Monday, June 11, 2007

Free Technology Toolkit for UDL in All Classrooms - Spread the Word!

Thanks to Joyce Valenza, this post has been recreated as a wiki. Check it out here:
(Note: Last updated 7/21/08. All updates are posted at the Free UDL Tech Toolkit Wiki. I no longer update this post).

My passion is to remove the obstacles to learning for all students and these free tools offer opportunities for struggling learners that promote academic success. When material is digital or electronic, it is flexible and accessible. It is our responsibility as educators to provide materials that promote success. Please encourage all educators to consider using these free tools.

When Congress reauthorized IDEA in 1997, they added the provision that ALL students on IEPs must now be considered for assistive technology. (As Dave Edyburn pointed out, 4 million more students were now eligible to be considered for AT. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 96% of students with disabilities attend schools within their districts which is the high-incidence population.)

Unfortunately, this was another unfunded mandate.

Unfortunately, this is a provision that is frequently ignored (in my experience).


Many teachers believe that assistive technology has to cost money, typically a lot of money. They tell me they are afraid to bring up AT at team meetings for that reason. Other teachers tell me that particular software or hardware is available but no one knows how to use it so it just sits in a closet, unused. Sometimes, teachers who were trained to use particular tools or devices have left the district and no one else is interested in learning how to integrate the AT. A common complaint is that the software is too complicated or there are technical issues that prevent implementation.

I hear many more issues but none of this helps our struggling learners. It's time for a change and there is no better time than now with the ubiquitous open source and Web 2.0 tools that are readily available. Change is centered upon Universal Design for Learning (UDL) which proproses that multiple methods of :
  • Representation
  • Engagement
  • Expression
promote learning for ALL students. Flexibility is embedded within the curriculum. The book, Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age available in its entirety at the CAST website, expounds upon these principles and this is a MUST read for all educators. The TES segment of the CAST website offers a number of free resources and supports for educators interested in incorporating UDL principles in their classrooms, including tutorials and interactive activities.
Change is also centered on FREE tools that are already readily available in the classroom or that are easily accessed by Internet download.

I have assembled a number of free resources that I believe should be on every classroom computer to promote learning for all students based upon principles of UDL. These tools provide improved access and accommodate for learner differences. Additionally, they are fun and engaging!

Free Text-to-Speech (Why? Two reasons - 1. It is essential for struggling readers; when text is digital it is now accessible and 2. it supports the writing process, especially when editing and revising work)
  • WordTalk - a free text-to-speech program for the PC that works within WORD and Outlook and highlights each word that is read. Includes a talking spell checker and a talking thesaurus. Watch this video that I created to learn how to use it. It's best to watch it full screen.
  • Natural Reader - another free text-to-speech software program which converts any written text to speech (Word, pdf, websites, emails)
  • Click,Speak - a free Firefox extension that reads the Internet and highlights phrases and sentences as it reads
  • PowerTalk - free text-to-speech for PowerPoint presentations
  • Talklets - make any website talk, embed in your website, blog or wiki
  • Read The Words - Register first, upload file or choose text or website to read, a recording is generated which you can listen to online or download to an mp3 player, upload to a blog, etc. Very Cool tool worth letting your students explore.
  • Spoken Text - online text-to-speech MP3 converter
  • YakIToMe! - Listen to important documents, PowerPoint presentations, emails, RSS feeds, blogs and novels. YAKiToMe! is multi-lingual (English, Spanish, French ...) and brings you the world's best text-to-speech (TTS) synthesis technologies. Easily converts to podcasts.
((Word Talk is a MUST have download! There are a number of other programs but these are preferred because they work right within the program AND highlight the text as it is read. No need to open a new window.)

Free Speech-to-Text
  • It is built into Office 2003 for Windows and VISTA. Explore it.
Free Literacy Tools
  • StarFall - Pre-K - 2nd grade online activities that promote literacy
  • GenieBooks - Decodable books in Powerpoint
  • Story Line Online - Listen to stories read by Screen Actors Guild members - follow along with the text
  • Planet eBooks - Free classic literature to download (middle school and up)
  • Cast UDL Book Builder - Check out a previous post to learn about this free online tool for creating digital books with embedded prompts.
  • UDL Editions - Leveled support for seven texts geared for ages 10 and up
  • Poetry Foundation - free resource to find poetry by category, by name, by title, by author, or by first line. It's digital, attach a voice and it's now accessible!
Free Graphic Organizers
  • - free brainstorming and organizing tool
  • Mindomo - online mind-mapping tool, easily share with others
  • Belvedere - designed for k-12 population
  • CMAP - concept maps
  • Free Mind - mind-mapping tool
  • Mindomo - mind-mapping tool
  • MindMeister - online collaborative graphic organizing tool
  • Exploratree - thinking guides and more (definitely worth exploring)
  • Dabbleboard - freehand graphic organizer and visual whiteboard, fun and easy to use
Writing Tools
  • Ginger Spelling - "Ginger provides an automatic spell checker, through an intelligent automatic context-based correction of spelling mistakes and misused words." Excellent correction, currently in beta, available for download for use within Microsoft Word. Add this to your classroom computers and tell your students about it so they can download it to their home computers.(PC only)
  • Ghotit - an online contextual spell checker service, a great spell checker for students with LDs! Tell them to add it to their home computers.
  • Wacky Web Tales - an online "madlib" tool
  • Writing Fix - Interactive Writing Prompts
  • Read/write/think - Interactive digital activities (click the student materials link and then click the interactive links - there are many to choose from)
  • Our Story, Mnemograph - collaborative, online Time Line tools
  • ToonDoo - Online comic strip creator
Math Tools
  • Math Playground - excellent site for Math activities for K - 8, make sure to explore the Mathcasts. Mathcasts allow students to review math when THEY need to.
  • Thinking Blocks - a creative, interactive math resource to help students understand how to solve word problems. Watch the video here to learn how to use it.
  • GraphCalc - Online Graphing Calculator
  • National Library of Virtual Manipulatives - a library of uniquely interactive, web-based virtual manipulatives or concept tutorials, mostly in the form of Java applets, for mathematics instruction (K-12 emphasis)

Study Skills Tools
  • CueCard - an electronic flashcard program download with multiple features including ability to import audio and graphics. Keeps track of correct responses and can be printed out.
  • Study Stack - create interactive web-based flashcards or use ones that are already created; if you use stacks that are already created, check them first as there are errors in several of the created stacks.
  • Flash Card Machine - allows the user to create interactive web-based study flash cards.
  • Flash Card Friends - online, interactive flash cards
  • Quizlet - described as an online tool for learning vocabulary
  • Awesome Highlighter - tool that highlights text on a web page; save the URL or email it
  • Create note taking templates in Word
  • Use "Power of Color" within Word (background color, highlighting color and font color tools) to reinforce concepts, to determine salient points and for review
  • Use the "Organizational Chart" in the Diagram Gallery that is part of the Drawing Toolbar in Word to reinforce concepts and relationships which promotes learning.
  • In Word, press the Alt tab + mouse click within a word to access the Research pane. When you are online, you will instantly get a definition of the word.
Research Tools
Free Collaboration Tools (these are accessible anywhere!)
  • Google Docs and Spreadsheets - allows students to collaborate on work from any computer including while at home
  • Zoho - full suite of online, collaboration tools - word processor, presentation, notetaking (can insert audio), spreadsheets, planner. Worth exploring!
  • Go 2 Web 2.0 - here you will find every Web 2.0 application imaginable. There are tools for everything. Constantly updated!
  • Web 2.0 Tools - (These tools especially benefit the learner with reading, organizational or attentional issues as the material can be easily retrieved, read or listened to online)
    • Wikis - provide group collaboration opportunities and study guides
    • Blogs - provide opportunities for written expression without time constraints and can use text-to-speech, spell check, grammar check etc. before posting. Blogs are great for students who are less vocal IN class, for a variety of reasons, but still want a chance to participate in discussions
    • Podcasts/videocasts
    • Web-based social bookmarking tools such as Delicious or Portaportal - create class favorites that your students can retrieve anywhere to help them study
  • Multimedia and Digital Storytelling Tools
  • Voice Thread - capture audio for online digital storytelling. THIS IS A MUST HAVE! The pro version is free to K-12 educators.
  • Photo Story 3 for Windows - you will be amazed at how quickly you can create slide shows or movies from your class photos. Upload your photos in seconds, easily add music and you have a year end presentation of your class activities. MANY other uses.
  • ScrapBlog - Create online multimedia scrapbooks from your text, video, audio and photos
  • Flip Books - Create online multimedia scrapbooks from your text and photos
  • Animoto - create fully customized videos of user-selected images and music almost instantaneously. The web appliciaiotn does all the work once you select your images and audio. This one is so cool!
  • Building Wings: How I Made it Through School - A free "Readers Theater Implementation Toolkit" accompanies this autobiography by Don Johnston "which helps learners take charge of their learning potential!" Learned about this from Valerie who left a comment.
Additional Free Tools
  • Project Spectrum - Google Sketchup Tutorial for use with students on the Autism Spectrum
  • ZacBrowser - Web Browser designed by a grandfather for his grandson who is on the Autism Spectrum. Appropriate for young children or those with developmental disabilities
  • Do to Learn - Free Feelings and Emotions Games, excellent for social skills instruction, also check out the Fire Safety and Street Safety songs for students with cognitive disabilities
  • Yackpack - audio email or free live conferencing
  • Eyejot - "Video messaging in a blink," video email tool
  • Better Fonts - Dafonts - free fonts
  • PDF Creator or Cute pdf - free PDF conversion tools
  • Diigo - a powerful social annotation research tool, with highlighting features
  • Cast UDL Lesson Builder - provides educators with models and tools to create and adapt lessons that increase access and participation in the general education curriculum for all students.
  • Checklists - linear alternative to rubrics, easily create guides for students' projects.
  • Visual Schedules - best for younger students.
  • Note Star - helps organize notes and bibliographies for essays and research papers.
  • Imagine Symbols - 4000 free realistic symbols. Import these into your clip art folder for easy access.
  • Audacity - Free, cross-platform software for recording and editing sounds
  • Jott - Use a cell phone to send emails or voice messages, great for students to send themselves reminders, homework assignments, to-do lists, summaries of class instruction ,etc. This can be an effective strategy for students with executive function, organization or written output issues. Check out additional ideas here in this blog post.
  • Click N Type Virtual On Screen Keyboard
  • Pics4Learning - copyright friendly image library for teachers and students
Additional Strategies
  • Create customized lined paper using the Line tool within the Drawing Toolbar within Word. Give students the choice of lined paper within your classrooms including mid-lined paper.
  • Customize the toolbar in Word; remove extraneous icons on the Standard and Formatting Toolbars and add the "Insert Sound Object" icon so that it is readily available for student or teacher use. (There are numerous options for this "Power of Voice" feature - this is a very powerful tool!)
  • Enlarge the icons on your customized toolbar in Word
  • Embed verbal prompts in your documents for student support.
There are so many options, AT does not have to be expensive! Always remember that it is not about the tool but what the tool offers our struggling students, an alternative way to gain access to the curriculum and/or demonstrate what they know.


Anonymous said...

What a great list. I would also include where you can see literally 100's of new tools that will let you do just about anything. I'll be sending this list to my spec ed teacher for her to look at. I am hoping to use more of these in the upcoming year with my students to help them share ideas and just be better able to access their information anywhere. I'm thinking of having the use, online desktop, for the class so they can save and access anywhere. Thanks for the tools!

Karen Janowski said...

Thanks for stopping by. I added to the list as you suggested, a site I blogged about previously.
Please encourage the special education teacher in your building to give me a call if I can be of any assistance!
And thanks for all the innovative work you do for your students. We need more principals from your mold!

Anonymous said...

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Paul Hamilton said...

Hi Karen,

I love your blog, especially this post with your UDL toolkit. I am an AT consultant on Vancouver Island, and it sounds as though we are very much on the same wavelength. I,too, have been assembling a UDL toolkit so I can promote learning for every student in all the schools that I visit. I'm familiar with many of your suggestions, but I'm grateful for quite a few new ones, as well.

Like you, I'm a huge fan of WordTalk. I was really pleased recently when one school district that I serve decided to install WordTalk on their high school server. This is an add-on that should definitely be available to all students who use MS Word. Are you familiar with PowerTalk for PowerPoint?

I recently wrote a post about PowerTalk. ( I'm also becoming increasingly enthusiastic about the growing number of online platforms that offer alternative vehicles for students to express themselves, eg. Scrapblog, Voicethread,

Thanks again,

--Paul Hamilton

Feel free to email me: phamilton at setbc dot org

Karen Janowski said...

Thanks so much for your suggestions. I added them in. I have used PowerTalk and VoiceThread and recently learned about Scrapblog and Flipbooks.
I think I will continue to add to this post. Maybe I will collect additions and post a "part 2." It's an exciting time to work in assistive technology, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Holy accessibility links! Thanks so much and good job! I agree with you completely that promoting the free programs will do a world of good when it comes to helping those in the classroom who need the extra help. Especially with so many very expensive alternatives out there.

Liz Ditz said...

It's Liz from I Speak of Dreams.

I posted it at the SchwabLearning parents' message board

and on my two blogs


Anonymous said...


I appreciate your blog and the resources you suggest. I teach English Language Learners, and many assistive technology applications are helpful to that population, too.

I wanted to point out some recent posts on my blog that highlight some additional online applications that you might want to add to your list.

Just today I wrote about a site that has "talking" math flashcards:

I've also written about some other flashcard applications you might want to add:

I have about 7,000 categorized links on my website that are appropriate for English Language Learners. You might want to look them over for other sites that might be helpful.

Susan Goding said...

Another good free text to speech add-on is
Thunder Screen Reader at It will echo characters and or words in Word as a student types.

Iteachr said...

That's a great list, thanks. Another excellent app is for creating collaborative flipbooks. For more digital storytelling, slideshow and video apps take a look at my ongoing collection at

Kathy Griffin said...

This is a fantastic list!

Anonymous said...

Hey Karen!

Did you know that Don Johnston, who has developed a collection of great assistive technolgies now offers a FREE Reader's Theater program for struggling learners?

Check it out and thanks for posting some fabulous resources!
Hugs, Valerie

Lynn Marentette said...


What a great blog! I posted a link to this post from one of my blogs.

Samuel Sennott said...


Thanks for making this an alive post by updating. Your the best! -Sam

Madeline Rosenshein said...

This is a great list. I only have one additional site to add. It's 1 Stop for Free Assistive Technology.
Here's the link
Madeline AT Consultant OHIO

Sharon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sharon said...

What a great job of compiling these tools. I feel that educators must learn to take advantage of all the free resources available. I posted your link at SharonsShare


Anonymous said...

You have so many great resources. Looking around, I have some really great ideas now. I started an AT committee in my district and I am especially excited to share the Free Text To Speech information. Thanks for putting it all together.

Cheryloakes50 said...

Hi Karen,
This is a tremendous resource. Thanks for sharing. Do you have a resource for educators to find alternative reading material for content so they can differentiate? I can use our MARVEL database, infonet , in Maine and select articles based on Lexiles and reading levels, but wanted to know if there is another source.Thanks so much, Cheryl Oakes

Happy said...

Wow ! that's a great list Kareen. What I found particularly impressive is Yugma. Its a free collaboratory tool which I am using for a while now..See even after shifting to turbomeeting for professional reasons this is something I didn't miss out. Yep I want it should get compatible with Linux too soon.

Anonymous said...

Great AT links and resources. Do you have a contact # for WordTalk. I downloaded it and keep getting an error message that I can't decipher and my computer geek friend is stumped too.

Anonymous said...

Dear Karen, Since I have never written in a blog before it seems truly fitting that I first write to you. This is definitely a resource to keep. There is so much here and after today's class many parts are falling into place. I'm gaining much more of a context to make sense out of all this information. Thanks for all your insights. Best, Nancy

mfisher520 said...

Hi Karen! I really enjoyed playing with the toondoo website! This would be a very reinforcing and fun site for kids to practice their writing and ability to create!

Lisa Parisi said...

What a fabulous list. I will be sharing this with my colleagues - both regular and special ed. All teachers should be using these tools for all students.

Anonymous said...

Good Job!: )

Anonymous said...

Wow! This is a virtual treasure box post!!! I have a child who struggles with many aspects of the traditional "learning environment". It's been a challenge to literally re-educate her instructors on the fact that there is more than one way to teach a child. These advancements in technology and tools has made my child an HONOR STUDENT this year! I can HIGHLY recommend and specifically a product called Kid Pix Deluxe 4
This graphics program is now used in my daughter's classroom, and as a visual learner, she was able to maximize learning processing. It's an amazing program!! We use it at home as well. You can't slow down in the Summer with a child who needs to fight to stay ahead. This program makes learning fun for her and she doesn't even mind "summer homework"!
Thanks again for this post. I know I'll be checking out many of the recommendations!

- SamF

Beth Huston said...

Just heard about your site and I am excited to dig in! One question - do you know of a handy assessment/checklist for sped teachers to help determine possible and appropriate technology accommodations? We're looking for something to support our evaluation process. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This is a great site. Thank you for your information. I THANK YOU I SALUTE YOU IT,S A AMZING SITE.

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen,
Following ECBE08 on Monday, I have added this list to my netvibes digital toolbox page. This is the page I intend to share with all the students and teachers at my school this September.
digital toolbox
Thank you for the fabulous session, assistive technology for all students!

Anonymous said...

Heres the link....

Edtech @ Carroll said...

Hi Karen,

I love this list. Thank you! Wanted to suggest adding Jing ( It is a really fun capture tool, but rather than having to take the whole screen, you can choose what you want to capture. But even more cool, it lets you do video capture...great for teachers to demonstrate. Check it out!

Karen Janowski said...

Thank you all for continuing to leave comments on this post and offering additional suggestions.
Tsockalosky - I do use Jing and love it for screen capturing. Thanks for including it.
Lindseyb16 - Great meeting you. Please feel free to share this post with anyone who can benefit!

Cheryloakes50 said...

Karen, just a shout out that I will be using your blog as a jumping off point with my Oct. 17th workshop in Augusta!

Unknown said...

I would be happy to provide you with a referral to different places offering a wide variety of teacher resources.

Aman & Biki said...

Thanks for all the free tools provided by you. It is good that you feel that education should spread to everyone. It is hard to earn money chao!

Anonymous said...

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Thank you! i love it.
More templates easy to download

cheap computers said...

It is flexible, accessible and quite informative.

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PC Tech Support said...

This is awesome! Thanks for putting it all together. I feel that educators have to learn how to take advantage of all the free resources available.

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ted said...

What a wonderful comprehensive learning list! hat must have taken you a while! I forwarded it to my cousin's teacher in Duxbury- the computer labs could definitely use some of those programs and PC Remote Access software. I know the teacher has been looking for ways to get all pf the kids comfortable on computers while not spending precious time playing non-educational games.

Anonymous said...

This is a very good list of resources and amazing suggestions. Just wanted to add about flashcards that has done wonders to me - education flashcards

manuhanda said...

excellent source of information.

Paul Husser said...

Free educational tools are very important these days with the lack of funding in our education system. I wish there were more programs for teachers to use out there. We need to use what works, such as Flashcards which have been around for a long time and are still useful even today!

Paul Husser said...

Free educational tools are very important these days with the lack of funding in our education system. I wish there were more programs for teachers to use out there. We need to use what works, such as flashcards which have been around for a long time and are still useful even today!

Medyum said...

What a great list. I would also include where you can see literally 100's of new tools that will let you do just about anything. I'll be sending this list to my spec ed teacher for her to look at. I am hoping to use more of these in the upcoming year with my students to help them share ideas and just be better able to access their information anywhere. I'm thinking of having the use, online desktop, for the class so they can save and access anywhere. Thanks for the tools!

Tips Tricks Ideas said...

I have been reading a lot on here and have picked up some great ideas. You are so inspirational. Wished I would take the time to write my own blog – but I’m afraid I’m not persistent and nobody would read it anyway ) – so I keep coming back and enjoy your stories
digital inspiration

stanley said...

Always on point and thanks for sharing!