An array of Apple laptops, tablets and mobile telephones.

Learning disabilities: technology

Technology can help you gain and maintain your independence. If you think that technology for people with learning disabilities is just about the technology used in education, think again.

There are two main categories of technology that people with learning disabilities can use:

  • Mainstream technology; and
  • Assistive technology (AT).

Mainstream technology

Mainstream technology is technology that is designed for everyone to use. These tools can also be very helpful for people with learning disabilities.  

Word Processors 

Many people with learning disabilities use mainstream word processors, such as Microsoft Word or Apple's Pages, to create and edit documents.

Some of the features of word processors that you may find helpful are:

  • Spell checking;
  • Grammar checking;
  • Font resizing; and 
  • Colour changes to fonts or backgrounds. 

Calendars 

To help you stay organised and get to your appointments on time, most devices have inbuilt calendars, such as Microsoft Outlook or Apple's Calendar. If these are not suitable, there are many other applications available to purchase for both desktop computers and mobile devices. 

Speech recognition software

Speech recognition software uses a microphone to turn what you say out loud into text on a page or computer commands (i.e. to open a file or send an email); it can also help to navigate a software application. Dragon is the most commonly used speech recognition software.

To do lists

If you find it difficult to remember everything you need to do, then having a to-do list can really help. And this is where technology comes in. There are millions of to-do list and task manager software and apps available for free and to purchase.

Concept Mapping Software

If you're a visual thinker and prefer pictures to words, you may find concept mapping software a great way to express thoughts, concepts and ideas visually. Concept mapping is really useful for people who find it difficult to organise and integrate thoughts and ideas while writing. Concept mapping software allows for visual representation of ideas and concepts which can be connected with arrows and other icons to show the relationship between ideas. 

Many people with learning disabilities use Inspiration software.

Assistive Technology

Assistive (or adaptive) technology (AT) refers to all of the tools, products and devices that can make a task easier or possible to perform. 

ATs are designed to be used by people with disabilities. Some ATs can be used by people with a wide range of disabilities and others are designed to assist people with specific disabilities, such as learning disabilities. 

AT for people with learning disabilities 

Learning disabilities affect the way people take in and process information, and the most common types of AT used by people with learning disabilities are focused on reading, language, organisational skills and processing information. 

Screen Readers

A screen reader is software that reads the text that appears on a computer screen out loud. The software is also referred to as text-to-speech software. To find out more, check out the Overview: Screenreaders and talking browsers section of the BBC website

Word Prediction Software

Word prediction software works alongside word processing software. Word prediction is used to help with spelling. As you begin typing a word, it prompts you with a list of the most likely word choices based on what you have typed so far.

Some examples of word prediction software used by people with learning disabilities are:

Phonetic Spelling

For those who prefer to spell phonetically, word prediction or spell checking may not be helpful. Devices (such as the Franklin Electronic Dictionary) or software (such as ClaroRead), turn phonetic spelling into correctly spelt words.

Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

OCR software takes scanned paper based text and turns it into electronic text for use with screen readers. The most widely used OCR software are Freedom Scientific's WYNN and the Kurzweil 3000

Low-tech AT  

Not all AT is computer based. The use of common office supplies such as Post-it notes and highlighter pens can be incredibly helpful in sorting and prioritising your thoughts, ideas and concepts. 

Listen to this page: