedia writing software

  • Graphic/web Organizers

  • Spell checkers, thesaurus, grammar checkers

  • Multisensory word processors

  • Word prediction software

While technology supports should never be considered a replacement for effective instruction, providing students with the "write" tools along with sound teaching can translate into an increase in the production and quality of students' writing. The excitement and a renewed interest in learning that often is sparked by these tools is another benefit of assistive technology!

References

Bierly, D.R., McCloskey-Dale, S.R. (1999). The tasks, the tools: Needs assessment for meeting writing demands in the school curriculum. Closing the Gap 18,(3), 1, 24-25.

Higgins, K., Boone, R. (Eds.), (1997). Technology for students with learning disabilities: Educational applications. Austin: PRO-ED.

Date: December/January 2000