Can free/Low-cost software and apps replace expensive educational software?

Most of the language tools on the market have common features such as text-to-speech, word prediction, spelling, highlighting, Thesaurus, Synonymous, etc.  I listed a few free/low cost software a few weeks ago, and some of these software also have similar features.  Do you think that we can replace some language tools on the market such as Kurzweil 3000 or WYNN with free software in the classroom?

How about apps on iPad/iPod touch?  Can these apps replace any educational software?  If you have any experience or opinions, I would appreciate your sharing of tips.

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10 Responses to Can free/Low-cost software and apps replace expensive educational software?

  1. I think the folks at Dynavox should be really worried about the iPad. It does everything and more at a fraction of the price. I guess I am more excited about the hardware that has the universal designs built into it more than the software.

    • Kaz says:

      Thank you for your reply. I heard that teachers are very excited about using iPad in their schools. I was comparing the built-in Accessibility features on iPad and Android. Even though I like iPad a lot, I found the voice on the Android more pleasing to me.

    • I think instead of the iPad, all dedicated device companies should be worried about the Chat 7. Saultillo has found a way to provide a dedicated device built on the Android platform. The importance of this is that it paves the way for traditional funding sources to pay for the device.

      Still, an unlocked Maestro can outperform an iPad. I think the iPad has the “flavor of the month” feel for now, but as the traditional device manufacturers “catch up,” they’ll outpace it too. Funding is a big driver in the AAC world. If you can get a device paid for by insurance, the cost to the end user can be minimal or non-existent. Not so with the iPad (currently). Your minimum buy-in for a device running the very popular Proloquo2Go is almost $800. Yes you can “finance” it on a credit card, but in this day and age, that could be tough for a family. With a dedicated device, you can get that covered (in some cases 100% and in some only 80% with possible help from other agencies). In the case of the Maestro, add $55, and you can get the device unlocked, giving the user a fully functional Windows 7 tablet computer. Biggest benefit of that is I could have my communication window open at the same time as my window for any other task. Why is this good? I don’t have to switch back and forth as I do on an iPad that I’m using for communication and any other activity at the same time. Cool is cool, but true function does indeed trump it.

      • atpdc says:

        It seems that other manufactures are making accessory products for iPad such as Proloquo2go Keyguards (, mounting systems, and more AAC apps for iDevices (which I listed on another reply). However, you made a good point that if you can get the AAC device unlocked, which will give a fully functional Windows 7 tablet computer. This option provides you with the feature that you could have your communication window open at the same time as your window for any other task. As for iPad, you have to switch back and forth between AAC apps and other apps. – Kaz

    • Wendy says:

      This is such a dangerous statement. AAC is very very individualized. It is not one size fits all. I don’t think Dynavox should be worried at all! There is a place for many different tools, with many different features, for many different students. Any good AT evaluator will look at features of a variety of tools rather than recommend something because it’s new or “cool”. There is a place in the AT world for Dynavox, Apple, PRC, AMDI, AbleNet – AT is inclusive!

      • atpdc says:


        I realized that I posted 2 different topics in one posting. I appreciated your replies on both.
        I understand that those leading AAC manufactures’ AAC devices (e.g. Dynavox, TobiATI, and PRC) offer many features to specific needs for each individual who needs an AAC device. However, they may need to consider (or I actually hope that) they will plan to manufacture more inexpensive, attainable AAC devices for all who can benefit from using an AAC. I sometimes hear stories about students are not being able to have any communication device in school for a long time. I recently see the movements on some manufactures are creating apps running on iDevices so this may help to make a communication device more attainable. – Kaz

        Examples are:
        Sono Flex By Tobii Technology

        GoTalk Now

  2. Absolutely you can replace some of the “traditional” AT software tools with more mainstream lower cost or free tools. The key is knowing what the student needs and finding the tool that will match that function as opposed to looking to use only what you have or already know. This is really easy if you use something like the SETT framework helping you determine what will meet the student’s needs. If you can find low cost tools that will perform the necessary tasks use them. However, if they won’t and you need to go with the more expensive solution, then that’s what you have to do. The main driving function should be function and that should be dictated by student need. There are two common saying that would greatly help schools pursuing AT for their students, “Take only what you need,” and “Everything looks like a nail to the person with a hammer.” Make it about the student instead of the AT and you can’t go wrong.

  3. Wendy says:

    That’s difficult to answer – as it’s almost always case by case, and “it depends”. I LOVE, and frequently USE and RECOMMEND, free tools. Some are awesome, some not so much. Bottom line when looking at AT (which is, by definition, student specific vs. UDL tools for classroom use) is….do the features meet the needs of the student, in the environment, for the tasks which the student is expected to perform? If the free software is too cumbersome, missing features a student requires – then obviously a trial of purchased products is needed.

    On a personal level I find that most teachers/students use very few of the included features of purchased software, (i.e. Kurzweil is purchased and they ONLY use the scanning and text to speech). Learning curve is often just too much for the team in terms of time investment (and sometimes interest LOL). I use the analogy of using 10% of available brain power. Some use more, some use less (and I dare say some use none!). Same thing with technology.

    So if you’re looking at student specific AT tools, that might look quite different from school wide or classroom wide “UDL”.

    • atpdc says:


      I totally agree with your point of selecting the features, which will meet the needs of the student, in the environment, and for the tasks that the student is required to perform. However, I sometimes hear about the limited time and resources among teachers to implement all of the features of their purchased software as well as I also see students or their parents demand a certain software program on the market without realizing the product may a steep learning curve before they can gain all of the benefits. In many of these situations, I think that free software can be effective since students can get it and use it immediately. If it doesn’t suit all of their needs, another AT option will need to be investigated for the particular student or as you noted that classroom “UDL” option will be necessary. – Kaz

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