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How to "Read with Your Ears," from An AT Specialist, Plus Resources That Support Dyslexia

Students with print disabilities using text-to-speech assistive technology (AT) have a good chance to acquire content in general education classes and to learn independently as compared with a learning aide reading information aloud to them from a computer screen. 

This act of "reading with your ears" is a very good thing, says Jamie Martin, an independent assistive technology specialist, consultant and trainer who helps choose learning supports for students with dyslexia. He is a former teacher of students with dyslexia.

Good Examples  Writing in an article on Nov. 10 for the education website "Noodle," Martin points to ways of learning with assistive technology. He cites two websites where usability features include built-in text-to-speech (TTS). Check out:

  • Understood, a resource for parents of children with learning and attention issues
  • DyslexiaHelp, a resource from the University of Michigan

But TTS as a built-in feature of a website is certainly not the norm, he cautions. Desktop applications, browser extensions (plug-ins), or mobile devices such as Apple’s iPhone and iPad are more common. He offers the following examples: 

Desktop Tools

  • Read&Write Gold by TextHELP and Kurzweil 3000 are good tools to purchase.
  • NaturalReader's free version of its text-to-speech tool can be downloaded as a simple "floating toolbar." 
  • Apple’s desktop operating system, OS X, offering built-in text-to-speech as part of its accessibility features, make third party software purchases unnecessary.

Reading Plug-Ins/Extensions

  • DyslexiaHelp's list of text reading plugins includes options for Firefox, Safari, and Chrome (Martin likes "Chrome" best).
  • Read&Write for Google offers several of the same features as the Read&Write desktop software but for a fraction of the cost (including excellent text-to-speech for web content and Google Drive documents).
  • Chrome Speak and SpeakIt! are two other Chrome plugins that also read Internet text aloud.

IOS Devices: accessibility features of the iPhone and iPad 

  • Speak Selection allows the user to select specific text to be read out loud.
  • VoiceOver and Speak Screen offer continuous reading over multiple pages of text.
  • AT-related apps with feature-rich text-to-speech for web reading include:
    1.  Voice Dream Reader, which imports and reads Internet text through an integrated browser, separating it from ads and other distracting material.
    2. NaturalReader is the iOS counterpart to the desktop software.

"Of course, text-to-speech technology can be used for offline material as well, but as we continue to venture more deeply into cloud computing, it is important for people with language difficulties to have reliable tools to help them read on the Internet," Martin says.

More Resources: 

  • Advancing Opportunities offers AT Stories, a video series of people with disabilities living better lives with a little help from assistive technology. Funded by Richard West Assistive Technology Advocacy Center at Disability Rights New Jersey, these videos support a range of needs. The staff also finds and posts best on point videos as playlists. Check out "AT for School & Learning." Find success stories and resources. 
  • The jury seems to be out about whether or not fonts designed to aid people with dyslexia work. ABC News and Good Morning America offered up "How an Innovative New Font Can Help Dyslexics Read" on November 12. Nearly 100,000 people have downloaded "Dyslexie," a free specialized font where the letter bottoms are thicker. The story comes with a caution from Ben Shifrin, vice president of International Dyslexia Association that no single font that will work for everyone who struggles to read. 
  • Smart Apps for Special Needs wrote about "three great reading apps for dyslexia" on Nov. 6 and they are free. "This series of books are designed for older readers at a beginning reading level. These books are a must-download now for anyone in education or with kids who need a little more support with reading." Check back frequently with this site for other free apps.
  • Vimeo, the video sharing website, says "accessibility is a major priority for us. In January, usability experts introduced closed captions and subtitles to the Vimeo player, Recently, Vimeo partnered with Amara so customers can create or purchase captions and subtitles for their videos. Check out the blog, "Video + Amara = Accessible Videos for All."

AIM-VA: Students with dyslexia, language-based learning disabilities, and students who are print-disabled for other reasons can have free versions of educational materials in accessible formats delivered to their school. These versions help eligible students to access grade-level content when books in print are barriers to learning. Their teachers are entitled to free training for any of the 12 possible alternatives to print that are available. Go to the AIM-VA home page to get started.