Friday, June 22, 2012

Can eReaders Help Students with Disabilities?

One way to adapt and accommodate 21st century students with IEPs or 504 could be through the use of supportive technology that links to the online learning environment.  While the research is still largely inconclusive on whether using supportive technology has greater benefits than traditional models (these technologies are fairly new), it is still a possible path to allow for equal outcomes in online environments. 

The article “Schools Test E-Reader Devices with Dyslexic Students” states, “Students can change the size of the text on the screen and the speed of the voice that reads the text aloud.” This may allow students to individualize their content for greater accessibility and understanding. In a study in Taiwan, “Participants regarded [the eReader] as a user-friendly, supportive, and interesting reading environment compared to traditional textbooks.”  They continue that “it was observed that the [eReader] seemed to motivate them better.”

Several e-readers have read aloud features for visually impaired students, but they do lack the voice-navigation for menu options, which creates new challenges.  “The Kindle isn’t the only one inaccessible to blind students […] the Barnes & Noble NOOK reader and the Sony Reader also were ill-equipped to help,” Evan Minsker reports in the article “Colleges Face Obstacles with e-Reader Technology for Disabled Students.”  The iPad is fully assessable, and other eBook readers are searching for ways to become voice-over compliant as federal law requires college and universities to only support fully-adaptive technology and devices (“Inaccessible e-Readers May Run Afoul of the Law, Feds Warn Colleges”).

To assist with federal law compliance, here is a link to the accessibility research of the most popular eReaders, which includes a chart based on various disabilities.

One application that may be of interest is the NOOK Study.  It is a free, downloadable computer program for Mac or Windows from Barnes & Noble.  It is also has fully assessable text-to-speech and keyboard navigation for students who need help.  They even have a chart that describes exactly what features are supported.  Students can also upload whatever materials (as long as they can be converted to PDFs) they want into the NOOK Study, including PowerPoints, notes, and teacher-created content.  This may help instructors if they have specific versions of the content for specific students. The text can then be enlarged, defined, tagged, highlighted, annotated, and printed.  These mark-ups can also be exported, so students could submit them directly to their instructor (NOOKStudy Features).  This could also maintain anonymity, since all notes would go only to faculty. It also integrates into whichever LMS the campus is using, including BlackBoard and Moodle, allowing instructors to link to specific chapters or sections of the readings.

While there are many e-tech solutions and each has its advantages and disadvantages, more exploration is needed to meet individual students' needs.

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