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  • Updated May 2018

    Voice typing (also called Speech Recognition) allows you to talk to a computer and it types words as you speak. The software has improved significantly in the last few years and is now a real option for text entry.


    As most people speak significantly faster than they type, the software has huge potential when large amounts of writing are required. These programs and apps like you to speak in whole sentences and can cope with up to 160 words per minute.


    Voice typing is appropriate for anyone but has special significance for students who have a physical difficulty that means they are unable to use arms and/or hands, for those with repetitive stress injuries and those with handwriting legibility, spelling and other writing problems.

    Inclusion issues

    Before using voice typing consider how comfortable or appropriate it is to have a student or group of students talking their work aloud in a classroom. Some students may be reluctant to speak in front of their peers.


    Because of these issues students are sometimes sent to other rooms to do speech recognition and this, in turn, may lead to the student being isolated from their peers.


    All of the following programs were tested in a quiet room using my voice (adult female with NZ accent) reading from a school field trip notice. The notice was five paragraphs (396 words) – about ⅔ of a page long. In most tests I used Australian English (or British if there was no Australian option). All tests were conducted without any prior training or preparation.


    The computer tests were done with a modestly prices headset ($70 - $100 range). The iPad tests were done without any added microphone (and we assume that results would improve with, for example, a Bluetooth headset)


    Dragon Naturally Speaking - (98% accuracy) home version approx $120

    Dragon Naturally Speaking v13 for Windows was the best product tested with an impressive 98% accuracy over two tests (with no training). Dragon has several other advantages over other programs tested:

    • It can also be used completely hands free – to control a computer, open programs, navigate the desktop etc

    • It can be used with continuous speech

    • It can be used offline (does not need active wireless to work)

    • Dragon can be trained to recognise new words (including for example Māori words).

    Mac computers - (96.5% accuracy) free in OS

    Speech recognition is available free with Mac operating system (see Systems, Dictation and Speech).

    Google doc's (97% accuracy) - free in doc's

    Google has just introduced Voice Typing in their normal toolbar. Click on Tools - Voice typing and the microphone will appear to the left of your page.  

    iPad and iPhone dictation - (95% accuracy) free in iOS

    The iPad default dictation can be used in place of the keyboard any time by pressing the microphone icon on the standard iPad keyboard.  It places text directly where you want it (without any copy and paste hassles).


    • No microphone on your keyboard?

      • try enabling dictation (settings, general, keyboard, enable dictation)

      • try enabling siri (settings, general, siri)

      • check you are online…..

    • Still no microphone? – you probably have an older iPad (iPad 1 or 2) which does not have the voice typing feature. Use the free app instead – Dragon. This works well but you have to copy the text from the app to where you are writing.

    Windows Dictate Add In 

    New to me in 2018 and colleagues have indicated that it works very well.

    Online Dictation (92% accuracy) free online

    This has good recognition but text has to be copied from this dialogue box to where you need it.

    Android phone (not yet tested)

    This has good recognition but text has to be copied from this dialogue box to where you need it.

    Other results

    ReadWrite for Google (90% accuracy) - NZ$128/annum or free for educators.

    Tested in Sept 2014 - this google extension performed poorly. I have not re-tested it as I no longer have access to the free version.

    Microsoft  (73% accuracy) - free in OS

    Tested April 2015 - this option was tested under the same conditions as the other laptops and the resulting 104 errors from 396 words meant it was the worst performer of the test.

    If you recommend other options please let us know.

  • Updated Nov 2015

    Text-to-speech software converts text into speech, reading written information aloud. I dream of a time when every computer used by students has text-to-speech enabled so that students can have that support whenever they want it.

    Text-to-speech allows students to access text above their current reading age and supports students with learning or reading difficulties, people with some visual impairment, or those who prefer to hear rather than read.

    Audio feedback is also a powerful editing tool as it reads the text as it is written rather than what the writer thought they had written.

    Most products allow you to save the speech as an audio file and load it onto other devices such as an mp3 player or iPod. This options is great for reading when you are mobile - for example walking home, on the bus or in the car.

    Obviously read aloud in the classroom can be quite disruptive so headphones are essential. These days we often don’t need to provide headphones as many students, especially seniors, carry them in their pocket with their portable music players.

    Screen readers are not discussed here. They are designed for people with little or no vision and they read all computer activity rather than just the text.

    See this video Dyslexia – Using an iPad to support learning on the enabling elearning website for an example of the power of text to speech.

    Free text-to-speech options

    Mac operating system

    All Mac computers include an excellent text-to-speech program. It has great voices and can speak text from any location, including text on internet pages. Highlight the text and then press the key combination to speak.

    Set key combination: Systems preference → speech → text-to-speech tab → speak selected text when key is pressed → set key. Save audio files to iTune go to System preferences → services → services preferences.

    iPad and iPhone

    Apple’s portable devices can read text in most apps aloud once you enable ‘speak selection’.

    Settings → general →accessibility →speak selection. Once enabled, simply select any piece of text and the pop-up menu will offer the “speak” option. Save as audio is not available.

    Google chrome (Google Apps for Education) & Chromebooks

    Read & Write for Google (Google Chrome extension)

    This is a comprehensive literacy support toolbar that works as an extension in the Google Chrome web browser and supports work in Google drive including Google docs. It does not work well in Google slides as it reads all of the menus before the selected text.

    A 30 day free trial the full program is available for download. After 30 days a few features remain, including text-to-speech and the translator. 

    Select and Speak (Google Chrome Extension)

    This simple add on reads selected text on the web in Google Chrome web browser and supports work in Google drive including Google docs (but not in Google slides). This app limits the number of words that can be read each day and does not cope well with large passages of text.

    Announcify (Google Chrome Extension)

    This extension is good for reading large amounts of text or whole pages from the web. When text is selected, announcify shows it on a de-cluttered page and reads from top to bottom. It smudges out all but the current paragraph so students can follow along more easily. It does not work on Google Docs.

    SpeakIt (Google Chrome Extension)

    Speak it worked well on most web sites but not in Google docs.

    Windows options

    Microsoft Office - all of the Office products (Word, Excel, Onenote & PowerPoint) have a 'speak' icon that can be added to the quick access toolbar (or in Office 16 to any part of the ribbon).

    Use the small icon on the side of the quick access toolbar → more commands → select all commands at the top → scroll down to 'speak' → add →ok.

    Microsoft Speak icon

    Balabalka (Windows free download)

    Balabalka opens as a window and uses the voices already installed on your computer to read text. It includes links for additional voices on their website.

    Opens files such as .doc .pdf, .txt, and HTML. Text can be cut and pasted or typed directly into the window. Save audio files as .mp3, mp4 and .wav and many more formats.

    DSpeech (Windows free download)

    DSpeech opens as a window and uses the voices already installed on your computer to read text. You can configure different pieces of text with different voices to create a conversation or play scenario.

    If you know of any other products in this range we would love to hear your reviews

  • 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


  • To add Google extensions and apps go to the Chrome Web Store (‘Windows’ tab - ‘Extensions’ - scroll down to web store).


    The extensions work from within your Chrome web browser (look at the top right hand side of your toolbar) and apps are found in your app launcher.


    Extensions and apps can support support students working in Google Apps for Education (GAFE) including google docs and are available for those using Chromebooks.


    Star rating: I have included my personal 5 star rating but this should be used with caution because the best app will always depend on students learning needs.

    WordQ for Chrome imageimageimageimage4/5

    This app supports writing by offering word prediction, text to speech and topic lists. It operates as a separate window (not a toolbar or add-on) and has a very simple clean format.


    The word prediction in this app performed very well in our tests and is comparable to the other versions of WordQ (see previous reviews for software and iPad app). Usage examples of predicted words are available and everything can be read aloud with a choice of high quality voices.


    Documents made in the app automatically save in google doc format into google drive. It works online and offline.

    WordQ Extension

    The app costs NZ$18.99 but a 15 day free trial is available.

    ThoughtQ for Chrome imageimageimageimageimage 5/5

    This app supports web research and I cannot recommend it highly enough for both teachers and students. It would work well for students working at level 3 of the curriculum and above (or with support at lower levels).


    The app is set up to search the web on any topic (like a google search box). Once you have chosen a search the ThoughtQ generates a page with three parts:

    1. Topic word list (auto generated)
    2. Web and picture search results for the search term
    3. Viewing box - click on the search results to add to the viewing box - if you like them leave them there and add the next one you like. If they are no good simply remove them. You can also open or create a google doc within the viewing box to take notes or copy parts of each web page as you go

    Once the student has selected the web pages they are interested in they can go to the menu to generate a URL’s list (reference list) or topic word list. These can be copied to the clipboard and used in other documents. ThoughtQ topic lists can also be added into WordQ.


    All parts of ThoughtQ can be read aloud to you and web pages can be de-cluttered. Both tools work extremely well.

    The app costs NZ$8.99 but a 15 day free trial is available.

    Read&Write for Google (variable)

    Designed to support struggling readers and writers, Read&Write provides a number of literacy support features when you are online. See our earlier review here.


    After the 30 day free trial two free tools remain: imageimageimageimage

    • free text to speech - allows you to have anything read aloud when you are in the Google web browser. It is easy to use and works well.
    • translation

    Other tools available in the premium versions (US$100/annum but free for teachers) include:

    • picture dictionary - simple pictures in symbol format that are easy to understand

    • dictionary definitions - in plain simple english

    • highlights tool -  allows the student to highlight parts of a document with different colours and use a single click to collect these creating notes and key points.  This tool is also available free in google docs as an add on (see add-ons menu in your toolbar).

    • speech recognition and word prediction tools - I tested these again and found that they did not perform well. image

    Grammarly imageimage

    Grammarly is a spelling and grammar checker. It automatically identifies issues and suggests changes as you are writing on the web including in gmail, facebook and twitter.


    Unfortunately this extension does not work in Google docs. To use the free version of Grammarly to support writing you can cut and paste, write or open files in grammarly’s separate window and then copy the text back into your document later.


    I reviewed the accuracy of the spelling support using the two sentences we have used in previous word prediction tests. These were examples of very poor spelling and Grammarly did not cope at all well (correcting 19/30 & 30/55 in our two test sentences) though it performed significantly better than Google docs.


    I then compared Grammarly, Google Docs (right click) and Microsoft Word with a paragraph of text at a higher level and Grammarly performed much better (about the same as the Microsoft Word default spell and grammar check).

    • Grammarly = 5/8 corrected
    • Google docs = 2/8 corrected (spelling only)
    • Microsoft Word = 5/8 corrected

    The paid version integrates with microsoft word and includes additional vocabulary enhancement, plagiarism and professional proofreading. US$139/annum or US$29.95/month.

    Other apps:

    Readability imageimage

    Simplifies web pages by taking out the clutter for reading now or later.


    Ginger image

    Spelling and grammar support. I experienced quite a few glitches during the trial - highlighting of misspelt words was inconsistent and several incorrect words weren't highlighted. The corrections offered were about the same or marginally better than Google’s right click.

    SpeakIt! image

    Text to speech extension. This did not work well - speaking a long string of numbers before starting on selected text and then would start randomly without my selecting it.

    Co:Writer n/a

    This extension is only for people in a school that already has a Co:Writer Universal license. If you do not have a license, you will not be able to log into the product

    Google offers many other apps and extension. Try these links for other great extensions and add-ons from Allanah King:

    More information is available here http://www.appsusergroup.org/presentations/google-special-needs 


    I would love to hear about how you are using extensions and apps to support students.

  • Video Modelling

    There is a large amount of well researched evidence that video modelling is a really effective way to support learning for students, especially those with autism spectrum disorders.

    It can be used to:

    • improve a variety of skills

    • increase appropriate social interactions

    • improve conversation skills

    • improve daily living skills

    • improve play skills

    • reduce problem behaviours

    Video modeling techniques and tools

    Video modelling is a technique where video is used to demonstrate a targeted behaviour done correctly or appropriately. They do not include examples of incorrect behaviours.


    Videos can include the student (video self modelling) or can be of others (e.g. peers) and both have proved to be effective. Videos can be made from a third party point of view (looking on) or from the student’s point of view where the camera acts as the students eyes.


    See more examples of video models here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCf7UAmY8H2YrrK-NBxbPJAg

    Components of Video Modeling

    Ganz et.al. gives a very good summary of the steps needed to produce and implement video modeling. They recommend implementation including:

    • providing a consistent setting for introduction of the videos

    • immediate opportunities for practising new skills

    • collecting data and evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention (Teaching as Inquiry)

    • include a program to generalise the new skill

    Some tools for video editing

  • Test carried out 26th November 2014. Results published March. 2015.

    Literacy support software that has word prediction can give specific reinforcement and support with spelling, reading and editing. It can reduce the number of keystrokes necessary for typing words.

    We have completed a Literacy Support review for iPad and now it is time to look at what software is available for computers.

    Other reviews on similar topics include:

    How we trialled the software

    The software used for this review was downloaded either as a free trial (28 to 30 days) from the developers or from existing paid - for subscriptions.

    To identify the performance of each word prediction application, the researcher typed the 30 word text onto a Windows document page or into text box provided by the software. Every key press was manually counted as the text was entered. The number of keystrokes used was recorded for each set of text.

     Results: Our top three

        WordQ4.JPG   WordQ4. http://www.goqsoftware.com

    Prediction accuracy: 24/30 Keystrokes: 87/154. Price: NZ $285 + GST

     WordQ products have been very popular  in New Zealand classrooms for students who need Literacy support. This was our best performer, as well as being excellent value for money.

    Word prediction in WordQ4  proposes to work even if words are spelled creatively or missing parts. We found that it managed some of our trickier misspelt words but not all.

     WordQ4 has a range of really useful tools such as a visual and linguistic dictionary.It gives examples for words that sound similar by showing how they are used in a sentence (example: there, their / to, too).

    WordQ4 lets you modify the word prediction to use specific vocabulary or topics. It predicts next and multiple words.

    One thing to be aware of is the exam mode function. This will lock the student out of any settings until it times out.

    It is ideally suited for middle Primary to Secondary school.

    Read & Write GoldJPG.JPG Read & Write Gold.  http://www.texthelp.com

    Prediction accuracy: 23/30 Keystrokes: 87/154 Price: $710+GST

    Coming in a close second is Read & Write Gold. This is a more advanced option than Read & Write for Google.

    There is an impressive range of tools such as an instant pop up text and picture dictionary when you highlight a word. You can choose the appearance of the icons (small or large) in the tool bar.

    Read & Write Gold can compile a study guide when you add specific words to a vocabulary list. You can also choose specific writing and research options.

     Read & Write Gold will predict the next word but often stops after the second or third letter if the word is really badly spelled. Read & Write Gold does not predict multiple words. The tool bar is expandable and you can move it from the top to the bottom of the page.

    Read & Write Gold is suited to the older student (Secondary and Tertiary). 

     co writer 7.JPGCo-Writer 7 UK Version   http://www.spectronics.com.au/cowriter-7

    Prediction accuracy: 19/30 Keystrokes: 119/154 Price: $560 +GST

    CoWriter has similar functions / tools to the others such as providing Dictionary, Synonyms, Word Bank and Text to Speech . It can predict 5 or more words. Font size can be increased in the prediction box.

    CoWriter uses the context of the whole sentence to predict the next word. The FlexSpell tool attempts to turn around really bad spelling (example: ifnt = elephant) however, we found that this was not entirely reliable in the instance of  “friu, skatd and wgd” in our test text.

    Online Service products

    GhotitJPG.JPGGhotit.  http://www.ghotit.com (online only)

    Prediction accuracy: 15/30 Keystrokes: 120/154 Price: NZ $199.00

    Ghotit is an online spelling, grammar and punctuation service. This programme performed poorly in our prediction accuracy test.

    it will stop predicting after the second letter of a word is spelled wrongly (example"dts"). We found that alternative word suggestions for misspelt words were out of context.

     Ghotit has similar tools to the others, such as highlighting a word will enable text to speech and dictionary.  Spelling, grammar and punctuation errors are highlighted in different colours. You click on the word to get correct suggestions. The text does not auto space. The tool bar works in any application but only online.

    WriteOnline.jpg Write OnLine  http://www.cricksoft.com/uk/products/writeonline/

    (online only)

    Prediction accuracy: 19/30 Keystrokes: 89/154 Single user licence UK £180.00

    Write OnLine is an online service alternative to  Ghotit. It also performed poorly when testing the word prediction feature.  When typing a misspelt word, the correct word was placed next to it rather than replacing it in the text.

    Write Online provides mind mapping, speech support, word prediction, word bars and writing frames.    Write OnLine works within its own writing environment as a text box which is rather small and not easy to work in.

    Test Text

    *Word prediction test sentence: The ylo dog hd brn friu eers wit six red dts on the tps wits he skatd and wgd hpi. Wen a flee land on wun eer he howd ludli.

    The yellow dog had brown floppy ears with six red dots on the tips which he scratched and waggled happily. When a flea landed on one ear he howled loudly.


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

    Coming up>>> Visual Scheduling Apps for iPad.


Assistive Technology

Assistive Technology

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