Dia for for Drawing Diagrams

In my previous post about Virtual Magnifying Glass, I neglected to mention that it is part of Acess Apps, an extensive suite of free applications that can be downloaded and run from a USB stick.  Access Apps offers the user a convenient way of moving required assistive technology, along with other programs and files, from one computer to another.  Today, I’m reviewing another program that is part of the Access Apps family.

Today’s post was prompted by a request earlier this week from one of the learners I support, a gifted  11th grader who is incapable of producing written output with pencil and paper. He asked me if I knew of software that he might use for drawing diagrams.  There are countless learners in classrooms everywhere who can be far more effective on drawing tasks with digital tools, so I’m sharing the application from Access Apps that can be used for drawing diagrams.


Dia is free open source software for Linux and Windows that is intended for drawing diagrams.  The developers say it is “roughly inspired” by Microsoft’s Visio.  I have downloaded and installed the program, but I have neither the time nor the talent to test it extensively.

Dia appears to be a powerful but stratightforward program with an intuitive user interface.  It comes with considerable built in help, including a Quickstart Guide.  The user interface is shown below.  Additional shapes can be downloaded from the Dia website and incorporated into diagrams as required.

Dia 01

Freebyte’s Guide to Free Graphics Software (online resource)

Today I’m sharing something I found on tumbl’n teachers, a micro-blog that has become one of my favourite sources. I highly recommend subscribing to it. You might even want to consider becoming involved in contributing to it.


Freebyte’s Guide to Free Graphics Software offers an extensive collection of links to sites where free graphics-related software is available. This is free software for download and installation on your computer. (The site does not link to online applications.) The majority of programs listed run in Windows, but there are some for Mac and Linux.

The list of programs is organized helpfully by category, as illustrated in the screenshots below. The quality of the listed titles I am already familiar with is generally high, so I expect it will be worthwhile to explore more of the software listed here.




SchoolForge (online resource)

I have an email subscription to Only the Best from Techcetera.ca. Yesterday’s email provided a link to a wonderful resource for anyone interested in free online educational resources.


SchoolForge.net has an important and worthy overarching mission:

SchoolForge’s mission is to unify independent organizations that advocate, use, and develop open resources for education. We advocate the use of open texts and lessons, open curricula, free software and open source in education.

I believe this cause is worth supporting. One practical outcome of the work of the SchoolForge community is a website that lists, describes, and links to over 80 online resources that are free of monetary cost to educators. These are mostly downloadable programs that run in Linux and Windows, with a lesser number also available for Mac. Some of the listed applications are browser based.

Resources at SchoolForge are categorized in a helpful user-friendly manner. The screenshot below shows the main headings.


Accessibar (Firefox Add-on)

I wish classroom educators were not so stuck on using Internet Explorer. Firefox is a superior web browser in almost every respect, and this is especially true for individuals with special needs. Kate Ahern recently mentioned another add-on for Firefox that offers a set of convenient tools to enhance accessibility.


Accessibar is a toolbar that can be installed as an add-on for the Firefox browser with a set of tools to make the internet more accessible for people with special needs. Accessibar is especially useful for those with low vision. As with all toolbar icons in Firefox, the toolbar shown below can include text that names the function of the icon. All of the Accessibar functions can also be activated with keyboard shortcuts that can be configured by the user.


In the words of the toolbar’s developers, here’s what the Accessibar tools will do for you.

  • Web page fonts and background colors can be changed from a selecton of 70 colors on current session
  • Icons with configurable shortcut keys to increase and decrease Font size.
  • Line spacing can be increased or decreased to five different spacing settings incrementally.
  • All images (including Flash) displayed on a web page can be selected as being hiden or shown.
  • All changes made to web page display can be restored to original page settings by pressing “Restore Page“.
  • Changes made to the currently displayed web page persist until “Restore Page“ is selected.
  • Integrated Text To Speech reader. Reads out strings hovered over as well as focused elements.
  • Reader settings can be configured allowing the selection of the voice, volume, speaking rate, pitch, and voice range.
  • Toolbar functions have configurable Hotkeys (keyboard shortcuts).

I tested Accessibar’s text-to-speech function, and I found it to work reasonably well. It does an especially good job of reading links and buttons. As a sighted reader, however,I much prefer to use CLiCk,Speak for reading passages of text. I wonder if it might be the same for individuals with low vision if they are able to use Accessibar’s tools to enable them to see the web page effectively. I added the CLiCk,Speak buttons to the Accessibar toolbar. The only drawback is that there are no keyboard commands for the CLiCk,Speak buttons.



Open Source Living (online resource)

Welcome to this Treasure Chest of Free Stuff!

FREE online resources and downloadable programs for learners.

Today I’m writing about a website that I’m really excited about. It is the kind of website that I support wholeheartedly, a site that I think everyone should visit! Many thanks to Sharon Peters for mentioning it on Twitter.


Open Source Living is a site that catalogues the best free open source software available today. Programs are listed by category, with a separate page for each category, eg. Web++, Graphics & Photo, Video, Audio, Documents, etc. For each listing, there is a brief description as well as a direct link to the download site.

There isn’t a category at OSLiving specifically for education, but I was pleased to discover programs such as Celestia and Stellarium listed under Entertainment. Under all headings there are programs with educational applications.

Open Source Living has been established by a UK based blogger named Andrew, and it is his intent that it be a community project. Andrew welcomes input via a forum, but his intention is to move the site to a more interactive WordPress platform. I am already familiar with much of the software listed by OS Living, but there are many titles there that I still need to explore. I will also be submitting some suggested educational titles such as Childsplay, Tux Paint and Tux Typing. It is noteworthy that OSLiving will only list software that complies with the Open Source Initiatives guidelines.

On my blog, I share educational resources of all kinds that are free of monetary cost. I believe that open source software is in a very special class of its own. When the code for programs is open, there is always far greater potential for the software to meet the needs of diverse users. In a recent post, I illustrated how this has been working with add ons that make the open source Firefox browser more accessible to individuals with special needs.