Assistive Technology is the term used for specialist equipment or computer software, which allows you to increase the quality and consistency of your work.
If you have a disability or long-term medical condition, you may be recommended to use Assistive Technology to assist you in your studies. This will often be funded by your Education Authority or funding body through the Disabled Students’ Allowance.
Each piece of Assistive Technology has a different purpose to support your specific study requirements, depending on your disability. These can have a significant impact, not just on your studies at Ulster but also in your current or future employment. Once you understand how to use these technologies and grasp their benefits, you will see an increase in the quality of your learning, revision and retention of information.
What types of Assistive Technology are available?
The Assistive Technology industry is continually developing new and updated products. These include specialist items for students with visual or hearing impairments as well as more widely used items to support note taking, organisation of work and proofreading. The following list details the items that are most widely used at Ulster University.
Many people find it difficult to actively participate in lectures, listen to what is being said and take effective, comprehensive notes at the same time. Assistive Technology aids for note taking involve a combination of audio recording and either a traditional or digital notebook. By recording the audio, you can listen and participate, taking short succinct notes at the time, asking questions when further explanation is necessary. Afterwards, you can use your recording to make more detailed notes at your own pace.
A DVR allows you to record the audio in lectures and then listen back at a later stage to make your notes. Audio can be played back on the device or even on your computer. Notes can be made with traditional pen and paper, or linked to typed notes with note taking software.
Some Assistive Technology products will allow you to record the lecture and make notes simultaneously or afterwards, using your laptop, tablet, phone or audio imported from a DVR. You can link the audio to your notes so that you can hear what was being said while you were taking your notes, keeping everything in context. They will also let you import slides or images to further supplement your notes. The most popular product for note taking for our DSA students is Sonocent Audio Notetaker. Other products offer similar features. Click each product title to find out more information or to see it in action.
Recorded lecture audio is broken down into visual audio chunks which can be colour coded to represent different topics or themes, or to flag as being important or to be ignored or whatever scheme you choose. Students can also add in lecture slides and their own typed notes. Typed notes can be linked to the audio so you can hear what was being said as you made your notes.
Sonority Audio Notebook offers similar functionality, allowing audio to be recorded or imported and linked to notes and slides, colour coded and edited to suit your needs.
NTEhub is a web-based note taking app that also allows you to link audio, text and slides.
Livescribe smartpens combine the natural process of handwritten notes with digital technology to ensure you get the most from your notes. Writing on Livescribe dotted paper, the smartpens camera creates a digital backup of your handwritten notes. You can also record and link the audio to your notes either on the pen or through the Livescribe app (depending on pen model). The pen comes with multiple dotted note pads, which contain patterns that enable your pen to track what notes are being taken while the audio is being recorded.
Microsoft OneNote will also allow you to record the lecture and make notes as you listen. Those notes can be linked to the recorded audio in the same way and slides and images can be imported.
Organisation and Planning
Some students struggle to get their ideas down on paper or get overwhelmed by the process of planning and structuring their work. Visual tools, like mind mapping help to brainstorm and structure ideas, get ideas out quickly and restructure and reorganise later if necessary. They are an effective visual learning tool, to help you see the basic structure of your work take shape in minutes. Ideas can be linked, moved, edited and arranged with sub-ideas, notes, images and other files linked to help explain or expand your ideas.
Mind maps can be useful in planning a presentation, writing an essay/assignment, revision or research. Once complete, you can convert it to a Word document or PowerPoint presentation, complete with headings, sub-headings, bullet points or whole paragraphs and in some programs, a bibliography.
MindView is a mind mapping tool that enables you to create a mind map on your computer so that you can quickly plan, organise and layout your ideas. Mind maps are simple to create and edit in a familiar Office-style interface. MindView maps can be exported to MS Word or PowerPoint, complete with references.
MindView is available for Ulster students on library computers and in student computer labs on each campus.
Alternative mind mapping programs include:
Dictation software (speech-to-text)
Dictation software allows users to speak commands rather than using a mouse or keyboard. It can be used for navigation, text composition and text editing. When planning an assignment or composing an essay, there is often a disconnect between what you intend to write and what actually appears on the page. Some students even avoid using academic language because they try avoid spelling words they are not comfortable with. Usually these same students can present their ideas verbally but cannot present the same standard on paper. Dictation software allows the user to verbalise their ideas, convert them to text and keep exactly what they want to write, in academic language, with no need to worry about spelling, giving a truer reflection of their ability.
iOS - on iPhone or iPad, anywhere the keyboard appears, there is a microphone button that will allow you to speak the text rather than type it (requires an internet/data connection).
Reading, Writing and Proofreading
If you need help with reading text there are a number of programs and features within programs that can help. Fonts can be changed both in size and colour, and background and page colours can be adjusted to suit your own preferences. Text can be read aloud with highlights to help you follow onscreen as it is being read. Word documents, PDFs, email, web content, ebooks, journals - anything text based can be read aloud. You can even convert printed text in books or handouts to digital text that can be read aloud.
The main technologies involved are:
Optical Character Recognition (OCR) - converting scanned documents, books and handouts to a readable Word document or text-based PDF. Can also convert text from an image or older articles and journals that are an image of the text so that it can be edited and read by the screen reader.
Screen reading (text to speech) - text and documents can be read aloud. Low vision users also use a screen reader to navigate menus and web pages etc, with content read aloud.
Screen magnifiers - magnify the entire contents of the screen. Third party magnifiers usually include the ability to enlarge text, change fonts and adjust colour contrast between the text and the text background.
There are numerous spellcheckers and text analysing features to help check your work for misspelled words, words or phrases used in the wrong context, or often confused words such as there, they're and their. You will also find dictionary features to define a word and give an example of the word used in context to make it easier to decide if you are using the right word.
When you have finished writing your work, you can use the screen reader to help proofread it by listening to what you typed and follow the highlights on the screen as you go. this can make it much easier to spot any errors you may have.
Places a toolbar at the top of your screen with buttons to activate features including spelling and grammar checks, word prediction, dictionary, text-to-speech to have text read to to you for reading and proofreading. It also contains features for reading text such as colour overlays, font enhancements and highlights. It also has OCR features to convert inaccessible documents or printed copies to text to be read aloud or edited as necessary.
Read and Write is available on all computers in the library and student IT labs on each campus.
Other programs with similar features include:
Microsoft Word has its own enhanced accessibility features built in. Office 2016 and above and Office 365 online have advanced spellchecking with word-in-context, read aloud, coloured overlays/backgrounds, font enhancements. CALL Scotland have produced a very useful document explaining these features and how to use them. You can view or download Making the most of Microsoft Word 2016 guide here.
OneNote for Reading and Writing
OneNote also offers many of the same features as Word. It also includes an OCR feature.
If you feel you would benefit from using Assistive Technology, or want further Information, please contact your AccessAbility Adviser or our Assistive Technology Coordinator by completing the AT Query Form.