After being diagnosed with dysgraphia in elementary school, I have talked to dozens of people over the years about my dysgraphia accommodations in the classroom, assistive technology from dysgraphia, and even how dysgraphia affects students with low vision. While I jokingly tell people that I was pre-disposed to dysgraphia since my dad works in the medical field, the reality is that dysgraphia is much more than just poor handwriting- it can cause issues with spelling words while writing them on the page, having trouble with writing on lined paper, and even issues with writing words entirely. Here are the dysgraphia accommodations in the classroom that I have used over the years, from elementary school to graduate classes in college.
Dysgraphia is defined by the National Institute of Health as “a neurological disorder characterized by writing disabilities. Specifically, the disorder causes a person’s writing to be distorted or incorrect.” It is considered a print disability as well as a type of specific learning disability, which is defined by the IDEA as “a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations.” By this definition, students with dysgraphia can qualify for classroom accommodations or modifications that are provided in a Student Assistance Plan (SAP), 504 Plan, or Individualized Education Plan (IEP), as well as qualify for a Disability Services file in college.
While I learned cursive with the rest of the class, dysgraphia made it nearly impossible for me to write my cursive in a way that was legible or neat, no matter how hard I tried. In addition, I also have a visual impairment that makes it impossible for me to read cursive regardless of how neat it is. Starting in fourth grade, I was granted a classroom modification that meant that I would be able to handwrite or type my assignments, even if the teacher required the other students to write in cursive, as my cursive handwriting was impossible to decipher. In middle school, I also asked my teachers to avoid writing notes on the board in cursive so that I would be able to read them more clearly, though students with dysgraphia may not necessarily have issues with reading cursive someone else wrote.
There are lots of different types of assistive technology for dysgraphia that can be used in the classroom, so my accommodations list does not give specific brand names or devices that I can use in the classroom. Some of the different high-tech devices I have used over the years include:
While the specific types of devices that I use are not explicitly named in my accommodations, certain features or types of software that I use on the device are- I’ll go more into these in later sections.
For students that have dysgraphia in addition to other fine motor issues, pencil grips can be a great tool for helping students to hold a pencil more naturally. I have not used pencils in years because of my poor contrast vision, though my IEP in elementary school stated that I was allowed to use pencil grips in the classroom.
Instead of using pencils that are difficult for me to read and harder to hold, I prefer to use tools like markers and Sharpie pens when I have to write on paper, as these are easier for me to hold and I can read what I am writing to some degree. While my handwriting is still not very neat, it does help to have the increased contrast between the text I am writing and the paper.
My favorite tool for writing items in the physical world (i.e not on my computer or tablet) is dry-erase markers, which I use on a small whiteboard. It is much easier for me to write neatly with a small dry-erase board because of the angle I hold the marker at, and because I can quickly erase my mistakes. When I scan in handwritten text or graphics for my assignments in college, I’m typically scanning in an image of a whiteboard.
I have trouble filling in bubble sheets and Scantron documents not only because of my low vision, but because having dysgraphia means that I take longer to write words, letters, and even fill in circles. In the classroom, I typically will write my answers for a test in the answer book or on the test directly, and on standardized tests I receive a scribe for bubble sheets, meaning that someone else fills in the bubbles for me. Having a large print bubble sheet does not make it any easier for me to fill in bubbles.
This isn’t an issue in college, but when I was in elementary, middle, and high school, I had a specific disability accommodation that said that teachers could not grade me on the legibility/neatness of my handwriting, because having dysgraphia would mean that I would always fail at this. I remember an incident when I was in high school where my science teacher gave me a F on several assignments because they said that while they could see I wrote down the concepts and had the correct answers, my handwriting was very difficult to understand and it was something that I “should consider improving.” While I have made huge steps to improve my handwriting over the years, this was extremely frustrating feedback to receive, and my IEP case manager ended up having to talk to the teacher about changing my grade since my handwriting skills had no connection to how well I understood what I had learned in science class.
While I do handwrite text on occasion, a large majority of my assignments are typed on my tablet or computer so that it is easier to read what I am saying. I also type out notes in class, lists of homework that needs to get done, and pretty much anything that is longer than a paragraph or that I will have to read later- it’s not fun trying to figure out if I meant to write room 1304 in SUB 1 or room 1809 in HUB 1 when I am trying to figure out where a meeting will be happening!
Dictation is referred to by many names, including speech-to-text, speech recognition, voice typing, and voice input, among other terms. Whatever you choose to call it, dictation as assistive technology is an alternative input format where the user uses their voice to speak text and formatting information, instead of using their keyboard or another tool to input text. I personally choose to use the built-in dictation tools on my tablet and computer, as I do not use dictation often and find that these tools are very accurate for capturing my voice.