Assistive Technology in Practice

At Texthelp it’s our mission to help unlock everyone's full potential through technology. We love to hear from people who know and use EdTech as part of their daily lives. We invited Shelly Zheng, a student from Western Sydney University to join our podcast.

Shelly shares her experiences of student life and accessing the tools and support she needs to complete her studies. Through this podcast Shelly hopes to inspire others who may be wary of attending university, she offers some tips and advice that could be of help too.  We hope to produce more resources with Shelly later this year, so keep an eye out for that! 

To find out more about Texthelp products for higher education, visit our education page for more information.


Ben Dyer (00:15):

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Texthelp Talks podcast, where we gather experts to talk about a range of topics from education, right through into the workplace. Before we get started, please make sure you subscribe to Texthelp Talks through your preferred streaming service, so you never miss an episode. And remember, if you want to get involved in the conversation online, you can use the @texthelptalks hashtag. I'm Ben Dyer, I'm customer care lead here at Texthelp, and today I'm joined by our guest Shelly Zheng.

Ben Dyer (00:53):

EdTech tools are used by a wide range of people from the start of their learning journey, right through into the workplace. We often talk to people who work within education, but today we're going to hear a different perspective. We're going to talk to Shelly, who is a student from Western Sydney University in New South Wales. Now, Shelly is studying for her undergraduate degree in business and is really keen to share her experiences using technology to support her as a student. So we're going to talk about access to support, how it has helped and what Shelly hopes to do in the future. So, Shelly, hello and welcome to today's podcast.

Shelly Zheng (01:39):

Hi Ben. Thanks for you to you give me the opportunity as well to sharing my experience to other students around the world.

Ben Dyer (01:50):

Yeah. You're more than welcome. We're really pleased to have you on today's podcast. So Shelly, please tell us a bit about yourself and your journey studying for your undergraduate degree at Western Sydney University.

Shelly Zheng (02:05):

My name is Shelly Zheng and I come from China, and I come into Australia in 2007 and then at the end of 2016, I become Australian citizen. And I start to study in Western Sydney University in New South Wales in spring 2015. I'm currently doing a bachelor of business, major in HRM, which is human resource management. I also study at TAFE before I come into university and I'm doing certificate in business diploma of management and advanced diploma in management as well through TAFE. I also studied year 10 to year 12 in Australia as well, from 2010 to 2012.

Ben Dyer (03:03):

Excellent. Thank you very much, Shelly. So when you arrived in Australia, did you also have a language barrier to overcome? I can imagine that at the start it was difficult.

Shelly Zheng (03:18):


Ben Dyer (03:18):


Shelly Zheng (03:19):

Yeah, because as English is not my first language and my first language is Chinese. But in Chinese they have Mandarin and Cantonese, I can speak both of them as well. So when I come to Australia, the first moment, I'm like, "Oh." I get little bit language barriers because I just start to study English things when I was year four as a primary school in China, and they just gave me those, those basic areas, like the 26 letters and some basic words.

Shelly Zheng (04:00):

Even through my high school journey, like from year seven to year nine in China, they just teach me those basic English grammar. It's not really like in Australia. So when I come into Australia, I'm like, the first moment, "How can I communicate with other peoples? It's quite difficult." And then once I find out they got a lot of Chinese people around, so I can talk to them, which is find my own way to communicate with people, how can I communicate with others in English, not just in Chinese, something like that.

Ben Dyer (04:45):

Yeah. Right. I can imagine. So you mentioned that you had some barriers. I also have spent significant amount of my life overseas in Japan, and I can remember it was very difficult to communicate with people, especially initially, I couldn't read anything. It was a steep learning curve for me. So what were some of the barriers to accessing content, especially school and TAFE and university content for you, Shelly?

Shelly Zheng (05:22):

Well, when I need to access the course content during high school and TAFE, I didn't get any support like university. What university doing for me right now, I don't have anything for that support. Even I got my mental health issues with my eyes, so they didn't give me any support. I found it a little bit heartbreaking when I first get into high school in here because those students from high school and TAFE, for TAFE it's okay because they are in adult learning environment. But back to high school, they are just only kids, like junior kids or senior kids, not even an adult. So they asked me a lot of questions and then I was frustrated because I don't know how can I communicate with them as I just come into Australia for not long during that time. So I was thinking, where can I get the supports from the school or from anywhere?

Ben Dyer (06:38):

So you mentioned support, and I understand you have been supported, you mentioned at university. What kind of support did you end up receiving and how has that helped you, Shelly?

Shelly Zheng (06:54):

You mean for university?

Ben Dyer (06:56):

Yeah. For university.

Shelly Zheng (07:00):

Yeah. So in Western Sydney University, I get the support. The first support I get is through the disability team, which is as I go into Western Sydney University in 2015, and during those first couple of sessions, I was pretty frustrated in all those four units, because during that time I haven't been Australian citizen, I doesn't know if the full-time student, we can do three unit per semester. And I was keep trying for four and then try my best, but at the end of the first two sections, those results come out not quite well and not the way I expect to, it just keep failing.

Shelly Zheng (07:51):

Then after that, I take a break, take a semester off. And then during the break, I do a lot of researching for university, something like that. And then firstly, I contact my academic course advisor from Western Sydney University and then I ask them for help. I explain what the mental health I have to them, and then they will explain what the problem I have from university. And then they say, "Okay, I can give you those supports."

Shelly Zheng (08:34):

The first point, it's contact your disability advisor. During that time, it was a bit scary because if I go into the disability team, I doesn't know how can I communicate with them? And then the academic course advisor was telling me, "Don't be scared. Don't be afraid. You will be fine, and I will share all the information with you," like the website, how can you make appointment to see them, how can you talk to them, and then what are the medical certificate or medical report you need to provide to the disability advisor to mention your health issues to fill your study during your education journey in Western Sydney University?

Shelly Zheng (09:32):

So once I get in, the first thing, when I go into the disability advisors with Gay, she is the team leader of the disability department from WSU right now, so she is pretty good. She allowed me extra time and then to support more medical requirement to her before get my first AIP on with systems for universities. On that AIP, she gave me a lot of support from university, particulars during my assessments for the units I will enroll in the future or in the past. I remember when I first with the disability advisors, I don't have any software to support my study during that time, because that's the first thing the disability advisor need to working out what type of the software I have using, or what type of the software it will be able for my mental health to support my study at university.

Shelly Zheng (11:08):

The first software, the disability advisor available for me is called ZoomText. During that time, the ZoomText, it's just like the normal DVD or the normal CD, you need to plug in into the computer and then complete the installations by yourself, something like that. And then ZoomText it's just the magnified glasses, not much big help, but during that time, it is the first software I have get from university to help to support my study through my university degree.

Ben Dyer (11:51):

So your advice to other students who maybe are struggling with a disability, especially if people aren't aware is firstly go to their disability advisor and talk to them and talk to academic advisors and ask for what kind of help can the university provide? Yeah, it's amazing. So not only were you probably still struggling with communicating and learning English and operating in higher education, but then also you have a visibility issue to be able to access the content the same as all the other students.

Shelly Zheng (12:32):


Ben Dyer (12:32):

So it was a very difficult time for you, by the sounds of things, Shelly. So in the end, it doesn't sound like it was super easy, but it sounds like you had some support to get the tools you needed for university. What other kinds of technology or what other things helped you? What tools have helped you or did you find, or were introduced? You're very successful now. What are the types of things that have helped you?

Shelly Zheng (13:09):

Well, the software university has gave me has the following first thing is the ZoomText, which is the magnified glasses.

Ben Dyer (13:18):


Shelly Zheng (13:19):

And then the second one is Read&Write. The third one is Sonocent, Audio Notetaker. And then the fourth one is the Dragon, which the Dragon one, which is for, what I want to type it on the document, I just need to speak out, and then the software will do my typing for me. I don't need to do my typing at all. So I will use that as well. But my favorite one is the Read&Write, because this Read&Write, it's helped me a lot, like how can I put my research information for the particular assessments create back into a folder, and then how can I correct everything into one place, something like that. It's really, really useful for this, Read&Write, and I'm pretty happy for using it.

Ben Dyer (14:16):

Thank you very much, Shelly. We're always glad to hear positive things about our products and that aligns with our mission to help all people get on with whatever task it is they're trying to do on their own, without needing to ask other people for help or support. So it's sounds like you are very comfortable and you used multiple tools. You mentioned our Read&Write, but also Sonocent, Dragon, ZoomText, which I'm sure some of our listeners will be familiar with. All excellent tools to help remove barriers and help people with whatever tasks they're trying to do.

Ben Dyer (14:54):

Do you ever talk to other students and what's their comfort level with technology? When you're speaking to other students on campus, do you find that they're also using technology to enhance their learning or not? They're comfortable? What do you think? And if they're not comfortable, what advice do you have for them? What would you say to encourage people to embrace or to use technology more?

Shelly Zheng (15:23):

Well, I would tell them don't be scared to use the technology to get support for their study during university, because if you are using the technology from university they have provided you, they will give you a lot of support. They will give you lots of training as well. You won't be scared to use the software.

Shelly Zheng (15:51):

I remember in autumn 2021, I was back to face-to-face on campus for study, and then one of my friends, during class she was asking me, "How can I get that particular software?" Because she wanted to use it as well. Also, it is the first semester for her as well. I remember during that time I was using Sonocent to do my note taking and do my recording on what the lecturer says during the tutorial and what the tutor's being telling me, because I found out, if during class I do my recording, I won't lose the information I need to get, and then I can listen back later on. And then my friend was telling me, "How can I get that software?" I asked her a question because I know she is the first time to get into university. She might doesn't know a lot of time in university at that time.

Shelly Zheng (17:11):

So I was asking her, the first question is, I say, "Did you have disability with university?"

Shelly Zheng (17:19):

She say, "No."

Shelly Zheng (17:20):

And as I am the first semester in this university as a first year, and I just graduated from high school and then get into university directly, and I told them, "If you are not with disability, that will be a little bit difficult," because during that time university, they say, "You need to have AIP with disability student, then you can get that software."

Shelly Zheng (17:56):

So I just told them, "It will be a little bit difficult for you because you don't have such as a disability, your mental health relating to you on your study, so it would be difficult." And then to have the software to support them for their study as well, I say, "I don't know. I'm not very sure for that, but I will try my best to ask university something like that." But at the end of it, if the university didn't have that decision made for those software into the normal student, which is outside of the student with disability, then I have no control on it. I just told them, "Just be relaxed. You will be fine and do your best." Something like that.

Ben Dyer (18:51):

Great, Shelly. So you've touched upon the next few things I wanted to ask you. To summarize what you're saying is technology definitely has a role to play to support all students, regardless of whether they have an identified need or identified disability or not. That's definitely the vision that we share at Texthelp with Read&Write. I'm pleased that all students and staff at Western Sydney University have access to Read&Write with various tools to help them. But it's so fantastic to see you evangelizing so many different tools that I think have definitely helped you and, and could potentially help everyone. So this kind of leads into the next question I wanted to ask you. I understand it does, but what role do you think technology has to play to support students, such as yourself, but actually students like your friend as well? How does technology support students and how has it-

Shelly Zheng (19:58):

Well technology, it's a great support for students with them during this education journey, because back in the old day, we just use the basic stuff, pen and paper to take down everything, and then we need to write everything out. Sometimes when I was doing that, something happened, the paper was broken or chuck into the bin, all those information, is just gone. You don't have backup at all. So the technology, you can save those information into particular area, and then you can find them back later on when you need to use in the future. So technology also can save your time as well.

Shelly Zheng (20:55):

As I have mentioned, I have used Sonocent, Audio Notetaker, and Dragon. They have helped me a lot. If I use Sonocent, if I have class on campus face-to-face, I don't even bring my notebook at all. Seriously, I'm not going to bring my notebook at all. I just use all those software into my computer. And then the only one I will bring to university is my laptop and my external hard drive, because I can save everything into my external hard drive as a backup. And then I don't need to worry, those pen and paper thing is going to gone and then in the next minute I need to use it, I couldn't find it at all.

Ben Dyer (21:48):

Wow. So that's quite a dramatic shift, isn't it? Even from your time studying at high school here, but then TAFE, you've gone completely digital and technology enables you to do that just with one device. And as you said, one backup device to access content and to have that, to understand it. You also mentioned our research folder, which is one of my favorite tools. I'm looking forward to doing some more work with you to show us how you use that specifically as you're going through research for all of your assignments and tasks. It's fantastic to hear that, Shelly. It's an amazing shift from pen to paper, which I think is still the reality for quite a few students, so that is really great to hear.

Ben Dyer (22:46):

So now, you've made that complete shift from, as you said, pen and paper, maybe in high school now to fully digital, with tools to support you. What made you start looking at technology? Or what things happened, what was the catalyst for you to go, "Right. Technology is the way for me to go"? What made you start to think about technology as the solution that you have now to support your studies at university?

Shelly Zheng (23:18):

Well, for the technology, I was thinking, did one technology have multi of functions I need, like the technology can do the reading for me and do my revision? Yes, definitely Read&Write I can do my writing for me. Do my reading, not writing. But also, the Read&Write can do a lot of things, like the prediction which is using the prediction will help.

Shelly Zheng (23:51):

One of the assessments in the previous semester, I was trying to just type one word, and then after that one word has been complete, the whole sentence come out for me directly, which is that sentence. It's completely what I wanted to put into the assessment, it just come out straight away, word to word. So I don't need to type in another word, and then I just type one word and then I choose the number from the prediction from Read&Write, and then it comes up the straight sentence for me directly.

Shelly Zheng (24:31):

That software saved me a lot of time. Using the prediction, it just saved a lot of time for typing up because I think the prediction on Read&Write, it has the memory, something like that. The first time, it doesn't quite work as usual because it's just a few words. But when I keep using, and then I do my research and then it just come out the way I want from that prediction from Read&Write, so I'm pretty happy with it.

Ben Dyer (25:14):

That's excellent, Shelly. Yeah, it must be one of my favorite features, the prediction tool. It's going to help you write more sophisticated, up to a couple of grade levels above your current grade level, so that's fantastic to hear. I guess the big message that I'm hearing from you, Shelly, is that the reason technology has become your go-to solution entirely, you're entirely digital now is because it has saved you such a vast amount of time.

Shelly Zheng (25:48):

Saved me a lot of time. Yeah.

Ben Dyer (25:48):

Yeah. Which is really important, right? Especially for you at university.

Shelly Zheng (25:53):


Ben Dyer (25:54):

Because studying is not the only thing that you have to do, it's one of many things you have to juggle as a student.

Shelly Zheng (26:01):


Ben Dyer (26:01):

So that's fantastic to hear, saving time. So you mentioned that you shifted from pen and paper back in the old days. All of us have been on this journey. How did you feel at the beginning of the move to using technology? Were you nervous using new tools or did it just feel very easy?

Shelly Zheng (26:24):

When I first time using the technology, as I have mentioned, the ZoomText is the first one, Read&Write is the second one. So for the ZoomText, back in early 2017, which is at the beginning of the year, I think it's in January, somewhere in there, the CD of the software, I still get that with me right now. During that time, I need to talk to the AT specialist in Western Sydney University, and she organized a meeting with me to help me to get the installations of the software into my laptop. And then I was a little bit struggling. I asked her a couple questions. The first question is, "How can I use this software? If something happened of the software in the future, when I use during my study, how can I get help? How can I get training on how to use the software? Because during that time, I have no idea what the software is, I just only know the name of the software.

Shelly Zheng (27:44):

AT specialist from university was pretty quite well. We have a meeting on campus in Campbelltown, and she has installations DVD with her, with the particular license key of that particular software, ZoomText, And she helped me to do the insulation step-by-step on my computer, and then after the installation has been completed, she teach me to step-by-step on how to use the software, how the magnified glasses is working of the magnified glasses they have. And they have put the certain amount of the size of the computer screen, make sure you can see enough. They can do a test for you, so I was thinking, "Oh, that is quite good." And during that time I was thinking, if I have any problem with any software in the future from university, I won't be scared, I just contact those AT people from university to ask question, get the support from them, and they can do the training for me as well. So it would be much easier.

Ben Dyer (29:13):

Great, Shelly. And I guess this is a good time to give a shout out to the wonderful team, Sally and Natalie, assistive technology team at Western Sydney university.

Shelly Zheng (29:23):

Yes. They did doing good.

Ben Dyer (29:23):


Shelly Zheng (29:26):

It's always doing well.

Ben Dyer (29:29):

Fantastic. So you would say to any student that's looking to use technology to help them, and you are great proof that anything is possible with hard work application and with fighting any kind of fears you have to overcome technology, the key things I took are make sure you seek support and make sure you get ongoing training. So that's a really good message for us here at Texthelp, and we will make sure that we provide appropriate amount of support all of our users and for all of our partners and make sure that we're up to speed of training to support you. So that's really good to hear, Shelly. Thank you very, very much.

Shelly Zheng (30:15):

That's fine. You're welcome.

Ben Dyer (30:15):

I have just a couple more questions for you, if you don't mind.

Shelly Zheng (30:18):


Ben Dyer (30:18):

You're such an inspirational person, Shelly. I've really enjoyed speaking to you. There might be a lot of other students or prospective students on their learning journey. If a student would like to go onto TAFE, like your journey from high school, maybe they would like to go to TAFE or maybe they would go like to go to university, but maybe similar to you, they have some challenge. They're not native speakers of English. They struggle to communicate. Maybe they have some identified or unidentified need or disability, as you mentioned. What would you say, what advice would you give to people that are worried about continuing with their education, because of some challenge that they have?

Shelly Zheng (31:05):

Well, my best advice to them is don't be afraid to contact any department from university. They can give you a lot of help and support, and also they might give you extra support as well. Don't be afraid to ask when you. When people's going to university, they might think, "Oh, university, it is difficult, it is hard." But just don't be afraid. You can make a lot of new friends from university because when you are in university, every semester, you have at least doing three unit as a full-time student. The maximum is four. If you are doing four units, you will going to meet a lot of new friends. You just keep talking with them, be friendly with them, so you will be fine.

Ben Dyer (32:09):

It'll be fine, and don't be afraid. That is such fantastic advice, Shelly. I would like to use this opportunity to say, I have been thinking about going back to university to do some further study and you have inspired me. So I am actually going to apply next year to do some further postgraduate study in education.

Shelly Zheng (32:31):

Wow. That's good.

Ben Dyer (32:32):

Thank you very much, Shelly, for giving me the strength to overcome my own thoughts and challenges to do some more study as well. I really appreciate it. So it has been such a pleasure to speak with you, I learned so much from you today, Shelly.

Shelly Zheng (32:46):

That's all right.

Ben Dyer (32:48):

Just finally, as we started, we wanted to hear about you and journey. I'd also like to finish up by understanding what are your plans for finishing university and then also, whatever else you would like to tell us about yourself. This is your chance to promote yourself to all of our listeners all over the world.

Shelly Zheng (33:08):

So after university, after I have completed this degree, complete the first go, I want to open my own business because I want to be self-employed. The first goal is helping those people basically come from China because they have lack of English skills. And what I can help them is help them to fill in the forms, the government forms, example like Centrelink, housing, something, et cetera, how to do the application form as the formal interpreter or translator for them to communicate to other people in the government department. Like hospital, when they get sick, need to go to the doctors, but they don't know how to communicate with them, and they have lack of English skills, so I can them to interpret or translate to them. Also, I can help them to fill in the forms.

Shelly Zheng (34:27):

I know now, everything, all the application are online, but I also like if I can help them, I'm not going to say face-to-face as COVID pandemic right now, but I will using the Zoom session. We can meet on Zoom through the internet face-to-face and then ask what they need help with. If they say, "Well, I need an interpreter to attend a particular appointment."

Shelly Zheng (35:01):

I say, "Oh, yeah. It's okay." I can do that for them. So it would be much helpful as I have those background from China, so it would be really good. But the second goal is I want to be the basic level, like the managers in the HR departments in the organization, as I have doing halfway already human resource management in bachelor of business in Western Sydney University right now, so I want to continue using those skills, what I have learned from TAFE and university into the workplace.

Ben Dyer (35:48):

Great. Shelly, that's so fantastic. I think you're going to move forward, strength on strength, and so many people are going to benefit from your experiences and your expertise. I think a lot of people are going to be listening to this and they're going to want to connect with you. How could people find you, Shelly? Do you have a LinkedIn profile? Or what's the best place for people to find you?

Shelly Zheng (36:14):

Yes. People can find me from LinkedIn.

Ben Dyer (36:18):

Great. Thank you very much, Shelly. So we can all find Shelly on her LinkedIn profile, Shelly Zheng. Thank you so much, Shelly. It has been an absolute pleasure learning from you today. Before I let you go, are there any other final comments or anything else you would like to add to the discussion today?

Shelly Zheng (36:38):

The final thing for this first podcast, I'm going to say is thank you for Ben, and Natalie and Sally as well, because they have provided me a great opportunity to share my experience in here to other students and let other students get out of the worry to get into university. I will get into the next couple podcast to explain how I use the software, and I'm looking forward to speak to you guys soon again. Thanks.

Ben Dyer (37:19):

Yes. Excellent. Shelly, thank you so much. We're looking forward to bringing you more exciting podcasts from Shelly, also from a variety of other guests. And also, we're hoping to do some webinars, Shelly, as well.

Shelly Zheng (37:35):

That would be good.

Ben Dyer (37.38):

So if you're interested, please reach out to us. Yes, we have a lot of cool stuff coming your way and we really appreciate it, Shelly. So thanks very much Shelly, for joining us today and thanks to everyone for tuning in. You can tweet us @texthelp, using the hashtag @texthelptalks to join the conversation. And don't forget to subscribe to our podcast to make sure you catch each and every new episode. Until the next time, thanks very much for this thing and goodbye.