Enabling Success: The Benefits of Assistive Technology for Individuals with Learning Disabilities

2023-09-06 | By Orcam Staff

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Assistive Technology for Learning Disabilities | OrCam

Everyone deserves equal opportunities for learning and personal development. But it's important to consider individual needs. Some students with learning disabilities may require extra services from their school. In the US, 7.3 million children aged 3-21 received special education services in the 2019-2020 school year. Of those, one-third had various learning disabilities that needed specific assistance and tools, according to the National Center of Educational Statistics.

The article delves into different types of learning disabilities and the significance of assistive technology in an academic setting. It also provides a list of helpful tools for students who are struggling with their education.

According to the National Education Association (NEA), the number of U.S. students enrolled in special education programs has risen 30 percent over the past 10 years. Source: teachthought.com

Can you provide a definition for the term "learning disability"?

Individuals with specific learning disabilities experience challenges in fundamental psychological processes that typically facilitate communication through speaking and writing. These difficulties may manifest in areas such as reading, writing, spelling, mathematical calculations, and other cognitive functions due to atypical functioning.

Individuals with learning disabilities may experience impacts in various aspects of their life, beyond academic or intellectual pursuits.

Individuals with learning difficulties may experience challenges in areas such as attention, organization, planning, and abstract reasoning, which can impact their personal and professional relationships.

Learning disabilities are often diagnosed during school years when issues with writing, math, or focusing appear in a group of same-age children. However, some people reach adulthood without realizing they have learning difficulties. Parents and teachers may attribute the student's struggles to laziness, impatience, or lack of motivation to study. This can lead to problems in the workplace and families because the person is unaware of their learning disability.

Dyslexia is a prevalent learning disability, with estimates stating that 5 to 15% of the American population, or approximately one in ten US citizens, are affected by it.

What is assistive technology for Students with learning disabilities?

Assistive technology for students with learning disabilities (LD) is any type of tool or device that helps an individual with a disability to learn, communicate, and complete daily activities. Assistive technology can range from low-tech options such as highlighters and sticky notes, to high-tech tools such as computer programs and voice recognition systems. It helps individuals with LD access the same educational materials as their peers, allowing them to participate more fully in the classroom. Assistive technology helps individuals with LD to retain and apply information, communicate effectively, and improve their self-esteem. Examples of assistive technology that may be helpful for students with learning disabilities include text-to-speech software, word prediction programs, screen magnifiers, speech recognition software, digital voice recorders, and touch-screen devices.

Types of Learning Disabilities

The following is a compilation of frequently occurring learning disabilities and their corresponding conditions:

  • Dyslexia is a learning disability that can cause severe spelling difficulties. It primarily affects the ability to recognize words fluently, making reading and writing challenging tasks. Dysgraphia is a sub-type of dyslexia that impairs a person's writing skills, making it difficult for them to produce legible and correct symbols.

  • Dyscalculia is a condition that affects one's ability to perform numerical operations and quantitative reasoning, often making math challenging. It involves difficulty in calculating and understanding numbers and using nonverbal processes.

  • Individuals with nonverbal learning disabilities experience challenges in areas such as visual-spatial memory, motor skills, and social capabilities. However, they often exhibit strong language skills and broad vocabulary.

  • Individuals with language disorders and reading comprehension deficits may experience challenges in both expressing themselves and understanding others in oral and written communication. This can result in difficulties in distinguishing between similar sentences, such as "The cat is on the pillow" and "The pillow is on the cat."

  • ADHD is a condition that impacts the learning abilities of children, as it can cause difficulties with focusing, paying attention, and staying still. Additionally, 30 to 50% of children with ADHD also have co-occurring specific learning disabilities.

The 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) includes information for schools about assistive technology devices. For students with learning disabilities, assistive technology may include “any item, piece of equipment, or product system […] used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability.” According to LD OnLine, assistive technology may increase a student's strengths to “counterbalance” their disability. It may also provide students with another way to complete the task, bypassing the disability. These devices can include everything from inflatable seat cushions for students with sensory processing issues to FM listening devices for students with autism or auditory impairments. Regardless of the form it takes, assistive technology helps students with learning disabilities succeed in the classroom and beyond.

Learning difficulties cannot currently be cured, but individuals can reduce their impact with proper assistance and personalized training. Famous individuals like Keanu Reeves, Tom Cruise, Justin Timberlake, and Cher have learning disabilities such as dyslexia, ADHD, and dyscalculia. They embrace their uniqueness and would not want to be considered "typical" humans.

The use of assistive technology in classrooms

The range of modern facilities for assistive technology in classrooms is highly diverse and cannot be encompassed by a single broad category.

Assistive technologies encompass a variety of tools, from specialized writing utensils to advanced artificial intelligence systems.

The development of technologies for learning disabilities is increasing due to the rise in diagnoses.

A robot has been developed by researchers in Southern California to assist children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in improving their math and social skills. The device is capable of determining whether the child is paying attention in class or not. This technology promotes inclusivity by enabling children with learning disabilities to attend mainstream schools without the need for a tutor.

Augmented and virtual reality technologies are used in modern schools to enhance student engagement and provide visual representations of educational material. Additionally, these technologies can be beneficial for students with disabilities as they create simulated environments. A notable advantage of AR and VR is the ability for students to learn without the limitations of their learning disorders.

There are multiple advantages to using assistive technology in the classroom, some of which are listed below.

Advantages of using Assistive Technology (AT) in educational settings:

  • AT improves visual tracking

  • It teaches cause-and-effect links

  • This tool enables group guidance for individuals with social disabilities.

  • It helps develop fine motor skills.

  • It improves time-management skills

Assistive technology for learning disabilities

Assistive technology for learning disabilities encompasses equipment, software, or products that enhance the abilities of individuals with disabilities.

Assistive technology includes various tools such as speech recognition and text-to-speech software, mind mapping strategies, touch typing, apps, and handheld devices.


Our collection of tools is designed to aid individuals with a range of learning disabilities. These solutions vary in complexity and can assist with reading, writing, spelling, calculations, memorization, timing, and self-organization.

Assistive Technology for Dyslexia

Text-to-speech software provides assistance to individuals with dyslexia by facilitating the reading and analysis of digital text. By hearing their written work read aloud in a natural voice, individuals with dyslexia are able to proofread their work and address any errors.

Studies on text-to-speech tools for dyslexic students have produced controversial results. While some experiments showed improvement in text understanding, others had mixed results and suggested that the technology may not significantly influence comprehension. However, students reported increased independence as a significant benefit. Two studies also found that students' motivation and fluency improved over six weeks of using text-to-speech tools. It's important to note that the effects of assistive technologies vary between individuals with learning disabilities.

There are effective methods to optimize the use of text-to-speech tools:

  • Choose a suitable voice based on personal preferences.

  • Improving comprehension is facilitated by language that is more relatable and easy-to-understand.

  • Research suggests that a reading speed of 140 to 180 words per minute is optimal for students.

  • It is recommended not to speed up your reading pace as it could cause you to lose focus.

  • Select a tool with bi-modal reading options which indicate the word being spoken aloud.

  • For optimal results, it is recommended to avoid multitasking and read the written text while keeping your eyes focused on it.

Top Text-to-Speech Tools

Several text-to-speech tools are available for use, in addition to the pre-installed software found on many computers and mobile devices.

Kurzweil 3000

Kurzweil 3000 is a highly functional option, however, it is not available for free.

The program offers customizable functions, pop-up tips, and an intuitive interface that is ideal for individuals with dyslexia. Its features include a word prediction tool, talking spell checker, translator tool, writing templates, and a cloud-based library. Additionally, foreign language voices can be downloaded at no cost.

The cost of a one-year subscription is $500, and there are reduced rates for multi-year orders.

Natural Reader

Natural Reader is a good choice if you want quality at a reasonable price. It supports almost every text format, including web pages and emails. The developers added small but important features to make the program unique. You can edit how certain words are pronounced and choose not to read headings and footnotes.

The payment model for this service involves a one-time fee, without the requirement of an annual subscription. Additionally, there is a limited functionality version available for users to test out at no cost.

The price ranges from $99.50 to $199.50, depending on the chosen number of natural voices and added features.

Read My Paper

My Paper is free, simple, and quick. You won't have to deal with extensive settings like in other software. To use it, copy a text (100-5000 characters) and paste it into the blank field. Adjust the reading speed and voice type to your liking and enjoy the audio.

It is advisable to self-check your writing as a means of ensuring accuracy and efficiency.

Price: Free.

Assistive Technology for Math

Individuals with learning and attention disorders may experience difficulties with mathematics. The implementation of math assistive technologies (AT) can positively impact the academic advancement of those with dyscalculia and related challenges.

A calculator and grid paper are both examples of assistive technology (AT). The calculator is considered a low-tech AT, while grid paper, large-number papers, rulers, and manipulatives are all considered no-tech AT. These physical or virtual objects assist individuals in solving mathematical tasks in non-traditional ways.

Assistive technologies such as notation tools, graphic organizers, digital graphing tools, and drawing tools are effective in supporting math.

Learning critical thinking and numerical manipulation skills will enable individuals to perform various practical tasks in their daily lives, such as managing finances, arriving punctually at work, and calculating necessary materials for home renovation.

Assistive technology tools for math are commonly computer-based, such as text-to-speech applications, built-in AT on mobile devices, and math extensions for the Chrome browser. The following are the top three recommended tools for math assistance.

Top Math Tools

  • Khan Academy Kids is a free app with over 1 million installs. It was designed by experts from the Stanford Graduate School of Education to assist individuals in improving their mathematical abilities with the aid of adorable animal characters. Its features are beneficial for developing reading and writing abilities, language proficiency, problem-solving, and social skills.

  • The iOS app Marble Math Junior costs $3.99. It uses fun mazes to help with math practice. The questions can be spoken aloud for those who struggle with reading. The app offers three difficulty levels and 16 marble styles that can be customized to fit individual abilities.

  • The Moose Math app offers a variety of math activities for learning addition, subtraction, geometry, sorting, and other life skills. To earn points and construct your own city, you must finish five activities at varying levels. The progress tracker will assist you in monitoring your advancement and keeping you motivated.

Assistive technology for the purposes of memorizing and note-taking

Assistive technologies (AT) for memorizing and note-taking are particularly beneficial for individuals with ADHD or dyslexia, and can be categorized as recording devices or mind mapping tools.

  • Recording devices, such as dictaphones or voice recorders on smartphones, can be used to eliminate the need for written notes during lectures. The recorded voice of the professor can be listened to at any time, making it easier to review the material. This can also be helpful when preparing for essays or term papers by recording one's own thoughts.

  • Mind mapping tools can help you visualize and structure your thoughts. They are commonly used for brainstorming, but they can also be useful for taking brief lecture notes. Instead of writing long sentences, create a diagram with related circles or rectangles connected by arrows or lines. This will help you remember the lecture's message and structure, making it a great way to prepare for exams and memorize important material.

These are the most effective tools for memorizing and taking notes.

  • The tool called Kidspiration Maps can enhance writing, reading, and thinking skills. Even older students can utilize it due to its simple structure and intuitive interface. For people with dyslexia, the app can aid in comprehending literature and preparing for writing assignments. It costs $9.99.

  • MindMup is a tool for drawing diagrams and saving them in the cloud. It is more sophisticated than other mind mapping tools. Users can create presentations, take notes, and share their thoughts online for free. Keyboard shortcuts are available to speed up note-taking, which is helpful for students. MindMup is a free software that allows users to attach documents or images.

  • Dragon Anywhere is a speech-to-text software for Android and iOS. It has 99% accuracy and offers high-speed dictation, voice editing, and unlimited cloud storage. You can share your work via email, Evernote, or Dropbox. The program enables you to complete paperwork on your smartphone. It costs $150 for a one-year subscription.

  • Google Assistant is a free app that can integrate into the software you already use. It can play music, open maps, search the web, and perform almost any task through voice recognition. Its most valuable function is speech-to-text transformation, allowing you to dictate emails, notes, and messages. While it was not designed explicitly for dictating, it is a useful tool.

The use of assistive technology for improving time management and focus

Some students have difficulty with concentration and attention, in addition to dyslexia and dyscalculia. ADHD is a set of symptoms that can hinder focus by impacting the brain's executive functions. Learning can be a difficult undertaking for these students and is often accompanied by a learning disability. Four tools to aid in improving attention and concentration are listed below, and anyone can benefit from them.

Best Time-management Tools

  • Serene is a program that shields users from distractions. It is currently only available for macOS, but will soon be available for Windows as well. The program has a three-level approach. First, users plan their day. Then, they choose which distractions to block. Finally, they add focus enhancers, such as music, countdown timers, and calculated breaks. The full version of the program costs $4 per month.

  • The StayFocusd extension for Google Chrome can block time-wasting websites. It has many configuration options. You can restrict your access to entire websites, subdomains, and specific content types like videos, images, and games. You can also allow access to these pages and content during certain days or hours. Additionally, this free extension does not gather any personal information.

  • Trello is a free, multi-functional planning tool. One can create shopping lists or organize large groups of people with the tool, depending on individual needs and preferences. Tasks can be set with deadlines and then checked off as they are completed. The tool's functionality extends to being able to use it in an Internet-disabled environment and sync when back online.

  • There are free tools available for the Pomodoro Technique, such as Tomato Timer. These tools split your work time into 25-minute intervals with 5-minute breaks. After four cycles, you can take a 15 to 20-minute break. Many users have reported a significant boost in productivity using these tools.

Advancements in technology have had a positive impact on the learning experiences of individuals with disabilities. We appreciate your feedback in the comments section.


Assistive technology can be a powerful tool that helps individuals with learning disabilities succeed in the classroom and beyond. Assistive technology enhances accessibility to educational materials, encourages independence, and provides various forms of support for students with learning disabilities.

First, assistive technology makes educational materials more accessible by offering alternative ways of interacting with them. Text-to-speech software allows students to listen to text on the computer, while screen readers make web pages more accessible. Other technologies, such as magnifiers, can make it easier to read printed material for those with vision impairments.

Second, assistive technology encourages independence by providing tools that allow students to complete tasks without assistance. Speech-to-text software and voice recognition programs enable individuals to take notes and write papers without needing a human to transcribe their words. Other tools, such as ergonomic keyboards and mice, can help reduce fatigue and improve productivity.

Finally, assistive technology provides various forms of support for students with learning disabilities. Text-to-speech programs can highlight words and play them back at different speeds, making it easier to understand complex text. Some programs also offer audio or visual cues to help individuals stay on task and focus. In addition, many tools offer built-in reminders and calendars to help individuals stay organized.

Overall, assistive technology can be a valuable asset for individuals with learning disabilities. It can provide a variety of supports that make it easier for them to access educational materials, become more independent, and stay organized.