Working Together: Computers and People with Learning Disabilities

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There's no way you can pick them out in a crowd... People with learning disabilities blend right in-sometimes, they don't even know.
[Kristin] I always struggled academically, since I can remember, since first grade. And so I pretty much had convinced myself in my mind that school was really difficult for me, and that's just the way it was.
[Narrator] Learning disabilities are invisible disabilities. A child may struggle with schoolwork for years before being diagnosed, years in which people don't understand why she "just doesn't get it. "
[Kristin] Most of my friends could study for about half an hour and get As. And I would study for, you know, in the beginning of the school year I'd study maybe for four hours and still get a D.
[Narrator] Kristin, who will soon return to school for a graduate degree, didn't know she had dyslexia until college. The first step is diagnosis. When academic achievement is significantly below intellectual ability, the cause may be a learning disability. Chris, a high school student with dyslexia and dysgraphia, was diagnosed in grade school.
[Chris] I didn't really find out until second grade, when my mom started making me go to all these places where they made me do tests for, like, hours and hours. And that kind of got me really bored, but then I finally noticed after they started telling me that I had slight problems in certain areas like reading or writing.
[Narrator] There are various types of learning disabilities, and they affect individuals in different ways. What they all have in common is that they affect the way the brain processes information.
[Lyla] I think what it means to have a learning disability is that the students in some way are having their processing interrupted. So they're not able to maybe assimilate information as easily as other students, and then again they're not able to express it as easily as other students. So even though they're trying very hard, their ideas may not get across as well as other students'.
[Narrator] Or they may not be able to take in the information effectively in the first place.
[Chris] Sometimes I, like, will read a line, and then I'll start on the next line, and halfway through it, I'll jump up to that same line I've already read and keep reading the same sentence over again. Which gets annoying. And sometimes, like, words change places or go upside down, and it makes it kind of hard in that sense.
[Narrator] Learning disabilities can appear in any one or more of these four categories: Spoken language: listening and speaking Written language: reading, writing, and spelling Arithmetic: calculation and concepts Reasoning: organization and integration of ideas Individuals may be affected in more than one category. Within those categories, there are specific types of learning disabilities. For example: People with dysgraphia may have difficulty forming letters and words, as well as producing legible handwriting. Those who have dyscalculia find it difficult to understand and use math concepts and symbols. With dyspraxia, language comprehension does not match production. A person with dyspraxia may mix up words and sentences while talking. Someone with dyslexia may mix up letters within words, and words within sentences, while reading. This person may also have poor spelling skills.
[Kristin] The way that a learning disability affects each individual and their learning style is different, For example, in my situation, my learning disability really affects my reading comprehension. And I really have high math skills-or I did, when I practiced. But for others, math is really difficult for them, and their reading comprehension is up to par.
[Chris] Imagine like you're sleeping, you're getting really sleepy, and you're reading a book; you start to.. your eyes start to wander on the page, and you start seeing things moving; you read the same line. Well, it's about the same thing, except that I'm wide awake.
[Lyla] They can have problems reading, they can have problems with auditory information, maybe they only hear every five words that you're saying, instead of every word; and we have some students that process every word singly as they hear it, instead of the entire sentence or the concept. Then we have other students who can take in the information just fine, but they're not able to get it back out.
[Narrator] People can develop strategies to compensate for the effects of learning disabilities. Computer technology has played a vital role in helping people achieve academic and career success.
[Kristin] Taking more time to study, outlining my textbooks, using a word processor, spell check, grammar check.
[Chris] When writing papers, I can use my NaturallySpeaking program, which allows me to talk into a computer and it will write what I say, 'cause I have problems. my handwriting's really bad and sloppy.
[Narrator] It takes time to choose hardware and software to get the right fit for each person. But generally, these accommodations are not expensive.
[Lyla] A lot of the software they're using comes standard Spell check and grammar check are often built right into the with the computer now. program, or they come with programs; when you buy your dictionary, they're already in there.
[Narrator] We'll show you some of the computing tools that people with learning disabilities have found effective. Again, these are some of the possibilities; you may find something else that works best for you.
[Narrator] Many people with dyslexia use only standard built-in word processing features. Spell checking, grammar checking, and the ability to change font size and color are all that's needed. Those tools allow the student to stay focused on what she's writing, instead of bogging down in spelling errors.
[Mike] The computer helps me because it has a spell check and a grammar check, and can be read easier than my handwriting, 'cause my handwriting's BAD.
[Narrator] Finally, many word processing programs include options for color-coded text or outlining capabilities. These are useful for people who have difficulty sorting and sequencing thoughts and ideas.
[Computer] This research effort confirms what so many of us believe.
[Narrator] Reading systems are useful for people who understand things better through listening than through reading. For them, speech output is effective.
[Computer] Washington is leading the world in global health.
[Narrator] Software allows the computer to read aloud text, e-mail, or Web pages-basically, anything on your computer. Adding a scanner gives access to printed text.
[Crystal] When I have to, like, read books, I just scan those so they can read the books to me so I don't have to spend two hours reading one page or something.
[Narrator] A scanner converts printed text into a format that the computer recognizes. Then the computer reads the information aloud, at the same time that the words appear on the screen.
[Computer] A tall fellow in a Batman costume comes soaring out of the winter sky.
[Narrator] Reading systems may include options for using contrasting colors to highlight words, or to make the words bigger on the screen.
[Narrator] Concept mapping software offers visual representation of ideas and concepts, which helps people who have difficulty organizing and integrating thoughts while writing.
[Kristin] Writing is one of my strengths, but it does take me some time to get my thoughts together.
[Narrator] With concept mapping, ideas can be linked, rearranged, and color coded. Concept maps can then be turned into a traditional text outline. This can be used to start and organize a variety of writing projects, including poetry, term papers, resumes, or schedules.
[Computer] t.h.e.The
[Narrator] Word prediction software is helpful for people who are poor spellers. It prompts users with a list of most likely word choices, based on what has been typed so far. The person using the program can refer to the list, choose a word, and continue writing. Speech output is often combined with word prediction.
[Chris] Most people's lives.
[Narrator] Speech recognition software allows people to dictate into their computers. They may use this for e-mail, Web browsing, or word processing.
[Chris] It helps me write.I can think and write faster and don't have that problem where I'll have that thought and it will go away.
[Dan] It requires a significant amount of training and practice.
[Narrator] The person using this software speaks into a microphone. The user has to have fairly good reading comprehension to use this effectively, because you have to correct some of the words.
[Dan] Scratch that.
[Narrator] The computer doesn't always recognize exactly what you meant.
[David] It sometimes doesn't translate words quite right. My favorite one was one of the first papers I wrote on; it was on space. And it translated "cosmonaut" to "cow snot. "
[Narrator] And don't forget the low tech tools. Post-it notes, highlighter pens, and daytimer notes can be effective in organizing tasks and ideas. They can be used in combination with computer-based tools. Whatever you choose, the most effective strategies are the ones you develop yourself.
[Kristin] I have to just write everything down; I have to be really organized; I have a daytimer which I kind of live out of; and I just have to keep organized and on top of things, and be in regular communication with the people I work with to make sure that I understand the project correctly and that I'm working up to the expectations that I.. that are expected of me.