By: Dani Kessel
I believe everybody has a story worth telling.
This is a fundamental belief I’ve held my whole life. Whether it’s telling our memoir, sharing perspectives, or letting imagination lead the way, storytelling is ingrained in us. Before the written word, humans carved images of legends. Before literacy was widespread and advanced, troubadours and bards kept tales alive. Writers provide an emotional and mental connection to humanity.
Not everyone has the ability to plan, write, edit, or type stories in the typically taught way though.
Far too often, society overlooks people with disabilities. Without assistive tools, some folks passionate about writing aren’t able to do so. (As a disabled person, I know what it feels like to have obstacles hindering me from doing something I love. It’s awful.) I want to enable folks with all backgrounds and abilities to tell their stories. So, I put together this list.
Here are 13 assistive tools for writers with disabilities:
1. Ergonomic pens and pencils
- Ideal for people with dexterity struggles, carpal tunnel syndrome, and/or arthritis
Many different physical disabilities affect the hands. Ergonomic pens and pencils help decrease writing fatigue, pressure on joints, and muscle strain. They require very only a loose grip. The many different shapes and sizes of ergonomic pens and pencils help with various needs. Not only this, but they increase productivity. Less strain on the hand means the ability for longer writing sessions.
2. Ginger Software
- Ideal for people with dyslexia
Unlike most other spell-checkers, Ginger Software is designed to check the context and surrounding words in order to provide the most accurate word suggestion. It is programmed with common misspellings for folks with dyslexia. It recognizes most phonetic spelling and swaps it out for correct spelling with a high degree of accuracy. The premium version also has the ability to read back writing for proofreading purposes. A user can write everything out, check the suggested words, and have it read back to verify the correct meaning.
3. Dictation and text-to-speech software
- Ideal for various physical and/or mental disabilities
There are so many different disabilities that this type of software can assist with, I couldn’t even write them all out. Dictation software allows people to speak what they want to type. The words appear as they talk. (I actually used dictation software this week for work since I have a hand injury and am in a brace.) Some dictation programs require users to state punctuation, while others will place the suggested punctuation. Text-to-speech software reads aloud the writing. For anybody with visual impairments or dyslexia, this can make a world’s difference in ensuring the grammar and meaning is correct.
4. Co:Writer Universal
- Ideal for people with autism spectrum disorders and/or dyslexia
Many folks with autism spectrum disorders experience delays in language acquisition and processing. Co:Writer Universal is a word predictive software which works within the context of the sentence and paragraph. It allows writers with learning disorders to work independently and not focus on spelling.
5. Slant boards
- Ideal for people with dysgraphia, decreased planal visual acuity, ADD, and/or cerebral palsy
Slant boards help improve posture which consequently improves handwriting. This assists both writers with cerebral palsy and writers with dysgraphia. The smaller surface improves focus for those with ADD rather than them working with a large table as a surface. Because the angle can be modified to each user’s needs, they are assistive in folks who have decreased planal visual acuity. This combined with a light directly on the surface can make it easier for visually impaired writers to see their paper/notebook.
6. Mouth sticks and head pointers
- Ideal for people with quadriplegia, limited dexterity, and/or motor disabilities
Mouth sticks and head pointers are extremely helpful for people with physical disabilities that would otherwise hinder their ability to use a pencil or type on a keyboard. This is essentially a plastic stick with a rubber tip on one end. It is either attached to a head strap or a mouth guard, depending on how the writer will use it. The rubber-tipped end can be used to type on a keyboard. Depending on the stick, some also have clamps to hold a writing utensil. These assistive tools are popular due to their low cost and ease of use.
7. Eye-tracking keyboards
- Ideal for people with non-verbal disorders, cerebral palsy, and/or quadriplegia
To start off, these are usually very expensive. However, they are effective communication and writing tools for those who do not have the ability to use other assistive tools. These use eye movements to select letters, punctuation, etc.
8. Squiggle Wiggle pens
- Ideal for people with dexterity struggles, arthritis, autism spectrum disorders, and/or sensory processing issues
Squiggle Wiggle pens are fantastic assistive tools! Firstly, they vibrate increasing sensory awareness. The vibration can be calming for those with autism spectrum disorders. The pen is wider, thus easier to grip for those with arthritis or muscle weakness. The pen can make squiggles and loops for letters depending on how close to the paper or how far from the paper a person holds it. If a person cannot effectively move their hands to create letters, it allows them to still write on paper.
9. Abbreviation expanders
- Ideal for people with dyslexia, memory problems, muscle weakness, and/or learning disabilities
It can be difficult to write when a person struggles with spelling, finishing thoughts, recalling words, etc. Abbreviation expanders allow users to program in abbreviations for their commonly used phrases. Then, any time they type the abbreviation, it is replaced with the programmed phrase. This takes stress off of writers with mental disabilities. They can also be used by folks whose muscles fatigue quickly from typing. Fewer keystrokes can increase the amount of writing for writers with muscle weakness.
10. Slate and stylus
- Ideal for people with blindness and/or visual impairment
Many folks who are blind or visually impaired read and write with Braille. The slate and stylus are an inexpensive and easy to transport way to write Braille on the go. Slate and stylus users press indents through the slate onto paper from right to left. Then, when opened and the paper is flipped over, it can be read from left to right.
11. Braille keyboards and Braille overlays for computers
- Ideal for people with blindness and/or visual impairment
For blind and visually impaired writers who prefer typing over writing on paper, Braille keyboards can be Bluetooth connected to computers in order for writers with visual disabilities to type their stories. Those are much more expensive though. A less costly option is Braille overlays for computer keyboards. These are adhesives that stick onto traditional QWERTY keyboards. Both of these options open up the world of writing.
12. Bubbl.us website and other mind-mapping programs
- Ideal for people with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, ADD, and/or learning disabilities
Many mental disabilities make it difficult to plan or tell stories in a linear, written fashion. It can make people feel like they can’t write well. Bubbl.us and other mind-mapping programs allow writers to handle stories in a visual manner, a method known to help with learning disorders. Mind maps break down story components into manageable chunks. When writers with these forms of disabilities use mind maps, they are more capable of fully developing plots, and they can use their mind maps as a reference when they are writing.
13. SnapType app
- Ideal for people with dysgraphia, dyslexia, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, and/or Down syndrome
The SnapType app was developed by an occupational therapist to help students with dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, and Down syndrome. The app allows people to take a picture of an assignment; then, they can write via the app instead of on paper. Once they are done writing, they can print out their work. Though it’s primarily meant for students and kids, this can translate into an app useable for writers with these disabilities. Before they ever start writing, authors use character sheets, plot outline sheets, prompt sheets, and other things to help build their stories. The app allows writers with mental disabilities to do this in a way that works efficiently for their brains.
I hope this helps those of you reading this because you want to write and have a disability.
Assistive tools are out there to help you on your journey. You are more than capable of writing if that’s what you desire. I want you to know something though. One thing I learned early on is that the first step to being a writer is saying you are a writer. Even if you haven’t started, you are simply a writer who hasn’t gotten down their story yet. You have a story worth telling. Tell it.
If you aren’t a writer with a disability, you can still do something with this information.
Accessibility makes a real difference in the world. It opens doors and assists those who are far too often left behind. We, as a society, are at our best when we recognize the experiences of those with different backgrounds. Be an ally to the disabled community. Share this article and help others to make their voices heard.