For students who have difficulty with the physical or sensory aspects of handwriting or who have reading impairments, using a word processing application or program can be a big help. It can give students more independence, confidence, and the ability to efficiently complete written work. Portable notetakers and netbooks - available for a fraction of the cost of computers or laptops - are two options to investigate.


Notetakers are electronic word processors with full-size keyboards. Smaller than laptops and larger than netbooks, they typically are more durable and less expensive than either.

A variety of notetakers are available. Renaissance Learning ( sells four models: NEO, NEO2, DANA and DANA Wireless. Writer Learning Systems ( sells two models with various preloaded features: Fusion and The Writer. The StudentMate by One2OneMate ( is one of the more robust notetakers on the market, with many additional features and applications. CalcuScribe by CalcuScribe ( comes with an interactive calculator for assistance with arithmetic, algebra, and trigonometry.

Some notetakers also have additional features that provide extra accessibility. They may, for example, have:
  • A word prediction feature that can help reduce keystrokes and provide spelling and grammar support. Word prediction suggests a list of likely words after the user types only a few characters.
  • A text-to-speech feature that provides auditory feedback and support for text that is typed or appears in the word prediction application.
  • Organization applications such as calendars, to-do lists, alarms, and the like. These applications provide an electronic method for schedule and task organization.

Netbooks are very similar to laptops in appearance and operation, but they are smaller, lighter, and less powerful. Although intended to be used for basic functions such as email and Internet browsing, these devices also work well as word processors.
Most netbooks run one of the following operating systems: Windows XP, Windows 7 starter, or Linux Ubuntu. Those with a Windows operating system allow the user to install additional assistive technology programs. However, check to be sure the program's system requirements are compatible with the netbook's small memory and processing capacity. Additional programs may also be installed on devices using Linux, but fewer assistive technology programs are compatible with this operating system.
Most netbooks do not have CD/DVD drives, but they typically have USB ports for data transfer and a place to connect an external CD/DVD drive. Netbooks can be obtained easily online or from stores such as Best Buy, Office Max, Radio Shack, Target, and WalMart.



$149 - $430

$200 - $600

Screen size can range from 5.75" to 9" (measured diagonally). Screens on many of the notetakers are much longer than they are tall and display only a few lines of text at a time.

Screen size ranges from 8.9" to 12.1" (measured diagonally).

Grayscale screen (most devices, but not all)

Full-color screen

Durable if jostled or dropped

Hardware may become damaged if jostled or dropped

Has limited availability of additional applications or features

PC operating system allows for as many programs as there is memory to install. RAM can range from 1GB to 2GB. Hard drive memory can range from 160GB to 250 GB.

Average battery life: 8 to 700 hours, depending on the additional built-in features

Average battery life: 1.5 to 8 hours

Turns on instantly

Boot-up time ranges from 30 to 90 seconds

Choosing a Device
Which device might be best for your student? The key factors to consider are durability, screen size, and availability of additional applications or programs, such as word prediction, text-to-speech, or applications for organization

With so many choices, you may want to try out some devices before you buy one. Assistive technnology lending libraries, such as the one at PACER's Simon Technology Center, and some vendors might allow you to borrow a device for a trial period to determine how useful it would be for the individual.

For students with handwriting difficulties or reading impairments, notetakers and netbooks can be a boon. At a fraction of the cost of computers or laptops, these devices help users gain independence, confidence, and the ability to efficiently complete written work.

Article available online:
PACER's Simon Technology Center
Last modified: Thursday, 5 August 2010, 12:35 AM