5 free quality-apps for teaching disabled students

David Imrie

David Imrie is a biology teacher and SENCO at Ashcraig School in Glasgow and has been helping children with learning difficulties since 1996, and uses Read&Write Gold literacy support software to support his students with revision and in the exam room.

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One of the main advantages offered by constantly-evolving edtech is the bevy options given to SEN students. Different special education needs pupils are challenged by different disabilities, and it’s great to have user-friendly, affordable apps for these learners. Experienced SEN and biology teacher David Imrie gives five free apps that he loves using.

Meeting the needs of disabled students need not be expensive. Many of my students encounter difficulty with printed material due to a dyslexia, physical disability and/or visual impairment which require additional support software. Although I use a range of approaches, I make sure students have access to software which they can take and run on a pen drive wherever they go. Over the years I have found a few simple solutions to the most common problems they encounter. I’d like to mention a few of the best free applications.

Big Cursors

Big Cursors by Ralph Beckmann are extra-large, animated cursors, specifically designed to assist the visually-impaired to use their mouse more easily.

Windows Standard:

Rabe's Big-Cursors [Non - Animated]:

Simply download the zip file to C drive: windows/cursors, unzip, then open the mouse cursor tab in the control panel, browse and assign each big cursor icon to the appropriate action.


Thunder is a simple but effective screen reader for Windows which will read Word processed documents, email and the internet as you type using the arrow keys. My blind students use it to navigate simple documents, to answer questions (I just leave a blank line where an answer is required) and to make notes. It also has a text magnifier which allows users with some sight and teachers to see what is being read; handy when students are wearing headphones.


Ivona MiniReader

There are many text readers on the market. Ivona MiniReader is free and reads out rendered text (which can be selected by the cursor) within any application. Unlike Thunder, users have to be able to use a mouse, so it is more useful for students with fine motor control and vision.

Thunder and Ivona use the default (usually American) voice installed on the computer. Additional high quality SAPI 5 voices can be installed. In Scotland we can use Scottish voices for free; other accents are available from CereProc and other developers.

Sonar draws a ring around the cursor in any colour and thickness of line, making it easier to find.


Vu-Baris an on-screen, slotted ruler which helps some readers with dyslexia or tracking difficulties to focus on a line of text.

The size and colour of the ruler can be adjusted. It can be locked to the cursor or the text can be scrolled behind the ruler.


Students with colour sensitivity may benefit from RapidSet, allowing them to change the colour of text and background in Windows applications with ease.

All of these and many more free applications are also available packaged in convenient sets from http://eduapps.org/.

To find out more about free portable apps, see the article on Education Scotland’s website.

Image Credit: Flickr

Do you use technology such as this with your SEN pupils? Let us know in the comments.

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