IEP Assistive Technology Tools to Empower Students with Disabilities
Assistive technology is a broad term that encompasses all kinds of technology and everyday devices. AT might be needed to help a student with writing, reading, academic tasks, executive functioning, adaptive skills, modified classwork, visual schedules, and more. AT can be used for making visual accommodations, highlighting text, teaching/accessing vocabulary words and spelling, summarizing text, reading text aloud, translating speech to text, and so much more.
And despite the word “technology,” not all AT is high-tech. High-tech AT includes devices or equipment with digital or electronic components such as augmentative communication devices, power wheelchairs, or a software application that generates text to speech and word prediction. Low-tech AT includes tools such as timers, graphic organizers, and pencil grips.
There are literally hundreds of AT apps, and because the number of AT tools has grown tremendously in recent years, your school district might not be fully up to date on all the available technology. Your child will need an AT assessment so that an AT specialist can work out which will best support them.
Note: we have included the price of each app below, but be aware that your district should purchase whatever tool they decide is best for your child.
AT for learning or cognitive disabilities, speech communication, and visual/auditory comprehension
Readability extensions for students with low vision, dyslexia, and learning disabilities
Mercury Reader allows you to only view the important content of a site by blocking ads and all other distractions. You can also adjust the text and send articles to a Kindle device. (FREE)
OpenDyslexic Font for Chrome is an open source font that increases readability for those with dyslexia. This Google Chrome extension overrides all fonts on webpages with the OpenDyslexic font and formats pages to be more easily readable. (FREE)
Dyslexia Friendly — This Google Chrome extension replaces the font on websites with OpenDyslexic or Comic Sans for easier readability, provides contrast between paragraphs, and includes a highlighted bar to help users stay on the correct line while reading. (FREE)
BeeLine Reader helps make reading faster and easier by using a color gradient to guide users’ eyes while they read. The simple technology has been honored by the United Nations, and independent research shows that it has greatly benefitted readers in special education. ($1.99 per month with annual discounts; teachers can apply for free access for K–12 students)
ATbar combines many accessibility tools into one toolbar. It is available for most browsers and allows you to change the way you view and interact with webpages. You can change the look and feel, font size, have text read aloud, use colored overlays, and access a dictionary, spell check, and word prediction. (FREE)
Visor — Acting as a screen dimmer and reading aid, this extension can help with fluency, eye strain, concentration, and comprehension while reading. Its features can be helpful for users with visual perceptual difficulties such as dyslexia, scotopic sensitivity syndrome, and visual stress. The point-of-focus feature is designed to help with the tendency to skip lines. (FREE)
High Contrast allows users to choose from several high-contrast color filters that are designed to make text easier to read. After installation, all pages are inverted (so black becomes white and white becomes black). You can toggle it on and off and customize settings on a site-by-site basis. (FREE)
ChromeVox is a built-in screen reader on Chromebooks that reads content out loud. (Chromebooks also have features that make on-screen content easier to read, such as screen magnifiers, high-contrast mode, and select-to-speak.) (FREE)
Clicker 8 is a literacy support software that uses word prediction, images, speech feedback, and a talking spell checker to support students with learning disabilities, low vision, and more. ($349 for a 3-year license, with option to pay $29.09/month for 12 months)
Braille Keyboards for Chrome — Plug-in braille keyboards with Bluetooth are available to students who need braille support.
Microsoft Dictate is an AI-enabled add-on that converts speech to text. It has been integrated into Office 365 and Windows 10 and is available to all users of those platforms.
Co-writer is a Google Chrome extension that can assist students with speech and language disabilities. ($4.99/month)
VoiceIn Voice Typing is Dictanote’s speech-to-text software, made available in a handy Google Chrome extension. This extension is available in 40 languages and can be used for email dictation, voice typing, and even practicing language pronunciation. (FREE)
Text-to-speech extensions & tools
Text-to-speech (TTS) systems are especially helpful for students who need assistance with learning, attention, and organization. TTS lets you see text and hear it read aloud at the same time. TTS software may be free if it’s built into a mobile phone, tablet, or other device.
Read Aloud: A Text-to-Speech Voice Reader can be used as an extension in both Google Chrome and Firefox and will read out loud any text with one click. It can be activated by clicking the Read Aloud icon on the Chrome menu, using shortcut keys, or selecting the text you want to be read aloud. There are many different voices to choose from, and reading speed and pitch can also be adjusted. (In-app purchases range from $0.99 to $2.99 per item)
Read&Write for Google Chrome allows the user to personalize documents, webpages, and files in Google Drive to be more accessible. Features include text-to-speech with dual-color highlighting, text and visual dictionaries, dictation, predictive text, collective highlighting, voice notes, and distraction-free ad removal. (FREE 30-day trial, then $145.00 per year for a single license)
Announcify is a Google Chrome extension that allows the user to hear text read aloud without needing to highlight the text. It displays the text in a more readable format and grays out all surrounding text to allow for more clarity. The user can set the voice that reads the text, along with speed and pitch. (FREE)
Snap&Read is a multifunctional app that allows students to have both accessible and inaccessible text read aloud. It also levels vocabulary for comprehension and offers translation services. It is accessible through Google Chrome, iPad, Microsoft Edge, Kindle Cloud Reader, Bookshare, and any online document or PDF. (FREE trial; $60/year for individual access)
Microsoft’s Immersive Reader reads text aloud (in multiple languages) and improves learning especially for students with dyslexia and dysgraphia. It can also be used as a Google Chrome extension. (FREE)
The Livescribe Echo 2 smart pen acts as an all-in-one microphone, speaker, and storage device. ($149.95)
Speechify uses natural (not robotic!) voices to read aloud virtually anything online or otherwise. Users can take a photo of a sign, poster, book page, print-out, etc., and Speechify will read it. (FREE; paid premium plans available)
Audiobooks & digital TTS books
Audiobooks are read-aloud books. While some apps such as Audible charge a membership fee, there are plenty of others that provide audiobooks for free.
Libby is free and only requires a library card to join.
Storynory offers free audiobooks for young children. Each audiobook includes the digital text of the book. (App is $2.99 to download)
Lit2Go provides free audiobook versions of books that are no longer protected by copyright laws. Lit2Go offers downloadable PDFs of books so that your child can read along while listening. The site also categorizes books by reading level.
Project Gutenberg is another option for digital books. (FREE)
Bookshare has the largest online library of accessible reading materials, and it’s free if you show that your child has a disability that prevents reading traditional print books. One benefit of Bookshare is that it reads text aloud AND leads you through the text, so it’s a good choice for students who need visual and audio supports. (FREE with demonstrated need)
Note: Schools and libraries may provide free digital text-to-speech books to students. Many schools will give kids a Bookshare membership if they have a 504 plan or an IEP for reading issues. Talk to the school staff or librarian about which programs are available to your child.
Reading comprehension browser extensions
Google Dictionary — Just by double-clicking any word or phrase, you can view its definition in a small pop-up bubble. Words are automatically translated to your language of choice, and you can store words to practice them later. Note that the pop-up bubble will not work in tabs that were open prior to installation. After installing this extension, either reload your open tabs or restart Chrome. (FREE)
Ginger — This spelling and grammar checker helps improve written English communication and includes a contextual grammar and spell checker, synonyms, translations, and a dictionary. It also provides suggestions for rephrasing text so you can convey messages with more clarity. There’s even an option to save your text for later use, and it syncs across all platforms. (FREE)
Lucidchart — For visual learners, this Google Chrome app allows users to organize their thoughts using graphics. The diagramming tool includes hundreds of templates and examples, such as flowcharts, Venn diagrams, graphic organizers, mind maps, organizational charts, and more. (FREE)
Newsela — This Google Chrome app adapts news articles to your child’s reading level while empowering them to apply reading comprehension strategies like highlighting and annotating digital text. Articles are published at five different reading levels with built-in assessments to engage students K–12. (FREE with registration)
SMMRY summarizes any online article using the SMMRY website. It reduces the text to only the most important sentences. This tool works with any text, including PDFs. Paste the link to the article or upload a file and SMMRY will give you an easy-to-understand synopsis. (FREE)
Browser extensions to support better focus
Auto Highlight is a Google Chrome Extension that automatically highlights the important information in articles, similar to an article summarizer. (FREE)
Simple Blocker boosts productivity and readability by blocking websites (such as Facebook or Reddit) and subdomains (like news.google.com) so users can focus on the task at hand without being distracted. This extension also has a sleep timer, which allows you to block websites for a set amount of time. (FREE)
Move It — This great extension informs users when it’s time to take a break and get active. After setting a time interval, a random “brain break” and physical exercise will pop up at the designated time. This can also help both students and adults monitor their time spent on the computer. (FREE)
Google Keep Chrome Extension helps you store quotes, websites, and images that you find and want to save for later. They can be synced across all the platforms you use, including iOS and Android. You can also add notes and labels to keep things organized. (FREE)
MagicScroll Web Reader — This unique scrolling system transforms web pages into a book-like interface, making it easier to read without distractions. Once you install the extension, click on the small book icon at the top of your toolbar; clicking this after navigating to any web page will transform the page and eliminate the need for scrolling. (FREE)
MindMeister is a digital graphic organizer that uses visual mind maps, diagrams, and pictures. (FREE for up to three projects)
CrxMouse Chrome Gestures — This extension customizes mouse gestures to make navigating easy and simple. Users can even program their own custom mouse gestures to open programs and perform other tasks. (FREE)
Click-free Browsing — For users who have difficulty clicking a mouse, this Google Chrome Extension adds on-screen navigation icons that a user can hover over, prompting the link to be clicked for you. You can also switch between tabs without clicking. (FREE)
Caret Browsing provides a movable cursor that allows you to select text with keyboard commands, making navigation easier. (FREE)
Microsoft has built an adaptive mouse with a whole suite of customizable extensions that can be designed, 3D-printed, and programmed to fit a user’s exact needs. (Coming fall 2022!)
Tools for students who are Deaf or hard of hearing
FM systems — wireless devices that directly transmit sounds to a hearing aid — communicate clearly with students who have hearing loss, even in a noisy classroom. FM systems can be used to support kids with autism and language-processing issues as well.
For video technology in the classroom, apps such as Flipgrid offer closed-caption features. (FREE)
Tools for students with sensory needs
A flexible classroom design can create an atmosphere of inclusion for all students. Flexible furniture and tools such as standing desks, wobble stools, exercise balls, yoga ball chairs, seat cushions, and sensory vests can help with sensory processing and attention issues.
Assistive technology for math
Photomath allows students to scan the math problem with their phone, and it offers a step by step explanation about how to complete the assignment. (FREE; $9.99/month for Photomath Plus)
ModMath is an iPad app that helps kids with dyslexia and dysgraphia do math. (FREE; $4.99 for pro version)
Equatio moves math into digital instruction and helps students hear their math read aloud to them. It helps students to visualize and explore a written equation. (Free trial/$150 per year for a single license; teachers have free access.)