Update: software to support reading, writing and learning

A number of assistive technology suppliers launched new products and product updates at the BETT show in London this month. There was so much information that to include it all in one post would lead to a very long blog entry! So instead I’ll put up assistive technology news in themed ‘chunks’ over the next few weeks. Firstly, I’ll look at some developments in two leading companies specialising in software to support literacy and learning: Texthelp and ClaroRead.

Texthelp launched version 8.1 of the widely-used Read and Write Gold. There aren’t a significant number of differences between this version and version 8, but there are some features worth noting. Aside from the usual removal of bugs and glitches that takes place between versions, the software is now fully Vista compatible.

New features include a screenshot reader, which allows a student to take a picture of text contained within an otherwise inaccessible environment, e.g. Flash, and have it read back to them. The study skills (highlighter) tool is now in the Read and Write toolbar rather than in Word. It is also now easier to cycle through the different toolbars and there are new look toolbar icons.

Texthelp also launched Read and Write Gold Mobile – simply Read and Write Gold on a USB drive. Typically the cost will be that of a single-user licence plus an added cost for the memory stick itself. Having the software on a USB drive allows a student to store, transfer and carry data around the college without installing the software. The student plugs the memory stick into a USB port of any computer running Windows 2000 or XP.

ClaroRead Plus 2007 is a user-friendly, competitively-priced, programme designed to support students who have difficulties with reading, writing and learning. A full list of features including speech output and vocabulary support can be viewed on the ClaroRead website at www.clarosoftware.com. Interesting touches include:
– Reading and colour support tools: the ScreenRuler, a toll which highlights and enlarges both the letters and background of each line of text. The highlighting is complimented by allowing the screen to be viewed in any colour – like a colour overlay for the PC!

– Layout assistance: ClaroRead’s integration with Word provides an easy-to-navigate toolbar to enable one-click changing of fonts and spacing.

– Close integration with Dragon: ClaroRead also works alongside Dragon Naturally Speaking V8 and V9 to allow for hands-free dictation and proofreading of text. The unique ‘echo back’ feature of ClaroRead instantly speaks back the text that you have dictated with Dragon – useful for identifying recognition errors.

– Worldwide languages: support is available in over 17 languages using ClaroRead add-on voices. English language voices now include RealSpeak Indian English voice ‘Sangetta’.

Like Texthelp, the latest version of ClaroRead is Vista-ready and available on a USB memory stick for access on the move. The software runs directly from the memory stick without any files needing to be installed on the PC. There is a version of the software available for the Mac. (Coming soon – more about new assistive technology for Macs).

BRITE training on Texthelp Read and Write Gold and ClaroRead is available for people working in Scottish FE. Readers using technology to support students in their reading, writing and learning, may be interested in attending the forthcoming seminar outlined below (go to http://www.brite.ac.uk/contact.htm for a seminar reservation form). Places are free for staff from Scottish FE colleges.

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