by Rebecca Artessa

SUBJECT AREA: Reading Utility

PUBLISHER: Universal Learning Technology

(commercial affiliate of CAST)




COST: $199 single copy; lab packs and site licenses also available.


Mac: 68030 or better processor with 5MB RAM or a Power PC with 8 MB RAM, 2 MB of hard disk space (up to 8 if Plaintalk is not yet installed), 12 inch or larger monitor with 256 color capability.

Win: 16 bit 386 or better with 25 mhz minimum processor, 4 MB RAM (16 recommended), SoundBlaster or Windows supported sound card, 12 inch or larger monitor with 256 color capability.

EDUCATIONAL GOALS: To enable people with reading disabilities or low vision to access literature and read textbooks assigned in inclusive classrooms.

DESCRIPTION: ULTimate Reader is a software program that adds spoken voice and visual highlighting to any electronic text. The user can scan text in, download it from the Internet, or copy and paste from existing word processing documents. ULTimate Reader then highlights and/or speaks text. The program allows the student to read text from subject specific material and answer questions within the document. There are optional settings for print size and color of both highlighted words and text, making this very useful for low vision students.

ULTimate Reader offers several options for different grade levels. For example, in the elementary level suggestions range from math word problems or math facts practice to playing with spelling words or giving tests. The middle school/high school section has several interesting ideas for using the program, including reading for meaning, a set-up that allows teachers to scan sections of text and follow the selections with questions about the main idea. The teacher can write the answers and have them hidden so that the student can self-check. The program also has options for ESL and adult literacy.

Students can have folders set up and the teacher can lock screens so that no changes can be made to them. A large, on-screen control button strip can be set up on the screen in three different ways and can be accessed through use of the mouse or keyboard. It can be hidden if desired.

STRENGTHS: ULTimate Reader makes print-based materials accessible to students with disabilities who would otherwise be unable to participate in reading activities. It makes it possible for students to be participants in inclusive classroom settings. The quality of speech is excellent and the possibilities for use are quite expansive. An interesting feature is the "exceptions dictionary" that allows users to change the pronunciations of words that are not spoken in the students' particular dialect. This allows a teacher to customize word pronunciation, making them more "hearable" and understandable. All menu items and buttons may be set to speak.

WEAKNESSES: To use the software successfully, a great deal of time is required to prepare individual lessons. It is also necessary to own a flatbed scanner and optical character recognition software, and this can cost up to $1,000.

SUMMARY: ULTimate Reader is an innovative new software program that works in both a compensatory and remedial capacity for students. It makes print accessible to anyone and can be used by ESL students, students with learning disabilities, and persons who are blind or have low vision. The many optional settings make this a helpful program for users with various disabilities. Teachers will undoubtedly find many useful and clever ways to use its many options.

Rebecca Artessa is a senior in the undergraduate program in the Department of Special Education at The College of New Jersey.

ULTimate KidBooks

Released in August by Universal Learning Technology, ULTimate KidBooks is a multimedia publishing system that enables teachers, parents, and specialists to create electronic talking books with built-in educational scaffolds. KidBooks supplements the written word with flexible reading supports including highlighting, text enlargement capabilities, and synthesized speech. Designed for children from preschool to grade 5, this program is ideal for younger children because it uses a simple page-by-page structure with pictures.

KidBooks is accessible to children with physical disabilities because it supports access via a single switch. The new Copyright Law for Alternative Text states that books can now be converted into alternative forms as soon as they are in print, without the publisher's permission. It is now possible to create digital libraries of books used in schools' curriculums so that children of all abilities can all access the same materials.

KidBooks is currently available in a Mac version only (Windows version in development) as a building licensed product for $299.

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