Special Education iPad Apps for Reading and Writing

Recently I had the distinct privilege of working with Julie Freed, Grant Wood’s Assistive Technology guru, to present a number of iPad apps that can be used to help improve the reading and/or writing skills of students in special education. Interested? Here are some of the apps we talked about, along with the reasons why we picked them.

Reading Apps

1. Prizmo ($9.99) – This innovative app includes powerful OCR software that will scan printed text, turn it into editable digital text, and read it aloud for you. In the classroom this can be great for printed tests, worksheets, and even textbooks that might otherwise need a classroom assistant to read them aloud for a student with reading difficulties.

prizmo app screenshot

2. Pocket (Free) – This might not be the first app you think of when think of special education iPad apps, but it has a lot of potential for the way that it simplifies the layout of web based articles and makes  them easier to read. Annoying ads, distracting sidebars, and pop-up ads are gone when viewed in the Pocket reader app and you can also save and organize articles for future use. Readbility is another great app for this.

3. WritePad ($4.99) – It’s a favorite of OTs, and may be just what you are looking for if you need an innovative notetaking app. WritePad uses handwriting recognition software to convert your handwritten notes and turns them into digital text. The more you use it, the more it learns your handwriting style and the better it becomes at converting your handwriting.

4. PDF Expert 5 ($9.99) – Readdle make amazing apps for the iPad, and PDF Expert is no exception. While you could use it to annotate over digital worksheets, a better use of the app might be as a test taking aid, because PDF Expert allows you to add audio annotations. This means a teacher could record questions on a test for a student with reading difficulties to playback on headphones. Alternatively, students with handwriting or motor difficulties could record their answer to test questions right on the PDF, and then email it to a teacher. iAnnotate is a similar app with many of the same features.

pdf expert screenshot

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iPads and Visually Impaired Students

ipads and visually impaired studentsThe iPad has a host of great accessibility features that are built-in to help make the device more accessible for disadvantaged learners. However, today I was asked to think a little bit outside the box. I had a request from one of our consultants that was working with a teacher who wanted to link their iPad with a student’s iPad in real time.

The teacher wanted to annotate documents on her iPad and project them to the class so that they could see them on a larger screen. The trouble was that this still wasn’t large enough for her visually impaired student. So, what she really wanted, was a way to project her iPad to two places at the same time. The first was the wall for the whole class to see, the second was the iPad of the student with the visual impairment. That way, the student could get a close up view of what the teacher was doing in real time, and/or use pinch to zoom to get a better view of what the rest of the class was seeing. Easy right? 🙂

So, three of us sat down and put our heads together to try and figure this out. It didn’t sound easy, but surely, there must be some way of doing this. There was. Here’s how it works. The teacher links her computer with the student’s iPad via the free join.me service. This allows the student to view everything on the teacher’s computer, but not interact with it. We’ve done this in the past, and it works great with the join.me iPad app. However, this alone did not fix out problem. This does not get the image of the teacher’s iPad to the student’s iPad. To do that, we will use Reflection, or AirServer. [Kudos to my superstar supervisor, Stacy Behmer (@sbehmer), for suggesting the AirPlay link].

So, the teacher’s computer is linked to the student’s iPad with join.me. The teacher then projects her iPad to her computer with Reflection or AirServer. Because the image of the teacher’s iPad is now on her computer, the visually impaired student also has the image of the teacher’s iPad! Then all that is left is for the teacher to plug their projector into their computer, and voila!

So, there you go. It is possible to link two iPads together for a real time mirrored image. There is not really any chance for direct collaboration, but for this purpose, it was ideal, and it is yet another example of how the iPad is helping to break down barriers and increase accessibility for students in the classroom.