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Improving Writing and Communication Skills Through Assistive Technology

Two young Black girls with light skin and dark, curly hair look at a tablet together.

Nothing can be more discouraging than being unable to interact with the written word, whether that be difficulty reading or communicating in writing. Often visual, physical, cognitive, or processing challenges result in overwhelming feelings of inadequacy in the areas of acquiring information or communicating what we know or intend to say. Often, people assume that because a child has a disability, they are unable to perform the writing process. However, with assistive technology, nearly all children can become successful writers and better communicators.

Everyone needs to interact with their school curriculum, required work information, and materials related to their personal interests. Confidence arises when one can explore and research information they desire to learn. Being able to effectively communicate to others what they intend to communicate significantly affects self-confidence and feelings of well-being. Without the availability and knowledge of the use of accommodations and alternative access methods with technology, these two critical skill elements can become a barrier to success in all areas of daily life.

How Accessibility Features Changed Lorenzo’s World

As a young elementary student on the autism spectrum, Lorenzo struggled to communicate his thoughts and feelings. When presented with the expectation to write or share his knowledge for school assignments, he lacked both confidence and competence. The evaluation of school staff placed him in a box, describing him as low functioning.

To open up his world, Lorenzo was introduced to the accessibility features on his iPad. Given a visual image to describe, he was then guided to formulate a verbal sentence about what he saw. Then, he began to explore options on his device to develop a written paragraph on the topic presented.

Lorenzo was using an app with an on-screen keyboard and a word prediction feature. He began using the keyboard to type, and with regular practice, he learned to identify words and choose the correct spelling to complete his thoughts. One of the most motivating features for him was having the device read his work back to him out loud. This became a feature he consistently used to validate his work and read it to others.

A young boy, Lorenzo, with light skin and dark hair, sits cross-legged on a carpeted floor and holds his iPad in his lap.
Lorenzo sometimes prefers to sit on the floor while using his iPad to write.

Having assistance with spelling and reading through built-in accessibility features significantly boosted Lorenzo’s confidence and willingness to write regularly. Pairing this with a directed approach to organizing his thoughts and ideas facilitated his ability to produce multi-sentence paragraphs. Additionally, because of his overall communication difficulties related to his autism, Lorenzo’s verbal speech also improved as he learned to use language in a more sequential, meaningful way.

Lorenzo’s mother, Mariel, dedicated her support and encouragement throughout his journey. She followed through with instructions and assisted him with practice time after school hours. Maribel has expressed her gratitude for learning this process of using accessibility features. She stated, “Everything he was taught has brought him to the success he is experiencing in school today.” Lorenzo has spontaneously written a page to his mother requesting to take a community trip. Being able to initiate the writing process without prompting is a priceless measure of success!

Regardless of their disabilities or challenges, most young children can provide simple words to describe their thoughts. With guidance, they can then turn those words into sentences, learn to sequence those ideas, and create a meaningful paragraph. Even for a child who is non-verbal and cannot physically perform printing or cursive writing, the availability of assistive technology makes writing possible.

Accessibility Features Available on Most Devices

A screenshot of accessibility features available from an iPhone.
Accessibility features available on iPhones and iPads

Accessibility features are available on all devices, including computers, iPads, tablets, and cell phones. Features include:

  • Touch screens

  • Dictation

  • Audio assistance

  • Word prediction

  • Switch access

  • Touch accommodations

  • Alternative keyboard access

Every person with communication challenges should be trained in the individual accessibility features on the devices they have available to them.

A screenshot of the spoken content accessibility features from an iPhone.
Spoken Content features on iPhones and iPads

Specifically, learning to use accessibility features

for word processing skills is critical. Toolbars provide opportunities to adjust for size, color, font, highlighting, and magnification. Using the dictionary, thesaurus, and synonyms helps create a document above average for someone who struggles with the writing process.

Word prediction is one of the most effective tools to improve overall spelling, based on errorless learning. When words are always seen and integrated into the brain’s visual system correctly, they will be more accurately assimilated.

For those who have difficulty reading or have a significant visual impairment, having text read aloud ensures that information is received in its most comprehensive form. Using an auto-summarizing feature reduces the amount of material presented and focuses only on the most critical information. This feature alone, as present even on the Wikipedia site, improves research of basic knowledge.

Everyone Can Write!

A closeup of a young boy with light skin and dark hair, Lorenzo, with his mother, a woman, Maribel, with light skin and dark hair.
Lorenzo and his mom, Maribel

All people can learn to write successfully because we know that they are thinking,

imagining, creating, and formulating ideas in their minds all the time! We need only to show them that they can put what’s inside of them out into the world. Everyone has gifts to share, and it is up to all of us to ensure that access to literacy is not a barrier for anyone in pursuit of their dreams.


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