Assistive Technology: Pen Scanners

Will These Devices Help Your Special Needs Child?

High angle view of father reading book to son while lying on bed at home
 Getty Images/Maskot

With the explosion in wireless technology and wearable devices, scanning pens have become powerful tools. The most basic pens work just like a highlighter and help with reading text in books, newspapers, and magazines. Some devices can download the scanned text into a computer or mobile device, along with any notes the student may take. Some read text back. Designed for copious note takers and researchers, the pen scanner has also found a receptive audience in families with children with special needs. Parents and teachers have found that they ease the reading process, can build vocabulary and improve pronunciation. 

How Do Pen Scanners Work? 

Simply glide the scanner across the text. The pen scanner will let you scan, store and transfer your printed text as well as smaller images to your computer or a mobile device. It's ideal for taking notes, or, for teachers, scanning text for students that use a text reader. 

Different Kinds of Pen Scanners

There are fundamentally two kinds of scanning pens, but with technology advancing so quickly, tools are developing that provide all of this functionality.

Scanning pens scan the text one line at a time. These pens can read the text aloud and provide definitions for desired words. Some devices can download scanned material to your computer or mobile device. 

Recording pens work more like traditional pens. While you busily write or take notes, the pen records the notes digitally and, in some models, simultaneously records live audio. The material can then be downloaded to a computer or mobile device and organize them into notes. 

Is the Pen Scanner Right for Your Child?

If you are making a decision as to whether your child will benefit from using a pen scanner, consider the following:

  • Fine motor control is essential. Expensive, exciting tools that your child can't physically control can be frustrating for everyone.
  • Is your child responsible enough?
  • Will your child use the tool wisely?
  • Discretion is important. A talking pen can invite abuse in the classroom. 
  • Will your child feel confident using assistive devices around their peers?

What Are the Benefits of Pen Scanners?

For students who can use the technology, there's a tremendous potential benefit from the use of scanner pens in test taking, note taking, auditory support, greater access to materials and overall productivity. For dyslexics and other children with attention deficits, these devices may give a second chance to hear the lesson. Those in larger classrooms or lecture halls may find that the audio recording quality insufficient, however.  Before you make a purchase, consider whether these other benefits are useful to your student.

  • Scanner pens are relatively easy to use
  • Faster than copying or typing
  • The text can be quickly transferred to a computer for editing or auditory use.
  • Pens recognize over 50 languages
  • Most pens read at a 1000 characters per second
  • Most pens can cursive writing
  • Reads text, numbers, and barcodes

Assistive technology provides equity of access and our students have a right to the technology that best meets their needs. The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) was designed to enhance and support the availability and quality of assistive technology (AT) devices and services to all individuals with special needs in the United States.