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Assistive Technology and Adult Literacy: Access and Benefits

Volume 7: Chapter 4
Heidi Silver-Pacuilla

In Chapter Four, Heidi Silver-Pacuilla discusses how adult students with mild reading disabilities can use assistive technology (AT) as a supplement to classroom instruction. AT can meet the need for additional tutoring and small group instruction, and can make studying and reading easier for these students. Silver-Pacuilla focuses on several categories of computer-based AT, providing an overview of some AT tools and profiling two adults who benefited from them. She also provides an overview of current research on the topic, a discussion of how using AT can support learners’ engagement with literacy tasks, and an appendix of resources for further information and study.

Silver-Pacuilla begins the chapter with an overview of provision of services to adults with learning disabilities (LD) who are no longer covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, which mandates the provision of services to K–12 students with disabilities. Using the research base on K–12 students as a guide, she details the benefits of AT to adults with LD. She then discusses the types of technology available to help learners, including text readers, voice recognition, and word prediction and illustrates the uses of these technologies with two case studies. In the section describing research and practice, Silver-Pacuilla reviews the literature on using AT to pair text with speech, enhance text, support writing, increase motivation and persistence, and how to integrate AT into a well-designed curriculum.

Silver-Pacuilla’s recommendations for practice include using AT for a dual purpose: to help students with disabilities learn strategies as well as to learn foundational skills. She recommends that instructors learn about AT technology along with their students, downloading and trying out multiple software packages (some of them free; references to these packages are provided in the Appendix). Silver-Pacuilla recommends that programs that lack resources of computer hardware and software can reach out to other programs in the community, partnering with them to provide services. She also encourages federal and state legislation that would provide additional resources. Silver-Pacuilla believes that research is needed to determine how students benefit from AT and how educators can best use the available technology to make a difference in the literacy instruction of their students.

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