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If you find yourself needing extra help academically in college, whether with taking notes in class, writing a paper, or studying for a test, you might find assistive technologies useful. Assistive technologies include devices or programs that help people with challenges related to their disability. There are a wide range of assistive technologies available, some specifically designed to help students with academics. Most colleges have a department that works with students with disabilities to meet their needs, and you can contact them to find out which technologies they have available at your school. Some popular academic assistive technologies include the Kurzweil 3000 software and the Echo Smartpen. Other technologies, such as Microsoft OneNote and the speech-to-text programs built into Windows and Mac computers and devices, were not necessarily made for people with disabilities, but are also useful for many people with autism.

Example Technologies
  1. Kurzweil 3000
    Students with autism may find it helpful to have texts in multiple formats, particularly if they also have attention or reading difficulties. Kurzweil 3000 is educational program that assists students with reading texts and planning and writing essays. Kurzweil is a text-to-speech program, meaning that it reads aloud the words on any document the student uploads into it, which might include their textbooks and essays. Students can change the speed at which Kurzweil reads, adjust the size of the text, and pick from different voice options, including male and female voices with British or American accents. Kurzweil also allows the student to highlight the text, take notes on it, and convert it into an audio file to listen to at a later time. In addition to its text-to-speech features, Kurzweil also provides many templates that students can use as they brainstorm, outline, and draft their papers. Students can then have their writing read back to them.
  2. Echo Smartpen
    The Echo Smartpen from Livescribe is writing device that students can use for notetaking. An audio recorder in the pen records the lecture or discussion as the student takes notes in a special notebook. After the class, the student can then tap on the notes with the pen and the speaker in the pen will play back the part of the lecture that occurred when the student wrote that note.  This feature can be particularly useful for students with autism who find it difficult to simultaneously process information and take detailed notes. Additionally, Students can plug the pen into their computer and upload the notes to a program called Echo Desktop. The notes will appear in the program just as the student wrote them, and they can listen to the lecture or discussion while the program highlights the notes they wrote. The Echo Smartpen allows the student to navigate easily between different parts of the lecture recording, which may help students with autism better organize their studying. (Note that students should always get permission from their professor before recording their lectures.)
  3. OneNote
    Microsoft OneNote is a program that often comes with Microsoft Office Suite, which also includes Word and Excel. OneNote is useful for notetaking, organizing, and writing assignments. Students can create “notebooks” with different sections and pages in them. For example, a student might make a notebook for “Fall 2020” with different sections for each class and pages within each section for individual class days. Students can also record while they take notes, and OneNote will sync the notes with the audio. OneNote has pre-made templates for notetaking, list making, and outlining that students can use to organize their notes and assignments, which may be particularly helpful for students with executive function challenges.
  4. Built in Speech-to-Text Programs
    Both Windows and Mac computers have built in speech-to-text programs that allow the user to dictate to the computer and have the computer transcribe what they say. This can be useful for students with autism who find it easier to communicate their thoughts aloud rather than in writing. These programs can be found in different places on different devices, and some websites, including the Google Suite, also have their own speech-to-text capabilities.

There are a wide range of assistive technologies available beyond these four, and different colleges may have different technologies available, so you should reach out to your school’s disability or accessibility department to see what accommodations they offer to their students. Remember that assistive technology will not solve all of your challenges, but it can be an extra tool that you can use to help you succeed.

The College Central transition checklist has a section on how to reach out to your school’s disability or accessibility services.

Disclaimer: OAR is not paid to sponsor any of these products.