The assistive technology that empowered Taya, whose grades used to be “average” according to her mother Breana, to achieve straight A’s, are Don Johnston’s Snap&Read and Co:Writer. Both of these toolsets were created with people with dyslexia and other learning challenges in mind, with the goal for full inclusion by removing as many of the barriers to reading and writing as possible.
Dyslexia, as Taya explained to her fifth-grade class in a report about her disability, has nothing to do with how smart a person is or what they can accomplish, especially when given the right support. And this is true of many of the learning differences experienced by children who qualify for special education.
Snap&Read and Co:Writer were initially only available to a handful of special education students like Taya at Portland Public Schools. But the COVID-19 pandemic changed all that. A virtual learning platform demanded that students read and comprehend assignments independently, as well as write fluently to complete them. And Portland Public Schools remained fully virtual from March 2020 to April 2021, when they returned to in-person learning part-time.
The increased reading and writing demands of virtual school gave many Portland educators a new perspective of how many learners struggle with these skills. “One of the important things that came out of the pandemic situation is that we realized how many kids can’t actually read, and how many of the adults who support them can’t read as well,” says Kristy.
Important, because once you identify a problem, you can address it. The district’s Information Technology team approached Kristy’s assistive technology team in 2020 to ask for help, and Kristy was more than happy to offer a solution. In the Fall of 2020, Portland introduced Snap&Read and Co:Writer district-wide. These tools were made available to each of their 46,624 students, and it was a game-changer for the students who were struggling.