This is a first is a series of reviews of apps useful to individuals with learning disabilities. As our school has just issued some iPad to our LD teachers the search has begun for apps that would support students at the middle/high level as well as appropriate to students post secondary schools or for individuals with LD requiring support in vocational settings.
When I first started using my iPod several years ago, I was thrilled to be able to look up an unfamiliar word with my iPod Touch while in conferences or when reading. With several years and thousands of app developments later, the choices of dictionary tools have only gotten better with more choices and supports available for students with spelling, vocabulary and reading challenges. In the public school setting, we support our high incidence students with LD using many different devices. Spelling to look up a word is often a challenge. The portability and availability of apps on iDevices as well as cell phones provides wonderful tools in the hands of students as well as employees who have learning disabilities. A recent inquiry to one of my employment opportunities, Adaptive Technology Resources, requested mobile device for an individual in a work place who had spelling challenges with daily documentation . My first thought was the use of a mobile device, such as an iPod Touch or iPhone (carried in a pocket) to look up words using Voice Search, or creation of a favorites list of frequently used words that were difficult to spell.
Although not inclusive, here are some dictionary apps that I felt would support individuals with learning disabilities and help compensate for spelling or vocabulary challenges:
Merriam Webster Dictionary – Merriam Webster Dictionary app (free, iPhone/iPod, iPad, Android) is a boon for students who can not spell and need support with vocabulary. With a wireless connection, Merriam Webster Dictionary has a voice search tool allowing an individual to speak the word into the app and the word will be transcribed and the word and the definition will be presented.
When Wi-Fi is not available the dictionary app will not allow voice search, but allows manual look up of definitions using the dictionary app. Although word prediction is not available an alphabetized word list is generated on the device given the correct spelling.
The dictionary app also features:
- Collecting favorite words, allowing creation of a word list of frequently misspelled words or vocabulary list for specific classes or occupation related word list
- Recent searches collects a helpful tool if needing to create a word list for individuals of frequently misspelled words or vocabulary usage for specific classes or as needed in a work situation (see bottom tools on image above)
- Synonym and antonyms are available in each definition entry and are linked to the definition of the word to hear it spoken aloud
- Easy navigation is available with arrows at the top of the app between links and features.
Although Merriam Webster Dictionary does not provide text to speech of the definition, nor does the Speak Selection function in the app, if you turn on Triple-click Home -Voice Over function on, you will have text to speech of the text definition with triple clicking. This takes a little bit of practice but is a very useful function for struggling readers for with many apps.
Available for iPhone/iPod. Android and iPad, the iPad app provides a scrolling listing of words on the screen.
The free version of the Miriam Webster Dictionary has ads but which are minimally distracting however provide a link to the advertisement which may be problematic for some students. As a free app, this is an invaluable and accessible tool for individuals with LD especially accessible with Wi-Fi services.
Visual Dictionary Online – The Miriam Webster Visual Dictionary is an online tool that provides 15 different themes or subject areas (Human Body, Animal Kingdom, Astronomy, Earth, Plants and Animals, Food & Kitchen, House, Clothing and articles, Arts & Architecture, Communications, Transport & Machinery, Energy, Science, Society, Sports & Games) and 6,000 images. By adding the Visual Dictionary Online as a Bookmark or using “Add to Home Screen” as an icon on your iDevice in Safari will provide you easy access to a pictorial dictionary for your students with Wi-Fi services. Here is an example of a visual dictionary entry when searching the Animal kingdom theme:
Each of the sub topic areas are linked to more information. Images are able to be saved or copied to your photo album by tapping on the pictures. Some images however were watermarked. Audio output of the main dictionary word is available however I found it to be a bit awkward in its functioning as it links you to another page to speak the word aloud.
If you are on the new iOS5 operating system you have the additional bonus of tapping on a non-linked word and using the Copy, Define or Speak option when the Speak Selection (Accessibility>Speak Selection) is “On”.
Dictionary.com – Dictionary.com app (Free/$2.99 for ad removal) is a dictionary app with a dictionary base of 2,000,000 words or entries which provides voice search capabilities with Wi-Fi connectivity.
The dictionary is functional off-line using the search box. A list of alphabetized words is offered when the word is being entered.
The text to speech button is provided for the targeted word to be spoken aloud however the definition is not available for text to speech. Words in the definition are linked for look up and speaking of the individual words. Using Triple click-Voice Over, definitions can be spoken aloud.
Dictionary.com provides a toggling method of accessing the thesaurus or the dictionary with the yellow T/blue D presented to the right of the screen. Other features provided in Dictionary.com include:
- Favorites word list created by selecting the star when in a word definition
- Options of a limited number of background colors
- Dictionary and Thesaurus entries (as described above)
Dictionary.com’s dictionary and thesaurus tools I believe are more user-friendly however, navigation in Dictionary.com is not as intuitive as Miriam Webster’s Dictionary in my opinion. Both apps voice search was remarkably good using an adult voice.
A post in appadvice.com, “ Best English Dictionary Apps: iPad/iPhone Apps AppGuide” provides a great listing of dictionary apps. Research and trial of many of the additionally listed apps finds that many of them do not have speech pronunciation available or some may have it but requiring Wi-Fi service to function. In my opinion the dictionaries are only accessible if they talk aloud to support most of the students I service. Certainly Voice Over can be used with these dictionary apps however a quick look up with the pronunication readily available is preferred in my mind.
In addition to the above free apps with voice search here are a few additional apps worth looking at for use with students with learning disability:
WordBook English Dictionary & Thesaurus – The WordBook Dictionary ($1.99 for iPhone/iPod; also available for Windows phone) has 150,000 entries with pronunciations for all words. pronunciations are available within the apps, not requiring Wi-Fi services for speaking pronunciations. WordBook is easy to navigate and provides tabs to navigate between a word entry dictionary thesaurus and other tools such as Wikipedia entries of the word. It also provides some word suggestions when typing in a word almost like word completion/word prediction without a phonetic base (see WordBook XL below).
A tab in the bottom of the screen (yellow) provides other tools such as adding a note, bookmark or cross referencing other web-based tools such as Miriam Webster, Google, Wikipedia, answers.com or Wordreference.com if Wi-Fi is available.
WordBook XL – English Dictionary & Thesaurus for the iPad ($2.99) is laid out slightly different:
Other tools and features available within WordBook include:
- Adding Bookmarks or History word lists for later review or reference (this could be used for word frequently misspelled)
- Choice of font styles (7 different styles)
- Text Size (Smallest, Smaller, Medium, Larger, Largest)
- Choice of turning voice on or off
- Customizing the web content URL’s used for referencing words searched
WordBook does not provide the tools to read the definitions, but using Voice Over (Triple-click turned on) allowed definitions to be read aloud. Although a smaller vocabulary base in this dictionary, I liked the ease of navigation and some of the other customizations and features provided in this app that could aid with some visual challenges and provide links to web-based tools. The other reference tools provided within WordBook all are linked back to WordBook app and would require additional exploration for their usefulness determined.
Dictionary – by Xyster.net another of the numerous dictionaries ($1.99) for iPhone/iPod and iPad provides 150,000 entries with links and illustrations. Dictionary does not provide a voice search, but does provide pronunciation of the word and bookmarks for frequently used words. Other features available include:
- Suggested spelling list
- Bookmark capabilities
- Extensive rhyming list
Other classic dictionary apps for purchase to check out:
American Heritage Dictionary 5th Edition ($24.99)
Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition – ($24.99) for iPhone and iPad.
There are many dictionary app choices available, some have greater advantages for individuals with learning disabilities. Check out some of the dictionaries and provide some thoughts and feed back on which ones you would use with your students or individuals in employment. I look forward to any thoughts or experiences you may have!