MET:Supporting Written Output Challenges with Technology

From UBC Wiki

This page was originally authored by Julie Kendell and Deanna Stefanyshyn (2012)

Learning disabilities are a reality in most classrooms and it becomes the responsibility of the teacher to ensure the student is receiving the best possible education based on their individual learning needs. Technology has become a tool for teachers to help students become more independent and reach individual learning goals. Assistive technology has become a big focus in the area of written output. This is because people who suffer from difficulty with written output are severely hindered in their ability to express themselves through pen and paper writing; however, through the use of technology these boundaries can be overcome.


What are Written Output Challenges?

Learning disabilities are neurological disorders that affect the brains ability to receive, process, store and respond to information. Written output disorders are a type of learning disability that result in poor writing skills which lead to a student performing significantly below what is normal when considering the students age, intelligence, and level of education. Students with a written output disorder do not usually have problems with formulating the ideas about what they need to write, but rather with the mechanics of getting their ideas down on paper.

Common Signs

-Anxiety around writing tasks or opposition

-Poorly formed printing, difficulty learning to write cursively

-Forgetting to use capitals and punctuation correctly despite knowing the “rules”

-Writing all the way up to the edge of a page – seeming not to understand the physical limitations of the page space

-Very large letters or very small letters. It can often look like student is trying to drive the pencil right through the page

-Resistance to writing tasks which goes above and beyond the “norm” for that child – this can include a refusal to show math work.

Types of Learning Disabilities, n.d.


Dysgraphia can be categorized as a written output disorder and is more specific in it's description. Most individuals who have significant motor or sensory-motor handwriting challenges have a form of the neurological disorder known as Dysgraphia. Dysgraphia is defined as a deficiency in the ability to write, regardless of the ability to read, and it is not due to intellectual impairment. Dysgraphia can occur after neurological trauma and it can be diagnosed in a person with physical disability, Tourette’s Syndrome, AD/HD, Learning Disabilities, or an Autism Spectrum Disorder such as Asperger’s Syndrome. However, it is also possible for a person to be dysgraphic without showing evidence of any other disabilities.

General Symptoms of Dysgraphia

File:Writing 2.jpg
A writing sample of a student with dysgraphia.
  • A mixture of upper case/lower case letters
  • Irregular letter sizes and shapes
  • Unfinished letters
  • Struggle to use writing as a communication tool
  • Odd writing grip
  • Many spelling mistakes (sometimes)
  • Decreased or increased speed of writing and copying
  • Talks to self while writing
  • General illegibility
  • Reluctance or refusal to complete writing tasks
  • Crying and stress (which can be created by the frustration with the task of writing and/or spelling. This can also be brought on in dysgraphic students by common environmental sources such as high levels of environmental noise and/or over-illumination).
  • Experiencing physical pain in the hand and/or arm when writing
  • Poor use of lines and spaces

(Handwriting Solutions, n.d.)

File:Writing 3.GIF
A writing sample of a student with dysgraphia.

Types of Dysgraphia

a) Dyslexic Dysgraphia - is a form of dyslexia which is characterized by spelling mistakes and illegible handwriting.

b) Motor Dysgraphia - due to deficient fine motor skills, poor dexterity, poor muscle tone and/or motor clumsiness. Written work, both created and copied, is illegible. Correct letter formation requires extreme effort and an unreasonable amount of time is usually needed to complete written tasks. Writing is often slanted due to holding writing object incorrectly. Spelling skills are not impaired.

c) Spatial Dysgraphia - due to a defect in the understanding of space. Spontaneously written work is illegible as well as any copied work. Spelling is usually normal. Students with Spatial Dysgraphia often have trouble keeping their writing on the lines and have difficulty with spacing between words.

d) Phonological Dysgraphia - characterized by writing and spelling disturbances in which the spelling of unfamiliar words, non-words, and phonetically irregular words is impaired. Individuals with Phonological Dysgraphia are also unable to hold phonemes in memory and blend them in their appropriate sequence to produce the target word.

e) Lexical Dysgraphia- when a person can spell but relies on standard sound-to-letter patterns with misspelling of irregular words. This is more common in languages such as English and French which are less phonetic than a language such as Spanish. This type of Dysgraphia is very rare in children.

Some children may have more than one type of Dysgraphia. Symptoms, in actuality, may vary in presentation from what is listed here.

(Handwriting Solutions, n.d.)

Stress and Dysgraphia

There are some common problems which are not related to Dysgraphia, but are often associated with Dysgraphia - the most common of which is stress. Often children (and adults) with Dysgraphia will become extremely frustrated with the task of writing (and spelling); younger children may cry or refuse to complete written assignments. This frustration can cause the child (or adult) a great deal of stress and can lead to stress related illnesses. This can be a result of any type of Dysgraphia.

Diagnosis of Dysgraphia

Dysgraphia may be suspected by professionals such as Occupational Therapists, School Psychologists, and Teachers; however, a Neuropsychologist is usually best to make the official diagnosis. It is not necessary to know the specific type of Dysgraphia in order to begin to determine and implement a helpful solution. Most students with Dysgraphia have a mixed form of this disorder.

Assessment and Diagnosis of Written Output Disorders

Diagnosing a written language disorder may be achieved through a variety of tests including Processing Speed Index scores from the WISC-III, the Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration, the Bender-Gestalt, the Jordan Left-Right Reversal Test, and a variety of written language achievement measures including the Test of Written Language, the Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-Educational Battery (Revised) and the Diagnostic Achievement Battery-Second Edition (Kay, 2012). In general a professional that has been trained in administering one of these assessment tools should be the one to give the test and diagnose the disorder. In most instances it is a school psychologist that performs these tests.

Technology to assist with Output Challenges

Many studies have found that given the right implementation (teacher training on best methods for using the technology) technology can show significant increases in abilities for students with disabilities. Duhaney, L., & Duhaney, D. C. (2000) concluded that “simply providing a teacher or student with a assistive technological device does not guarantee any increase in skill for either party. Integrating assistive technology in any form in the classroom must be done by considering process as well as product, and with an eye toward long range goals for learning outcomes" (p. 400). Furthermore a study by Lori Anderson et al. (2010) on the effects of assistive technology (AT) in a public school setting found that when students used assistive technology there was evidence of improvement in their "Individual Education Plan (IEP)" goal and an objective ability in those students who struggled to meet IEP goals with standard classroom interventions. The results further indicate that an effective method of AT implementation for students in special education requires service delivery by a multidisciplinary team.

Supporting Written Output Challenges with Technology: A Stop-Motion Video [1][2][3][4]

General Technology

Many different types of software can be used on a simple laptop to support students with a written output disorder.
An example of a hand held spell checker.
Name Description
Word Processors A computer-based writing system that allows a student to write without having to be concerned about making errors. They also do not need to be concerned about the neatness of their writing. This allows students who experience anxiety around writing tasks to focus their efforts on the meaning of their writing vs. the mechanics.
Digital Recorders A device that records video in a digital format to a disk drive or other memory medium. This can then be transferred to a computer via USB cable. This device can be used by students to record homework, assignment criteria or instructions and eliminates need to write information down.
Talking and Portable Word Processors Writing software programs that provide speech feedback as the student writes, echoing each letter as it is typed and each word as the space bar is pressed. Files from the note-takers can quickly and easily be transferred to and from a computer.
Spell Checkers Hand held spellcheckers with an option of a visual display or visual display with auditory output. Most have a thesaurus.
Text to Speech Software Text-to-Speech software is used to convert words from a computer document (e.g. word processor document, web page) into audible speech spoken through the computer speaker
Voice Input/Speech-to-Text software Allows a user to use his/her voice as an input device and to operate the computer through speech. The user speaks into a headphone-mounted microphone; the system then converts the spoken words to electronic text which is displayed on the computer screen.
Visual Mapping Software electronic concept mapping allows the user to link ideas to each other in thematic and hierarchical ways, with simultaneous outlining functions. Allows user to input information in an unstructured manner so it can be placed into appropriate categories and then ordered.
Transcription of Audio Recordings to Text Audio information is converted into text documents either manually or with the aid of a computer.
Word Completion and Word Prediction Word prediction technology is used to assist with text entry. These software packages predict the word you are typing and the next word based on word frequency and context
Grammar Check and Proofreading Software Scans documents and alerts user to errors in grammar, word usage, structure, spelling, style, punctuation and capitalization.
Abbreviation Expansion Programs Allows users to create their own abbreviations for frequently-used words, phrases, or standard pieces of text. This cuts down on the number of keystrokes needed to complete sentences.

Specific Programs

Draft Builder
Name Description
Nitro PDF Reader Free PDF reader to create, annotate, save forms, and sign PDF files. Tasks and tools are separated into tabs which are represented graphically with easy-to-understand text labels. User-friendly word processing program that can convert pdf files to plain text format.
Natural Reader NaturalReader is a Text to Speech software with natural sounding voices. This software can convert any written text such as MS Word, Webpage, PDF files, and Emails into spoken words. Natural Reader can also convert any written text into audio files such as MP3 or WAV for your CD player or iPod. Also includes word prediction application.
WordQ WordQ + SpeakQ is a word prediction and speech recognition tool available for those who struggle with writing. Can only be used on a PC.
Draft Builder (Solo)

This graphic organizer connects with many students’ learning styles whether text-based or visual to scaffold the writing process into smaller and more manageable tasks. This program can help students stay focused and are aid in the ability to collect facts, take notes and create solid outlines or drafts to improve writing essays. This program is also part of the SOLO 6 Literacy Suite.

CoWriter 6 (Solo) Co:Writer acts as the pencil while your applications are the paper. Co:Writer works in conjunction with any application you write in like MS Word, Online, Blogs, Email, etc. As you type, Co:Writer interprets spelling and grammar mistakes and offers word suggestions in real time. This program is most beneficial for students with illegible handwriting, very poor phonetic or inventive spelling, a physical disability which makes typing difficult or students who have difficulty translating thoughts into writing.
Dragon Naturally Speaking (v11.5)) Computer software which converts what is spoken into print. For those with written output disorder, this can eliminate many challenges when composing.
Dragon Dictation (iPad, iTouch, iPhone) Talk to text technology with ability to edit written product.
Draft Builder and Inspiration) Word processing programs for computers that allow students to write well organized attractive pieces of writing
Kurzweil A text-to-voice program for computers
Write:OutLoud A simple to use program that reads words as they are written, providing real-time auditory feedback. Writing tools, including talking spell checker, homophone checker, and dictionary help your students confirm their word choice in language they understand. Most beneficial for students who are reluctant to write, who have moderate grammar and spelling challenges and students who write better with auditory support
SOLO Literacy Suite and Writing Coach SOLO is a literacy suite of the most popular assistive technology accommodations, including a text reader, graphic organizer, talking word processor, and word prediction.
Co:Writer for NEO Co:Writer enables students to express their ideas easily and focus on the content of their writing. This word prediction software assists students in constructing complete, grammatically correct sentences. Integrated topic dictionaries help students use appropriate, topic-specific words.
PixWriter PixWriter meets the needs of all beginning, struggling and special needs writers. You can enter words and PixWriter automatically creates word bank buttons. Students simply click buttons to write and PixWriter gives immediate speech feedback.
Clicker Clicker software is a talking word processor that has the ability to combine graphics, text, and speech. This can help to significantly support students' reading and writing skills.

Demonstration Videos

An elementary school student with autism, demonstrates how he uses Clicker 4 software to write in class. [1]

A 5 minute demo on how to use Co-Writer 6 [2]

Teacher discussing transforming students writing with word prediction software [3]

Write:OutLoud Introduction/Demo [4]

A demonstration video for Draft Builder [5]

How future technology may be able to assist students:

There are currently many different technologies that assist students with written output challenges, and as history has demonstrated, technology will continue to evolve to create things one cannot even begin to imagine in this current day. We believe that the future of assistive technology will be an apparatus that encompasses all of the different technologies into one source. It would allow a student to be able to take a picture of notes on a whiteboard and be able to print them, input their oral answers into a print copy of a test for the teacher to mark, or correct their talk to text pieces of writing using only oral commands.

Responsibility for obtaining technologies parents vs. outside government agency?

Each province and/or school board will have a set of protocols a student must follow in order to obtain assistive technology. In most instances a member of the Administration and/or those that are part of the resource team will have the required information and documentation required for applying for assistive technology. For the purpose of this wiki, and due to the location of the authors, we will focus on the protocol in British Columbia, Canada.

Assistive technology in BC is supported by an agency called SET-BC. It lends students technology that fits their needs and is based on the number of students who apply in each district, a pre-set budget and the amount of staffing available to help implement the technology. SET-BC also assists in training school staff and providing resources to ensure the technology is used properly. The process of obtaining technology requires the following steps:

Retrieved from SET-BC

Further Reading

  • Technology to Support Writing by Students with Learning and Academic Disabilities: Recent Research Trends and Findings [6]
  • Developing Technology Supported Evidence-Based Writing Instruction for Adolescents with Significant Writing Disabilities [7]
  • Research Study: Quasi-Experimental Research Study Shows Increased Writing Gains when Technology is Paired with Instruction [8]
  • Research Study: Using Software to Enhance the Writing Skills of Students with Special Needs (Research Summary)[9]
  • Research Study: Effects of Co:Writer Word Prediction Software on the Writing Achievement of Students with Learning Disabilities [10]
  • Measuring Effectiveness: Technology to Support Writing[11]

Stop Motion Artifact


Andersen, L. T., Ito, M., Smith, R. O., & Watson, A. H. (2010). Effect of assistive technology in a public school setting. AJOT: American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 64, 18+.

Don Johnson. (n.d.). Assistive Technology. Retrieved February 19, 2012, from

Duhaney, L., & Duhaney, D. C. (2000). Assistive technology: meeting the needs of learners with disabilities. International Journal Of Instructional Media, 27(4), 393-401.

Hand writing solutions (n.d.) Retrieved February 19, 2012, from

Kay, Margaret J., (2012). Diagnosis and Intervention Strategies for Disorders of Written. Retrieved from

Learning Disability - Written Expression Disorder (n.d.) University of Colorado. Retrieved February 19, 2012 from

Mirenda, P., Turoldo, K., & McAvoy, C. (2006). The Impact of Word Prediction Software on the Written Output of Students with Physical Disabilities. Journal Of Special Education Technology, 21(3), 5-12.

Montgomery, D. J., & Marks, L. J. (2006). Using technology to build independence in writing for Students with Disabilities. Preventing School Failure, 50(3), 33-38.

Roy, J. (n.d.). Assistive technology tools, tips and tricks. Retrieved February 19, 2012 from

Special Education Technology (n.d.) Retrieved February 19, 2012 from

Types of Learning Disabilities (n.d.) Retrieved February 19, 2012, from


  1. Deuel, R., Sheffield, B., & Hanbury-King, D. (n.d.) Dysgraphia: The Handwriting Learning Disability. LDAO. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  2. Raskind, M., (2008) Assistive Technology: A Parent’s Guide. Schwab Learning. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  3. What is Dysgraphia? (2006) National Center for Learning Disabilities. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
  4. Using Technology to Support Writing. (2006) Center for Implementing Technology in Education. Retrieved February 3, 2015.