23 October 2006

What's Free?

A conversation on the SpeEdChange list (see right column) asked about free solutions. So lets go public with this. This is important because schools often say that they do not use assistive technologies or universal design technologies because they "are so expensive." I often respond by saying that if the school/university has already installed all the software freely available, I will listen to their complaint, but if not, I assume other (less pleasant) motives.

So here are some free options to make ICT in your school more accessible...

Microsoft Reader (all free, a three-step install - Reader, the TTS engine, and the "Read in Microsoft Reader Add-in" which allows instant conversion from MS Word. http://www.microsoft.com/reader/downloads/pc.asp
for free books - http://etext.virginia.edu/ebooks/

Firefox/FireVox http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/ and http://www.firevox.clcworld.net/ or Firefox (1.0.7) with FoxyVoice http://www.filehippo.com/download_firefox/?390 (make sure tool preferences are set to NOT automatically update software) and the FoxyVoice Extension at: https://addons.mozilla.org/extensions/moreinfo.php?id=269

Opera (with speech enabled) http://www.opera.com/

ReadPlease2003 http://www.readplease.com/english/downloads/

Dragnifier http://www.magnifiers.org/links/Download_Software/Screen_Magnifiers/Windows_Freeware_and_shareware/

GraphCalc - a marvelous free graphing calculator that allows easy intro of math notation into word via copy/paste (and may eliminate spending $100 a student on TI calculators)

Click-N-Type - perhaps the best, most flexible on-screen keyboard that talks to you as well in a ton of languages

Dasher - another "higher needs based" on-screen keyboard

Google Accessible Search (blind-low vision support)

SENSwitcher (early childhood, CI, etc)

Adobe Acrobat 7 (reads pdfs)

Another critical free resource is teaching students to use free on-line storage to back up their files. British Telecom (new), Google's G-mail and Yahoo Mail all come with 2 gigabytes or more of storage. The simplest way to use this is to attach files to message "drafts" and save them. This creates data storage that you can access from any computer (scan your passport, etc and upload it this way before you travel for one great potential problem solver).

And remember, Google now offers free calendars, word processing and spreadsheet software that not only is remotely stored but can be shared by workgroups, especially student workgroups.

- Ira Socol

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