Log in
  • Blogs
  • Assistive Technology

Assistive Technology's blogs

  • This article was originally published in the Ministry of Education's Assistive Technology Newsletter. To sign up to receive this newsletter, please email CAT.Help@education.govt.nz

    “The only difference between us and the animals is our ability to accessorize!”

    ― Robert Harling, author

    Over the next few issues, I’m focussing on some of the accessories that can be used with devices and what to consider when selecting the right one for your student. As always, the student’s essential learning needs should be at the heart of the decisions made. This month, we’re looking at the accessories that can improve what your device can do or allow you to do things in different ways.



    Like all accessories, there are positives and negatives about their use. By adding an external keyboard to an iPad for example, you can increase the amount of information visible on the screen. Similarly, if a student is trying to improve their handwriting on their device, having a good stylus is essential. Downsides can include that they might need to be charged regularly or have their batteries changed, and they’ll need to be transported and stored somewhere safe when not in use. For laptops, external keyboards can be awkward as they’ll usually mean the laptop has to be further away, but it can also provide an opportunity to raise the screen of a laptop to a more ergonomic position.


    Wired keyboards

    Pros: Never needs charging, cheap, often have number pad as well as full keyboard. Can provide larger keys than available on a laptop or on-screen keyboard.

    Cons: Usually larger than Bluetooth keyboards, wires can get in the way, additional item to store and transport. To use these with an iPad, you must have the necessary dongle to plug it in.


    Endeavour USB Wired Keyboard

    $10 - $15

    Logitech K120 Wired Keyboard

    $35 - $45


    Microsoft Wired Ergonomic Keyboard

    $110 - $130



    Wireless keyboards

    Pros: No wires to plug in, often have number pad included.

    Cons: Will have a wireless receiver dongle to plug into the device which can be small and easily lost. Sometimes larger than Bluetooth keyboards. Usually has batteries that will need to be changed (although these could last several months). To use these with an iPad, you must have the necessary dongle to plug the wireless receiver into.


    Endeavour Wireless

    Keyboard and Mouse

    $30 - $40




    Logitech MK315 QUIET

    Wireless Keyboard and Mouse

    $75 - $95

    Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Wireless Keyboard & Mouse Combo

    $135 - $155

    Bluetooth Keyboards

    Pros: No wires to plug in, no dongles to lose. Often more compact than full size models and can fit into a carry bag

    Cons: Batteries will need to be changed or charged at some point, pairing can sometimes be tricky to set up or drop out


    Logitech K380


    Microsoft Bluetooth Wireless keyboard


    Apple Magic Keyboard



    Some questions you can consider when thinking about keyboards include:

    • What learning need will this support?
    • How easy will it be to store and transport?
    • How comfortable are the keys to type on?
    • Does the keyboard have any useful shortcut keys compatible with my device?
    • Does it have the compatible function buttons (e.g. Windows key, Command key, Home key for iPad)?
    • Will we need a laptop riser stand? How will we store and transport that?
    • How long is the battery life? Who will be responsible for checking and charging or replacing them?



    A stylus is a useful accessory for a touchscreen device if you’re wanting to do any kind of handwriting or drawing. Some students find that handwriting on their device helps them to improve their legibility because the device can give instant feedback about their accuracy.

    There are two main types of stylus: active or passive. Each works in a slightly different way and both have positives and negatives.

    Passive Styluses

    Also known as a capacitive stylus, you can tap or write directly on a screen with a passive stylus. They usually have wider, bubble-like tips. A passive stylus doesn’t have touch sensitivity or electronic components so there’s no communication between the stylus and the device. A passive/capacitive stylus simply conducts the electrical charge from your finger to the screen just like your finger would, which makes them simple and easy to use. You can use a passive/capacitive stylus on any touchscreen that works with your finger.


    Basic Capacitive Stylus

    $5 - $20

    Targus Smooth Glide

    $20 - $30

    Adonit Mark Stylus

    $20 - $30

    Gecko Stylus


    Cosmonaut Stylus

    $125 - $145

    Active Styluses

    An active stylus has a tip like a pen and includes internal electronic components. Features can include memory, electronic erasers, and pressure sensitivity that allows lighter or heavier lines depending upon how much pressure you apply. Some allow you to rest your palm on the screen without causing interference (also called “palm rejection”). Active styluses are device specific, so you need to make sure it is compatible with the equipment you want to use it for.


    Apple Pencil

    $159 / $239

    Microsoft Surface Pen

    $150 - $160

    ZAGG Pro Stylus

    $115 - $130

    3SIXT Smart Stylus

    $95 - $105

    Adonit Note Stylus

    $95 - $105

    Some questions you can ask yourself include:

    • Does it allow my student to complete the tasks they need to?
    • Does it work with the device my student has (or is getting)?
    • How easy will it be to store and transport?
    • How comfortable is it to use?
    • Does it support correct pencil grip? Does it need to?
    • Is it wide enough or too wide for my student’s hand?
    • Does it have batteries? Need charging? Who will make sure it’s ready to use each day?

    Final thoughts

    Just as with other accessories, make sure you keep the student’s learning needs as the highest priority. How will the keyboard or stylus improve your student’s ability to complete the tasks they need the equipment for? Look for the features that match the learning needs the best and any other benefits are just a nice bonus. Have a look in tech shops to see what keyboard and styluses they offer or have a chat to your local assistive technology coordinator to see what advice they have for you. They might also be able to provide equipment for a trial if you’re not sure whether it’s going to be suitable or not.

    Most importantly, if something isn’t working – change it! Assistive technology can only be assistive if it works for the student using it.

    If you have any other hints, tips or tricks for supporting students using assistive technologies, please let me know! As always, if you have any suggestions or questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

  • This article was originally published in the Ministry of Education's Assistive Technology Newsletter. To sign up to receive this newsletter, please email CAT.Help@education.govt.nz

    ““Accessories are important and becoming more and more important every day.”

    ― Giorgio Armani, Italian fashion designer

    Although I have a feeling Giorgio Armani was talking about a different kind of accessory than I am, his statement is just as true when it comes to the use of accessories in technology.

    Often, we focus on the primary device and how it is going to support the student to achieve. And rightly so. However, the accessories chosen to go with that device also play an essential role. They can enable greater independence, better access, and improve the overall experience for the student. They can also create barriers when the accessories chosen don’t match the needs of your student.

    Over the next few issues, I’m going to focus on some of the accessories that can be used with devices and what to consider when selecting the right one for your student. As always, the student’s essential learning needs should be at the heart of the decisions made.


    Protective Covers and Cases

    We usually recommend a protective cover or case for any tablet being used in a classroom environment. They provide some protection against bumps, knocks and drops, whether the tablet is being moved around the classroom or transported in a bag or backpack.

    Occasionally I get questions about whether a protective cover for a laptop or Chromebook is necessary. Covers for these devices are less commonly available. When they are available, the additional weight isn’t worth the potential protection for most students. Although breakages do happen, they are rare, as laptops aren’t picked up for use as frequently as tablets are (for photos or videos). They also tend to be used in one area, usually a classroom. In contrast, tablets are often taken to a larger variety of settings to capture photos and videos that can then be used back in the classroom.


    Examples of covers

    There are a wide variety of covers available for tablets like the iPad and Surface Pro. Below are some examples of covers that offer full protection (back and screen), drop protection, or light protection. Some come with stands, others have keyboard folios as well.

    Otterbox Defender Series Case for iPad

    3SIXT Apache Rugged Case

    SUPCASE Unicorn Beetle Pro Rugged Case

    SUPCASE Unicorn Beetle Rugged Case

    Gumdrop Hideaway for iPad 7th Gen

    NZSTEM Education Soft handle case

    UAG Metropolis Series Case for iPad

    STM Dux Plus Duo case for iPad

    Logitech Slim Combo keyboard case

    Gumdrop DropTech cover for Surface Pro


    Questions to consider

    When looking for a protective cover for a student, you’ll need to keep in mind what the device is being used for and what features are going to be most important for your student. All the cases in the table below have been successfully used on assistive technology devices, but not all cases will be successful for your student. Some questions you can consider include:

    • Does it have a stand? How easy is it to use?
    • Can the stand be used in both portrait and landscape modes?
    • If the stand includes a folio cover, does it get in the way of the camera when trying to take photos or videos?
    • Does it offer adjustable viewing angles?
    • How easy is it to use the buttons with the case on?
    • Does it come with a keyboard? Can this be removed? Does it get in the way of the camera?
    • If it has a keyboard, does it have any iOS shortcuts?
    • What guarantees of protection does it offer?
    • If it offers drop protection, from what height?
    • If it has screen protection, will this increase glare or have an impact on the touch surface?
    • Does it offer a place to store a stylus?
    • How much weight will it add to the device?

    Final thoughts

    It pays to think about why the student will need the cover and focus on the features that will meet this need best. Any other advantages it offers are just a bonus! Have a look in tech shops to see what covers they offer or have a chat to your local assistive technology coordinator to see what advice they can offer. They might also be able to provide equipment for a trial if you’re not sure whether it’s going to be suitable or not.

    Most importantly, if something isn’t working – change it! Assistive technology can only be assistive if it works for the student using it.

    If you have any other hints, tips or tricks for supporting students using digital technologies, please let me know! As always, if you have any suggestions or questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

  •  “I have yet to see a house that lacked sufficient storage. The real problem is that we have far more than we need or want.”

    ― Marie Kondo

    One of the features that is often mentioned in an assistive technology application for an iPad is file storage size. How much is ‘sufficient’ for regular student use? Let’s start by considering how much space different file types use:

    • Images - each photo taken will have a file size of between 1 and 5 MB. These tend to average about 3 MB each
    • Video - depends on the quality of recording, but starts at around 60 MB per minute for standard use
    • Apps - can range hugely in size, most educational apps seem to average about 200 MB. For example:
      • Book Creator: 124.6 MB
      • Keedogo Plus: 186.5 MB
      • iWordQ: 305 MB
      • Mathletics: 61.4 MB
      • Google Docs: 233.5 MB
      • Writing Wizard: 51.3 MB
    • eBooks – 300-400 page books are around 0.4 MB
    • Audiobooks - each minute of audiobook is about 0.2 MB in storage space, with average audiobooks being about 10 hours

    Alongside all of that, some file space will be filled up with the files necessary for running the iPad (system files). So on an average 32 GB iPad you could have:

    • System files = 6 GB
    • Apps: 20 essential educational apps = 4 GB
    • Photos: 1000 most recent = 3 GB
    • Video: 2 hours of standard recordings = 12 GB
    • eBooks: 100 books = 40 MB
    • Audiobooks: 5 of up to 10 hours each = 600 MB
    • Free space = 6+ GB (for student work etc.)

    Therefore, for most students, 32GB is going to be sufficient to meet all of their education needs.


    Tips to maximise storage

    Of course, we all know that some students will love taking loads of photos and videos, so here are my top storage tips:

    1. Explicitly teach students how to practice good file management.

    Students won’t need to keep EVERY photo or video they make for their learning. Teach students to set aside time each day/week/month to review their photos and delete the unnecessary ones. Show them that photos are held in a ‘deleted items’ folder for up to 30 days, so they can recover photos if necessary. Alternatively, consider using Google Photos to backup photos (see below for more info).

    1. Regularly review the apps on a student’s iPad to ensure they’re still relevant and necessary.

    If a student has moved on from an app and no longer uses it, perhaps it’s time to delete the app (make sure you’ve saved a copy of any work they might have done inside the app first). Remember that assistive technology iPads are essential tools for students to access the NZ curriculum, so priority should be given to those apps that support the student’s engagement and achievement in learning.

    1. Utilise the free storage that students get with school Google or OneDrive accounts

    By storing files in Google Drive or OneDrive, students will have ready access to their work whenever they are connected to Wi-Fi but the files themselves aren’t all stored on the iPad. The Google Drive and OneDrive apps act as portals to these files instead.


    Using the Google Photos app

    By using this app, students can have all their photos and videos backed up automatically. They can also remove photos from their iPad quickly and simply.

    To use the app, your student will need a Google account. This should be an account that the student will have long-term access to (especially if they’re likely to need or want their photos after they move schools). A Gmail account can be set up on behalf of a student for this purpose so long as the account is managed by an adult (i.e. only adults have the password for it).

    When asked to confirm upload size, I recommend choosing "High Quality" because:

    1. Photos uploaded at this size do not count against the free Google Drive storage associated with your Google Account.  Unfortunately, this ended at 30 June 2021. 
    2. It won't affect the quality of the photos you've taken on your iPad. The high quality option compresses photos to a 16 MP maximum, but at this point, all iPads already take photos at 16 MP or smaller.

    For further detailed instructions on how to use this app, please visit Google support: http://bit.ly/photosbackup 

    If you have any other hints, tips or tricks for maximising iPad usage, please let me know! As always, if you have any suggestions or questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


    This article was originally published in the Ministry of Education's Assistive Technology Newsletter. To sign up to receive this newsletter, please email CAT.Help@education.govt.nz

  • I am regularly asked about whether noise cancelling headphones are necessary to help students with sensory processing difficulties concentrate more easily. My response is usually something along the lines of “probably not”. Let me explain…

    Passive Noise Cancelling (Noise isolating)

    Noise-cancelling headphones come in either active or passive types. Passive types are sometimes called ‘noise-isolating’ headphones. All headphones can provide some noise reduction because headphones cover or fit in ears and block out some sound waves, especially those at higher frequencies. The best passive noise-cancelling headphones either fit firmly within the ear canal or are packed with layers of sound-absorbing material and fit snugly all the way around the ears.

    Active Noise Cancelling

    Active noise-cancelling headphones add an extra level of noise reduction by actively erasing lower-frequency sound waves. They do this by creating their own sound waves that mimic the incoming noise in every respect except one: the headphone's sound waves are 180 degrees out of phase with the intruding waves.

    This illustration shows how this works: The two waves have the same amplitude and frequency, but their crests and troughs are arranged so that the crests of one wave line up with the troughs of the other wave and vice versa. These two waves cancel each other out, a phenomenon known as destructive interference.

    Several components are required to achieve this effect:

    • Microphone - this "listens" to external sounds
    • Noise-cancelling circuitry – Electronics sense the input from the microphone and generate a "fingerprint" of the noise. Then, they create a new wave that is 180 degrees out of phase with this noise.
    • Speaker - The "anti-sound" created by the noise-cancelling circuitry is fed into the headphones' speakers along with the normal audio to create the destructive interference.
    • Battery – to run the microphone, noise-cancelling circuitry and speaker (will require either charging or replacing)

    The human factor

    You might already have started to guess that all this means noise needs to be fairly predictable for the computer circuitry to produce the opposing sound wave. But there’s another complicating factor: current active noise cancelling technology works best for frequencies below 500 Hz and is somewhat effective only up to about 1000 Hz. Engine noise and traffic rumble are mostly below 500 Hz and so are greatly reduced or even completely eliminated through active noise cancelling. However, the important frequency range for understanding human speech only starts at around 500 Hz. The most important bands for speech intelligibility are 500 Hz, 1000 Hz, 2000 Hz, and 4000 Hz. Consequently, most active noise cancelling headphones do not block this noise at all and because the lower ambient noise is blocked, the voices can actually sound louder.

    In the classroom

    In classroom situations, active noise cancelling technology does not provide significant advantages and the costs are quite high (headphones start at around $250). Instead, consider looking for quality over-ear headphones with padding that will enable a comfortable snug fit around the ears. Also consider whether an in-line or boom microphone may be required.

    Another option that could be considered is Bluetooth earmuffs. These will provide industrial level noise-isolation while still allowing the Bluetooth connected device to be heard. The downside is that these headphones are unlikely to have a microphone as well. Remember that Bluetooth devices need to be charged regularly (or have batteries replaced). They can also be quite a firm fit on the head and may not be sized for younger students.

    As always, if you have any suggestions or questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

  • “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”

    ― Dr. Seuss

    “The more that you read, the more things you will know.” This certainly appears to be true, as a meta-analysis by Mol & Bus (2011) indicates that “frequent readers are more successful students”. However, what about those students who struggle to access texts by themselves? How can technology be used to support these students?

    Ministry of Education’s Agreement with Microsoft

    The Ministry of Education has a number of agreements with software developers that allow state and state-integrated schools access to software at no cost (http://www.education.govt.nz/school/digital-technology/software/). Included in this agreement is Microsoft Office 365 which includes web and desktop versions of Word, OneNote, Outlook, etc. When a school activates their licence, staff and students at the school can access this software on both school and personal devices.  

    Microsoft Learning Tools

    Learning Tools are embedded in some of the Office products to support learners in several ways. Learning Tools are available in Word, Word Online, OneNote, OneNote Online, Outlook Online, and Microsoft Edge (web browser).

    Immersive Reader

    One of the Learning Tools is called Immersive Reader. This supports students’ reading by allowing them to easily set things like font size, line width, and page colour. 

    Screenshot of OneNote Immersive Reader text options

    There is also an option for students to use a picture dictionary to support comprehension:

    Screenshot of OneNote with Immersive Reader option showing picture dictionary

    One of the more interesting features is to have breaks shown between syllables in words. This means students are supported to see ‘chunks’ of words more easily and may improve word recognition for some students.

    Screenshot from OneNote of Immersive Reader showing syllables

    Read aloud not just for comprehension!

    Immersive Reader allows you to have the document read aloud to you, even when the text is in a photo or image (in OneNote). This removes the barrier of text decoding for many students, but even more than that it can be a powerful proof-reading tool as the computer will read exactly what you wrote rather than what you thought you wrote!

    Screenshot of OneNote showing text being read aloud

    An alternative pencil

    For those who struggle to get their thoughts and ideas onto paper, Dictate allows students to have their speech turned into text. This removes the barrier of trying to remember what letters make each sound, or how particular words are spelled. It often allows students to use their extensive oral vocabulary more effectively. Dictate is only available in some Microsoft apps. However, if your device has an inbuilt dictation option, this might also work. 

    Office365 Word showing dictation feature


    More information

    To learn more about using these tools, please visit: https://www.microsoft.com/en-nz/education/products/learning-tools/


    If you have any other hints, tips or tricks for supporting students using digital technologies, please let me know! As always, if you have any suggestions or questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

  • “Accessibility is not a feature, is a social trend.”

    ― Antonio Santos, influencer on Digital Transformation, Accessibility and Digital Inclusion

    In an interview in 2016, the head of Google’s accessibility program, Eve Andersson, told the reporter that inclusive design means more than just hacking an app or product so that people with disabilities can use it. It’s something that benefits literally everyone. Apple’s website states that “the true value of a device isn’t measured by how powerful it is, but by how much it empowers you.”

    What these companies and others are talking about is at the core of universal design. This is the idea that a product should be able to be used by anyone, not just those with a particular set of abilities. To help meet these objectives, and possibly to meet some of the legal requirements of companies in the USA, most technologies made these days includes options to allow you to personalise devices and software to meet your needs.

    Two of the most useful features to use in classrooms are text-to-speech – the ability to have your device read text aloud to you – and speech-to-text – talking into your device and having your words recorded as text.



    All devices I’ve checked so far have some capacity for this built into them. Most of them rely on an internet connection and the success of it can sometimes come down to how fast and reliable the connection is.

    Text to speech generally only works on text that is selectable (like on websites or in Word documents). Text that is hidden in images (like in a scanned PDF) is often a bit harder to read. There are some programmes that can do this though (Microsoft OneNote has a feature called Immersive Reader which analyses images for text and uses Optical Character Recognition to read it).

    The most common problems that arise with text-to-speech are mispronunciations (e.g. Māori words and some names are often mispronounced and words that have two pronunciations depending on meaning: wind the rope up/the wind is blowing strongly) and some students find the slightly robotic nature of the voices tiring to listen to, although technology is always improving there. This can sometimes be helped by changing the “voice” that the device uses. Some devices also have the ability for you to manually define how to pronounce words.

    To use text-to-speech on some common devices visit:


    Dictation or Speech-to-Text

    Voice dictation can be a powerful tool to enable students to get a lot of information in writing quickly. It does require some practice though as it requires quite a bit of thinking to work well. I encourage teachers to explicitly teach strategies like:

    • Practice what you want to say first (particularly when first learning how to use dictation)
    • Speaking clearly and at a good pace (like a news-reader)
    • Speak in complete sentences – students can stop the device in between sentences if necessary
    • Learn commands for basic punctuation (like commas, full stops, etc.) as these need to be said if you want them included (of course you can edit the text later if necessary)
    • Use a microphone – either use a gaming-type headset (with a boom mic) or an inline-mic such as those found on the earbuds that come with mobile phones

    Dictation only works well for students who have reasonably consistent pronunciation of English sounds (there can be some problems if a student has a very strong accent for example), do not stammer or stutter, and who do not use a lot of interjections (like you know like when you like talk like this? Or ums, ers, etc.). The inbuilt dictation options in Google Docs (Voice Typing), Android and Apple products tend to work the best in my experience, but all are worth trying. If a student has an unusual, but consistent, way of pronouncing words, then software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking can be used as it allows you to ‘train’ the software to understand the user. This requires quite a lot of practice and patience to be successful.

    Adults often underestimate the cognitive load required to successfully dictate to a machine. If you’d like to see what it’s like, try dictating an email to a friend using the inbuilt options of your own devices:


    Getting support when you need it

    There are some IT support systems available to schools and educators which are funded through the Ministry. These include:


    If you have any other hints, tips or tricks for supporting students using digital technologies, please let me know! As always, if you have any suggestions or questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

  • This month, I am taking a closer look at two apps that are commonly used to support literacy. Clicker Docs and iWordQ UK are word processing apps which provide additional help for those who find writing a challenge. These apps work best when the user is able to make reasonable guesses at the start of words (first 2-3 letters/sounds) and can recognise words either orally or by sight. The app guide compares the features between the two commonly used apps to help you make an informed choice about which would best suit your student’s identified learning needs. The features listed here apply to the iPad version of the apps only.


    Clicker Docs

    Clicker Docs app logo

    iWordQ UK

    iWordQ UK Logo




    Special Features

    A simple text editor is used for writing with the support of word prediction, spell-check and speech feedback features.

    Word Banks provide tabbed vocabulary support for any subject or topic area - just tap a word to add it to the document. Make your own Word Banks (entering one by one or from a list) or use the free, ready-made Word Banks on the LearningGrids site, accessible from within the app.

    Organise documents and word banks into folders.

    In app help guide.

    Has two modes:

    Writing mode uses word prediction, abbreviation-expansion and speech feedback features. Spell-check and dictionary access is included.

    Reading mode can be used for proofreading, reading to learn, reading aloud, and casual reading/listening.

    Use your own customized abbreviation-expansions, also known as text macros, to simplify your writing. Abbreviations are also shown in the prediction list. Expansions can include any character including punctuation and multiple paragraphs.

    Word Prediction

    The word predictor suggests words that fit the context of students’ writing. The predictor can be customised according to reading level and number of words. Learners can listen to words in both the predictor and the spell checker before using them by using the unique Sound Shift tool.

    Predicted words are displayed as you type. Tap a predicted word to select it. Examples of usage are provided to help distinguish close-sounding words (including homonyms). Even if you are creative in your spelling, iWordQ will still predict. As you move the text cursor, predictions are shown accurately.


    Incorrect words underlined in red. Listen for mistakes while sentences are spoken. Use Sound Shift tool to highlight any word and hear it spoken. Long tap to select all and hear page spoken.

    Incorrect words underlined in red. Listen for mistakes while sentences are spoken. Tap an individual word to highlight it and hear it spoken. Touch and swipe across more than one word to highlight a group of words that will be spoken out when you lift your finger.


    Able to choose to have each letter, word, and/or sentence read aloud as you type. Select from UK, US, or Australian voices. Children’s voices are either male or female for each accent.

     Able to choose to have each letter, word, and/or sentence read aloud as you type. Touch and hold a predicted word to hear it spoken. Double-tap a word to select a word; drag to extend selection, then select ‘Speak’ to hear the selection. Two options for voices: adult male or female (UK accent).

    Customisable options

    Document: font type (including Sassoon), font size, background colour, text colour

    Speech: voice, speed, highlight colour

    Spell Check & Prediction: on or off, number of words predicted (3-8), size of predicted words, sounds like prediction level, prediction database size (set small for early readers/writers)


    Writing Mode Settings:

    Prediction: on/off, examples on/off, creative spelling on/off, number of words predicted (3-10), position of predicted words, font size

    Vocabulary: my words (custom words), examples dictionary can be customised

    Abbreviations: set up abbreviations of commonly used phrases (e.g. in the weekend could be shortened to itw)

    Appearance: colour scheme (black/white/paper), font type, line spacing

    Speech: voice, pronunciation exceptions (customise pronunciations - e.g. Māori)

    iPad Features: iOS prediction on/off, iOS spelling suggestions on/off, iOS definitions on/off

    Reading Mode Settings:

    Text Chunking: on/off, pause time

    Reading speed: very slow to very fast

    Line spacing: 1.2, 1.5 or 2

    Letter spacing: 0, 1 or 2


    Print your work to any Airprint-compatible printer, or share it via email, AirDrop, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive or WebDAV.

    Print your work to any Airprint-compatible printer, or share it through Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive. There are also options to send to message, email, PDF, Cloud Drive, and other apps. My experiences with this were a bit hit and miss though (e.g. although it said it sent to Book Creator, nothing appeared in that app).

    Txt file documents can also be downloaded from iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive.


    Keyboard options to navigate by letter or word using arrow keys. SuperKeys option to group letter keys into clusters, creating six large areas to target. Tap the cluster containing the letter you want, and then tap the letter in the enlarged cluster. The predictor/ spellchecker has four size options too, to make words easy to select.

    None specific to this app.


    Limitations and other options

    As mentioned in the introduction, use of these types of apps is limited by the user’s prior knowledge of language (although the word banks in Clicker Docs can support vocabulary). The spoken features and word prediction only work within the app (i.e. while you’re using Clicker Docs or iWordQ UK). If you want to use the writing in another app (e.g. Book Creator, Google Docs) you’d need to copy and paste the text from one app to the other.

    There are alternative applications, however the ones tested most recently had less accuracy with word prediction and required more keystrokes. Another alternative could be a word prediction keyboard like Keedogo Plus. This app works as a third-party keyboard and is able to be accessed while in other apps (e.g. Pages, Word, Google Docs). It doesn’t have any spoken features, however the iPad Accessibility options for speech may work instead.

  • The iPad has accessibility tools and options to assist students who are Deaf or Hard of hearing.

    These can be accessed via ‘General Settings’ > ‘Accessibility’, scroll down to ‘Hearing’,

     Some of the features the student could use are:

    • bluetooth to connect hearing aids or microphones

    • mono audio (with left and right volume balance)

    • a speech to text function

    Scroll further down under ‘Media’, - Subtitles, captioning and audio descriptions are also available.

    Students with hearing loss may use a number of assistive devices to access the school curriculum. Use of any technology will vary depending on individual need.

    Some may use technology items all the time in class, others may find continual use unsuitable and may choose to use alternatives in combination with New Zealand Sign language.

    Information on technology for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can be found via this link:  http://inclusive.tki.org.nz/guides/digital-technology/

    Every situation and every student is different. Supporting their learning needs will be different in each case.

    Ministry of Education Assistive Technology fund Remote Microphone (RM) hearing systems for students with a diagnosed hearing impairment see: http://www.education.govt.nz/school/student-support/special-education/assistive-technology/make-an-assessment-and-apply-for-assistive-technology/

    Many apps are available to support captioning, these can be variations of ‘speech recognition’ technology.

     Speech recognition (SR) technology has a wide range of applications in education, from captioning video, voice controlled computer operation, and dictation.

    Speech recognition tools such as Dragon Naturally Speaking; Recogniser HD; Voice Dictation  are reported by various online reviewers as having up to 98% accuracy, however the accuracy of spontaneous speech for real time captioning can produce different results.

    CAT has been investigating captioning, speech recognition apps and the default capability on iPad Air. The inquiry explored the accuracy of text (correct words, wrong words and missing words) and suitability of the technology to be used in captioning by students who are Deaf or Hard of hearing.

    The following apps were tested in July 2016, using a set script of 140 words (including some Māori words). None of the apps recognised Māori words correctly. The word Māori appeared as ‘mouldy’ or ‘murray’. All apps responded to punctuation cues such as “full stop”, “new paragraph”.

    All apps required Wifi to operate.

    The tests were carried out in a quiet room using my voice (English /Australian).  In most tests English / British or English /Australian was used.

    The iPad was held approximately 3 to 5 centimetres away from the face whilst talking in a normal tone and speed.


    iCantHear    Free  


    This speech to text app is powered by Nuance (the makers of Dragon and Speech Recogniser).

    Internet connection is required or the app won’t work. The app needs to be open on another browser, and on another device, to get started. The URL present on the other device will display the same text message so the student can read the text and respond. Streaming text is not instant (5 seconds delay). Text automatically clears after a short pause in speech. Colour or size of font cannot be adjusted.

    This app performed poorly. The speaker needs to speak slowly and clearly one sentence at a time.

    Test results: 82/140 correct words. 8 wrong words. 50 missed words.


    LiveCaption $5.99


    LiveCaption requires Wifi to operate. LiveCaption works in its own environment with its own keyboard.

    Tap the microphone icon to commence. Text size can be altered and the text and background can be changed from black to white.

    Captioning may not be as accurate with strong accents or children’s voices. LiveCaption will work with most bluetooth voice input devices e.g. headsets and in-ear microphones. LiveCaption can be easily edited and does not record or store voice or text after use. This app performed reasonably well with continued and fluent recording.

    Test results: 117/140 correct words. 3 wrong words. 20 missing words

    iPad dictation 

    iPad Air  Dictation        Free


    iPad’s Dictation is rather good at translating voice into speech. Tap the microphone button on the iPad’s onscreen keyboard. A wavy line appears at the bottom of the screen. Start talking.

    While testing - at around 65 words, it stopped.

    The microphone icon on the keyboard had to be pressed again to continue. Dictation is not available on older iPads (iOS6 below) The default  speech recognition is reasonably good if this is the only Speech recognition tool you have.

    Test results:  128/140 correct words. 10 wrong words. 2 missing words

    Screen Shot 2016-09-22 at 2.34.01 PM.png 

    Speech Recogniser HD $6.99


    Speech Recogniser is another product developed by Nuance and far superior to the iCantHear app. This app will translate your speech into more than 40 languages. You can copy your text to other apps and hear translations being read aloud. This APP has a problem of stopping after each paragraph, so you have to tap the recording button again. There is a speech end detection switch in Settings as well as tools to change font and turn on/off sound effects.

    Test results: 132/140 words. 6 wrong words. 1missing word. 1 spelling mistake.


    Dragon. Free


     Dragon is available in both iOS and Android platforms. This app requires no voice training /profiling. Dragon has no note storage, so you need to screen shot your text if you are wanting to save it and store on the iPad. There is no button to delete all the dictated text so you have to delete using the keyboard. Text stopped after 103 words. The microphone button had to be tapped to continue.

    This app performed as the most accurate out of all tested.

    Test Result:  136/140 correct words.  4 wrong words (Maori). 0 missing words

    Additional information:

    NZSL dictionary 

    New Zealand Sign Language Dictionary. Free


    The New Zealand Sign Language Dictionary contains diagrams and video for over 4,000 words and phrases. All the diagrams are built in to the application so they can be viewed offline. Internet or Wifi are required to view videos.

    For more information on Assistive Technology please contact www.cat.help@education.govt.nz

    If you have additional information on technology to assist Deaf or Hard of Hearing students, I welcome your contributions.

    Many Thanks








  • The black box technique, (also known as the tools in the SETT framework) is very simple. It allows you to make a recommendation for appropriate technology for a student even if you have never heard of that technology before.

    SETT is an acronym for:

    • Student – know your student’s learning needs and abilities

    • Environment – understand the demands of the learning environment

    • Tasks – set learning goals and know the tasks the student is expected to do to achieve those goals

    • Tools – identify the right technology to support the student (black box)

    This blog on the AutisMate website gives a good explanation

    Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 12.54.19 pm.png

    Image from http://autismate.blogspot.co.nz

    Black box techniqueimage

    Simply imagine that you are giving your student a black box. List the features that the black box would need to have to support that student’s learning. Once you have developed the list, use it to select technology options with the specific features you are looking for.


    Here is an example of a feature list for a student whose learning goals are to improve their independence in tasks involving reading and writing. They also aim to improve the legibility and quality of their writing and increase their output:

    • keyboard access – for increased speed and improved legibility because the student struggles to write with a pen

    • provides spelling support – because their difficulty with spelling tends to stop the flow of writing and this, in turn, means the student often gives up

    • text-to-speech – so they can have their work, and other text, read aloud to them as their reading level is below their comprehension level

    • save and review work – so they can edit and easily change work

    • portable - from class to class and from school home

    • dedicated - able to be used all day and in all classroom situations

    • long life battery – able to be used all day

    • quick and easy to use e.g. open and load/ able to get started with work

    The black box technique is great because it takes the focus off the technology and back onto the students learning needs.

    If you come up with a list and have no idea what technology would be a good match you can then get help from a technology expert. The district technology coordinator at your local Ministry of education office may be able to provide some ideas – or post here and we may be able to help.

    Note: this blog replaces an earlier version that was deleted due to my change in profile/workplace

  • Visual Support – Review of Visual Schedule Apps for iPad

    Visual schedules are a great tool to help students keep up with their daily school routines. They can increase independence and reduce the need for continuous teacher/parent intervention.

    This study focuses mainly on older students (intermediate and secondary students)and we have also included a couple of recommendations for early learners at the end of the review.

    Some of our older students  have difficulty with transitions. This can significantly limit a student’s ability to independently complete activities across environments throughout the school day.

    They have been shown to be effective in decreasing the latency time between activities and in increasing students’ skills to transition independently from one environment to another. Support by visual schedules contributes greatly to the reduction of stress, anxiety and behavioural issues.

    A wide range of visual scheduling apps were trialled.Each was downloaded from the iTunes store.

     An extensive testing criteria was covered, such as customisability; text to speech options; category and picture library; voice recording; speech to text; alarm functions; video; language; ease of use and device compatibility.

    Results were mixed. A number of apps were quite simple in design and use. Some were obviously more suited to a younger student as well as relying a lot on adult input and control.

    Here are the ones that are better suited to the older student. All are compatible with iPhones and iPod Touch.

    Visual Schedule Planner 1JPG.JPG Visual Schedule Planner ($18.99) http://www.goodkarmaapplications.com

    The Visual Schedule Planner came out as the best performer.

    It has an extensive scheduling system with well thought out features such as being able to link to exterior video, prompting and reminder options, a reward/point system and provision of home/school notes. There are more customisation options than iPrompts.

     At first glance, it seems busy, but persevere. Once customised, it works really well. You can add your own voice recordings, photos and messages.

    I suggest you watch the Vimeo on You Tube. It gives clear instructions on use.

    My Daily tasks.JPG My Daily Tasks. ($16.99) https://www.abelvox.com

    Similar to the Visual Schedule Planner, however...BUYER BEWARE!!

    If you buy the LITE version (which is the only one advertised in iTunes store), there is a hidden cost. For an extra $12.99 you can purchase the voice engine. There are up to 83 different voice engines and 20 languages. Your extra payment only buys one voice. Without this, the app is virtually useless as you can’t access languages, sounds or video. It seems a shame the developers have done this and not been upfront. Otherwise, it would have been a good alternative to the Visual Schedule Planner.

     iPromptsJPG.JPG iPrompts.($64.99) http://www.handholdadaptive.com

    This app is supposed to be one of the top research – based apps that provides visual support. It has some reasonably good features such as video modelling assets and an extensive picture library with drawn characters (male and female versions).

    You can add your own photos to the library but you cannot add your own videos.You can add a number of steps to any schedule and add a timer to activities.

    There are a few drawbacks: the obvious one - the cost, but also the video modelling is presented in American accents and uses colloquial language (e.g. “turn the sink on” when washing hands). Because of the cost take a close look at it first to make sure it fits your child’s needs before you buy.            

     Visual Routine.JPG  Visual Schedule ($4.99) http://a4cws.com

    This is a very simple app that has no timer or alarm and does not have a video function.

     It has a basic step by step process. The schedule is easy to program and use. It has a limited picture library but allows flexibility in adding your own text, audio or images to routine steps.

    It also has a unique feature which allows embedding of up to four choices within a routine step. These can be used for choices (e.g. as part of a morning routine: the choices of toast or cereal could be embedded into one step. You can use this feature to break down a step into a smaller,” bite- size” step. It is suitable for a student who just needs a little support in remembering what to do next or training a younger child into sequencing or routine.

    Recommended for Early Learners

     First & Then Kidex.JPG First &Then ($ 2.59)https://www.kidex.com.au

     This simple app is based on a “first –then” strategy. There are two screens (First, Then) where tasks and activities can be modified as needed. You can add your own photos from your file. It has a timer and a 'finished' box as well.

    This is a good starter app for sequencing and shaping learning behaviour. You can also make a low tech version using a laminate template and customised picture icons.

      Time TimerJPG.JPG Time Timer ($6.98) http://timetimer.com

    This is an easy to use app that helps children and students to visualise time e.g. how much time is left for an activity.

    There are three kinds of clock face (Original 60 minutes, Custom, and Clock).You can choose four timers with four different colours to use at once or one at a time per activity. Digital or analogue time can be used.

    There are a lot of visual scheduling apps out there. Remember to think about what your  student needs before you purchase one.

    Use the Black Box technique to help you (see our earlier Assistive Technology Discussion pages for this information).

    For more information from this review email me at cat.help@minedu.govt.nz

    Next month : Social Stories


Assistive Technology

Assistive Technology

Using technology to support students with disabilities and special learning needs.