When I was diagnosed with dysgraphia at five years old, I spent a lot of time with occupational therapists who helped me learn how to write the letters of the alphabet. As I got older and started using computers more often, my handwriting started to take a turn for the worse, and at some points looked even worse than a doctor’s handwriting. Now, my handwriting has started to look a lot better and others can generally make out what my handwritten notes say. Today, I will be sharing how I used the HP Sprout to improve my handwriting and manage my dysgraphia
What motivated me to improve my handwriting and why I decided to use my HP Sprout
As bad as this may seem, the biggest motivation I had to improve my handwriting was the criticism of others. Every time I signed a piece of paper or would write something, somebody would point out how terrible my handwriting is and how I should improve it. I would tell people that I have dysgraphia, and while some were understanding, I also interacted with people who would roll their eyes and say that was no excuse. At the beginning of 2018, I decided I’d had enough, and began thinking of ways to improve my handwriting that used my existing assistive technology. I got on my computer to do some research, and then realized my HP Sprout computer was the perfect device to practice my handwriting. Read more about why I brought my desktop computer to college here.
The International Dyslexia Association defines dysgraphia as “the condition of impaired letter writing by hand, that is, disabled handwriting. Impaired handwriting can interfere with learning to spell words in writing and speed of writing text. Children with dysgraphia may have only impaired handwriting, only impaired spelling (without reading problems), or both impaired handwriting and impaired spelling.” A high percentage of people with vision loss also have dysgraphia, and the disorder is also frequently co-morbid with dyslexia, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and similar. Read more about dysgraphia accommodations in the classroom here.
About the HP Sprout
The HP Sprout is a unique desktop computer that has a built-in projector, 3D scanner, and dual touchscreen displays, among other features. The main focus of this post is the built-in projector feature paired with the second touchscreen display, referred to as a TouchMat. For more information on the HP Sprout, read more about how I use the HP Sprout as someone with a vision impairment here.
What if I don’t have a HP Sprout?
If you don’t have a HP Sprout computer, these instructions can be replicated using a desktop projector that casts an image over paper.
Finding handwriting templates
I found handwriting templates by going onto Google Images and typing in queries such as “handwriting practice”, “writing letters”, “practice writing the letter P”, and more. These templates were often designed for small children, so I didn’t have to worry about enlarging the print since print materials are always larger in elementary schools. Read my post on how the print size of materials shrinks in middle school here.
Creating handwriting templates
Some handwriting templates were still hard for me to see, so I created my own in Microsoft Word. I did this by:
- Creating a landscape document
- Typing double-spaced lines of the same letter in uppercase and lowercase form
- Changing the font size to something I could read- I chose size 24
- Changing the font type to be an easy to read font- read more about print disability friendly fonts here
- Saving as a PNG file so that way it would be a high resolution image- more on that in a minute.
Read more about how to create accessible documents in Microsoft Word here.
How I configured the computer
In order to project the images, I did the following:
- Turned on the projector
- Disconnected the TouchPad so I didn’t accidentally write on it
- Dragged my photo app to the bottom of my screen so it would display on the projector
- Displayed the photo at its scaled size, aligning my paper to fit the image so I could trace the letters.
This system worked well because I had saved high resolution images- read more about the importance of high resolution images here.
Writing utensils and paper
I always write with Sharpie pens, so they seemed like a natural choice for practicing my handwriting. For paper, I used white computer paper that I could easily access and that mimicked the surface I would be writing on the most often. I did a mix of lined and unlined paper as well, depending on what materials were available to me at the time.
Practicing my handwriting
I practiced my handwriting for fifteen minutes every other day, or every day if I had extra time. I started out using the HP Sprout system full time to practice, and then switched to practicing in other ways in addition to using the HP Sprout. Some of the ways I would practice include writing out homework assignments while typing them on my computer, writing letters to friends, and writing on a whiteboard in a study room at my college. Read more about making things on the board easier to read here.
My friends noticed a huge improvement around month two of practice, with one of my friends telling me that my handwriting looked amazing after they found a list I had made on my desk. I didn’t notice a distinct difference until month four when I was writing on a whiteboard for a club meeting and my visually impaired friends said that they were impressed how neat my handwriting was and that it was easier to read. That was when I started feeling much more confident in my writing.
My dysgraphia is not cured
While my handwriting has improved tremendously, I still have many symptoms of dysgraphia. I cannot read my own handwriting or anyone else’s, I switch around letters as I write, and people still have trouble reading what I write on occasion. I prefer to type whenever possible so that I don’t wear myself out after long periods of time or have words run off the page. I did not set out to cure my dysgraphia, rather to find a way to manage it, and my handwriting will continue to improve as I practice more often.
Using the HP Sprout to improve my handwriting and manage my dysgraphia has been very helpful, and now I feel less self-conscious whenever I have to write something on the board or write something down on a piece of paper. I hope these techniques are helpful!