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Software Breaks New Ground for Student with Learning Disabilities

Written by Linda M. Mazur, Assistive Technology Specialist, Tigard-Tualatin School District and Shannon Henry, Assistive Technology Specialist Northwest Regional Education Service District

March 17, 2002

As assistive technology specialists, Shannon (shannonh@nwresd.k12.or.us) and I (lmazur@ttsd.k12.or.us) have been working with students with Learning Disabilities on computer-based assistive technology (AT) software and tools. People with learning disabilities are often of average or above intelligence, with challenges in the areas of reading, writing, math and/or organization. When given technology tools, these people often produce the same quality and quantity as their peers, but without will often struggle to get one or two sentences out, or be unable to decode a word. Comprehension of oral material is usually high, but before technology, it required an adult to read aloud to the student. These are people who have the ability to function independently, but because of their learning disability rely on an adult, where technology is taking the place of this added person to assist in the learning process. What a benefit for enhancing self esteem, knowing that reading and writing can be made easier.

One of the software tools that supports students in our school district is a Literary Software called, WYNN-What You Need Now. This software tool is a great support for people with reading challenges, writing difficulties, and challenges with organizing, studying and understanding information. It has voice output capability and scanning of text that can read virtually anything to people. It is equipped with a dictionary, spell checker, word prediction, internet and email access with special tracking techniques and tools to support learning needs.

A story about the great impact that WYNN Software has had for one of these students is to be told here. Lori is an eighth grader in middle school, getting ready to enter high school and begin planning for college. Lori's mother Gini, has been the support person Lori has relied on up until she was introduced to WYNN software, coupled with other computer technology. This story will certainly support using technology tools to supplement academic and personal achievement, as it did for Gini's daughter Lori: to increase self confidence, create opportunities for normal life activities, make schoolwork easier and increase the probability of going to college.

Gini attended a Northwest Regional ESD workshop on Learning Disabilities and Assistive Technology and obtained trial software, from Freedom Scientific Learning Systems Group, called WYNN-What You Need Now. It was loaded at home and by the end of the 30-day trial, Lori was using the software independently to complete assignments.

She used it at least one time per day and more on the weekend, during the trial period. Scanned material was brought into WYNN for voice output reading. Types of literature that she scanned in included Teen Magazine, newspaper articles, downloading information for school research for book reports and scanning in schoolwork to be modified by keyboarding. Lori quickly assumed independence and initiative to expand and incorporate WYNN into her daily reading/school work opportunities.

At school, Lori uses Inspiration, Dragon Naturally Speaking and WYNN due to her limited keyboarding ability, which is further limited by her short-term memory deficit and is laborious for her. In addition, this student has an average IQ, but reads and writes at the 2nd grade level, leaving her frustrated and dependent. With the software technology to augment her learning, this student has raised her grades, and her benchmark scores.

WYNN has also been used by Lori, to stop the voice output reading when a word is not known, look up the word with WYNN's dictionary, listen to the definition read to her, understand its meaning and therefore increase understanding of the material. This function has increased her motivation to use voice output reading technology.

At home and school for reading, the student uses a place marker to track her reading location, and now with using WYNN, she utilizes the masking option for this tracking purpose.

The most significant result of using WYNN software, as reported by the student's mother is "homework time has been reduced from an average of 4-6 hours down to an average of 2, which has given Lori time to be active with Girl Scouts, to spend more time volunteering for community service projects, and now for the first time in her life, has joined an extracurricular school activity (cheerleading)!"

Great news, Lori just received a grant from the Coalition for Assistive Technology in Oregon towards a laptop computer, scanner and WYNN software, due to her success with this tool!

Before computer technology, this student relied heavily on her mother for reading and organizing information. Her mother jokingly said to her "what would you do without me?" and Lori stated that without Mom's support she "would kill herself". Ever since the introduction of WYNN and other software, this student states that she sees herself being able to self manage with the use of technology. Indeed, WYNN software breaks new ground for this student with Learning Disabilities!

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