Outside-the-box assistive tech goes campus-wide

Kurzweil 3000 can read web-based text as well as a wide range of digital file formats, including PDFs. Each word in the text is highlighted as it is read aloud, allowing students to follow along. “Because the Kurzweil kept reading, if I had a dyslexic moment it didn’t really allow for that ADHD train of thought,” explained Guetschow. “It would say the word properly even if I misread it, and then it would keep going.”

The ability to vary the program’s reading speed also served to keep Guetshow’s ADHD in check. “When I first started using the Kurzweil, it was reading too slowly,” noted Guetschow. “I started reading ahead of it and I could see bad things happening that way. Being able to adjust the speed was really helpful.”

The software was a game-changer for Guetschow, who had seen her grades slip as the coursework became harder in her junior and senior years. Earlier coping strategies, such as color-coding all her coursework and using a study buddy to keep her on task, were no longer effective. “By senior year, they didn’t cut it,” said Guetschow. “It would literally take me the entire weekend to do the readings for one class. I needed help.”

As at many schools, the Kurzweil 3000 program at Adrian College is installed on computers in the disabilities office. And therein lies one of the biggest challenges facing institutions trying to support the rising number of students with LD: Unlike Guetschow, many students with LD won’t set foot in their school’s disabilities office.

Indeed, only a quarter of students who received special services in high school end up telling their colleges about their disabilities, according to the 2014 State of Learning Disabilities report from the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD). After years of being treated differently in grade school, adds the GAO analysis, many students simply want a fresh start without being labeled as having a disability.

A new web-based literacy solution from Kurzweil Educational Systems known as Firefly may finally make it possible for these students to obtain literacy assistance whenever and wherever they need it. While Firefly has many of the same features as Kurzweil 3000, it’s accessible via any browser as well as via an iPad app. Cloud-based storage makes course materials accessible from any device. Although users must currently subscribe to Kurzweil 3000 to obtain Firefly, the company ultimately sees it as a standalone product.

A screenshot of Firefly.
A screenshot of Firefly.

For Guetschow, who signed up for a free trial of Firefly during her senior year, the benefits were immediate. For starters, she was no longer a slave to the disabilities office’s hours. “The library is open twice as long as the disabilities office,” she noted. “I could go to the library to scan my textbook pages as PDFs, put them on a flash drive, and then have Firefly read them off that. It was fantastic. I could do my homework at home at 3 o’clock in the morning. I didn’t have to rely on the disabilities office as much.”

(Next page: Web-based solutions for any institution)