Language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia currently affect one in five students in the U.S. (source: Learning-Inside-Out.com). Individuals with these disabilities are often left feeling frustrated and their comprehension of text-based materials can be greatly impacted.
Read&Write Gold is a comprehensive literacy software program available to all UNH faculty, students, and staff. While specifically designed for those with language-based learning disabilities, it benefits everyone, as it assists with reading, writing, researching, and studying. Some of the features include text-to-speech with highlighted text, word prediction while typing, highlighting and exporting important information with bibliography saved, organizing research in folders, visual brainstorming and mapping thoughts, and converting text to audio.
Diana Petschauer is an assistive technology specialist for Disability Services for Students. Since she started at UNH in February 2011, she has witnessed the benefits of Read&Write Gold firsthand. Petschauer has more than a decade of experience in assistive technology and special education, working with K-12 students of various abilities and diverse learners. She was also an educational advocate in the State of New Hampshire for students with disabilities and is a nationally-certified assistive technology professional through the Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America (RESNA).
Signals recently sat down with Petschauer to ask her about some of the Read&Write Gold’s benefits and applications.
Student Jim Daley demonstrates how to use Read and Write Gold in the AT Lab.
Signals: What are some examples of use you have seen with Read&Write Gold? What are some of its benefits?
Petschauer: All students and adults can benefit from this program; however certain students who need to use the program for accommodations can utilize it for their specific needs. This is called universal design, as it benefits all individuals with and without disabilities.
An individual with a print disability or a learning disability such as dyslexia uses this program to assist them with reading and writing, as well as someone who has difficulty with spelling or grammar. English Language Learning (ELL) students benefit from the translator and the text-to-speech. A student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D) can use the program to focus and assist with comprehension, while a student with executive functioning challenges could use the program for brainstorming and organizing, and creating visual templates.
Everyone benefits from highlighting important information while researching websites, and having that information exported to a word document, with bibliography saved. It saves time and works as a great study tool for exams or outline for writing a paper.
Signals: How did you learn about Read&Write Gold?
Petschauer: I learned about Read&Write Gold from a conference that I attended quite a few years ago, when I was still working in special education in a public school district, K-12. It became networked shortly after in that school, and I used it often with my students in middle and high school. It was natural for me to think about having it here at UNH for all students, faculty, and staff, as I saw many students transitioning into college without the supports they needed.
Signals: How long have you used this program? How steep was the learning curve?
Petschauer: I have been training individuals in the use of this program for more than six years. It took a few weeks for me to become proficient with all aspects and features. The trainings I offer typically last an hour, and an individual can leave with basic knowledge of all the features they may find helpful to use. There are video tutorials embedded in the toolbar and program, so a user can review what features do, and try them often at their leisure. The tutorials can be viewed, paused, and restarted as an individual follows along hands-on. Photos, videos, and information can be found on the DSS website under assistive technology: unh.edu/disabilityservices/assistive-technology.
Signals: How can UNH students, faculty, and staff obtain this software?
Petschauer: UNH now has a home/school license of Read&Write Gold, dual platform, for Windows and Mac. This means that any current student, staff, or faculty member with a Wildcat or AD account can use the program on any computer on campus, or from their personal laptop or desktop. The software download is available at: at.unh.edu/acs/services/software.
Signals: Where can students go to get help first-hand?
Petschauer: UNH students can visit the Assistive Technology Lab (opened in fall 2011), located at Smith Hall, room 231. Hours of operation are Monday through Thursday 9 a.m.- noon, and 1 to 3:30 p.m.
Read&Write Gold is just one of many assistive technology tools utilized by Disability Services for Students. For more information and a full list of tools, go to unh.edu/disabilityservices/assistive-technology.