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Exploring Accessibility on Your Device

“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.

Assistive Technology

Assistive Technology

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