Monday, February 28, 2011

A Blog That is Music to My Ears

It's great how blogging has made it easy to publish and find resources on specialty topics like Assistive Technology ... and all for free! One blog that I subscribe to is Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs by  educator Kate Ahern. Kate's blog touches on the subject from a number of angles, and a recent post on AT & AAC for Music is superb. It's a slideshow for a presentation Kate gave to aspiring music therapists, and besides having numerous tips on integrating low- and high-tech AT in music education, it has a lot of general AT & AAC information, from very basic introductions to basic concepts to remarkably clever adaptations of objects and materials to promote accessibility. While you're there, check out Kate's recent posts where she's compiled and curated links for sources of Boardmaker resources, free online switch-accessible activities, and visual recipes.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Frankenkurzweil 3000

I love Kurzweil 3000.
Except when I hate it. Which is far too often.

It's software that can do so much, but it costs an arm and a leg, and although it has feature upon feature for helping students with all kinds of needs, it's also got more than its fair share of shortcomings and quirks.

If you've read any of my blog entries before, you know my favourite type of software: free. And although Kurzweil 3000 has plenty of competitors out there which cost less than it, they all cost more than free. So it's been a kind of holy grail for me to find software that can do what Kurzweil does, and do it gratis.

Recently, I've managed to piece together some software that comes close. Well, close enough, considering the $0 price tag.

Adobe Reader fits my non-existent budget and will allow you to view digital texts, like Kurzweil. It will even read out loud (under the View menu... yes, I said View... click Read Out Loud), although it doesn't do a great job, I will admit. But if you want to be able to fill out a worksheet or test and highlight key information, you need Adobe Acrobat, which puts us in the >$0.01 category. Unacceptable. So where do we turn?

CutePDF Writer will do a virtual print of just about any document into PDF (but beware when installing: you probably don't want the toolbar that tries to tag along; just uncheck the box for that during installation). Then PDF-XChange Viewer  lets you do the typewriter text boxes like Adobe Acrobat (text boxes for annotating text and filling in blanks). It also has sticky notes and can highlight text. Unfortunately, it won't extract the highlights for you like Kurzweil. Too bad, that's a killer feature.

The final piece is WordQ. Now, WordQ isn't free for most of you, but it is for me and thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of students in Ontario, Canada, where the Ministry of Education has licensed this software for use by its educational community. WordQ version 3 will  perform Text-to-Speech and word prediction within PDF-Xchange Viewer.

Put them all together and you've got a sort of Frankenkurzweil. Sure, it would be nice having all the functions in one package, but did I mention it didn't cost anything?

If you know of a tool that can extract highlighted text from a PDF, a free screen reader that will also work within PDF-Xchange Viewer... or any other solution for getting Kurzweil 3000 functionality without the sticker shock, let me know in the comments.

Meanwhile, come, Igor, back to the laboratory!

Almost forgot: Mac users have it a bit easier. OS X's built-in Preview software opens PDFs, provides text-to-speech (under the Edit menu... yes, I said Edit ...choose Speech), and allows you to highlight and annotate text (under Tools).

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