Df­fc­tiuliy With Lain­erng To Raed

How tech­nol­ogy can help dyslexic learn­ers help them­selves

Oi Vietnam - - Travel & Wellness - Text by Jac­qui Kirk­man


that a per­son ‘grows out of,’ so dyslexic stu­dents need to de­velop ways of work­ing that use their strengths and by­pass their lim­i­ta­tions. Th­ese tech­nolo­gies are not in­tended to re­place spe­cial­ized, ev­i­dence-based lit­er­acy teach­ing, but rather to pro­vide op­tions for stu­dents to ac­cess re­sources and pro­duce work with­out be­ing ham­pered by their chal­lenges with spell­ing and other lan­guage con­ven­tions. For work where the real aim is that stu­dents can show their con­tent knowl­edge and abil­ity to use higher or­der skills, some of th­ese

apps and pro­grams can put them on a level play­ing field with ev­ery­one else.

This is com­monly re­ferred to as as­sis­tive tech­nol­ogy (AT). In the past, AT has been ex­pen­sive and ob­vi­ous, but the rise of 1:1 tech­nol­ogy and bring your own de­vice (BYOD) pro­grams in schools is mak­ing AT sim­pler and cheaper to ac­cess and much eas­ier for teach­ers to in­te­grate into the main­stream class­room.

This ar­ti­cle merely scratches the sur­face of as­sis­tive tech­nol­ogy, but op­tions for dif­fer­ent types of de­vices and dif­fer­ent bud­gets are pre­sented. In some cases, ne­go­ti­a­tion with the school’s IT de­part­ment may be nec­es­sary. In many cases, a lite (free) ver­sion is avail­able so teach­ers can try out the app and see if it suits their learn­ers.

Speech to Text

Some­thing re­ally sim­ple but very lib­er­at­ing, es­pe­cially for stu­dents in the mid­dle pri­mary age-range who are start­ing to need to re­search and work more in­de­pen­dently but are still strug­gling with read­ing and spell­ing, is to teach them to use a voice com­mand for in­ter­net search­ing. On an iPad or iPhone, ask Siri to search. In a Google browser win­dow, tap the mi­cro­phone but­ton and speak.

iPads have a built-in dic­ta­tion fea­ture, which can be en­abled in Set­tings, Gen­eral, Key­boards. An in­ter­net con­nec­tion is needed for dic­ta­tion to work. Once in an app and ready to type, users tap the screen and, when the key­board ap­pears, tap the mi­cro­phone pic­ture and start dic­tat­ing. Users can give com­mands like ‘new para­graph,’ but cor­rec­tions need to be made man­u­ally. To fin­ish dic­tat­ing, tap Done.

Set­ting up speech recognition in Win­dows 7, 8 or 10 is a lit­tle more com­pli­cated. Users need to set up a mi­cro­phone and train their com­puter to un­der­stand their speech. There is a tu­to­rial on the Win­dows web­site which takes users through how to talk to their com­puter so their voice is un­der­stood ac­cu­rately. Over time, the com­puter builds up a pro­file of a user’s voice, so ac­cu­racy should im­prove.

There are a num­ber of pro­grams and apps that also pro­vide a speech-to­text fea­ture. The best known of th­ese is Dragon Nat­u­rally Speak­ing for PC and Dragon Dic­tate for Mac. There is an ac­com­pa­ny­ing iPad and iPhone app, Dragon Dic­ta­tion. There are many dic­ta­tion pro­grams on the mar­ket and many free apps, although the ro­bust­ness of th­ese apps varies. Some are glitchy or do not al­low easy ex­port of text.

Text to Speech

iOS, the op­er­at­ing sys­tem on which iPads work, has a va­ri­ety of set­tings that al­low text to be read aloud. This could be an ar­ti­cle in it­self but, in short, to en­able text to speech, go to Set­tings, Gen­eral, Ac­ces­si­bil­ity, Speech.

• Turn­ing Speak Se­lec­tion on al­lows users to se­lect sec­tions of text or par­tic­u­lar words by tap­ping and hold­ing down on the screen in any app where they want text read aloud. A box pops up which gives users the op­tion to copy, de­fine or speak that se­lec­tion.

• Turn­ing Speak Screen on al­lows users to then swipe down with two fin­gers from the top of the screen to hear the con­tents of that screen spo­ken. A lit­tle box ap­pears here too, giv­ing op­tions to pause, fast for­ward or rewind, to speed up or slow down the rate of speech.

Many iBooks have a text-to-speech func­tion. There are also other sources for talk­ing books that can help a strug­gling reader to en­joy lit­er­a­ture and the many ben­e­fits that be­ing widely read brings.

Voice Dream Reader for iPad is a good op­tion to im­port text from other sources to read aloud. It is in­te­grated with many other pro­grams, has a lot of fea­tures and is ro­bust. One thing it does not do is op­ti­cal char­ac­ter recognition (OCR), so to be able to scan a non-elec­tronic doc­u­ment (such as a work­sheet or home­work page) and have it read aloud, then Prizmo or Readiris might be the an­swer.

Mac OSX (10.8 and later) has dic­ta­tion and speech-to-text fea­tures and work in a sim­i­lar way to the iPad fea­tures and can be ac­cessed via sys­tem pref­er­ences.

For some­thing that works on a PC, WordTalk is a free add-in for Mi­crosoft Word, de­vel­oped at the Univer­sity of Ed­in­burgh. It high­lights and reads text in a Word doc­u­ment. Once the add-in is in­stalled from the web­site, an ex­tra tab la­belled Add-ins will ap­pear when Word is opened. That tab con­tains a tool­bar with the avail­able op­tions, such as speak a word, speak a para­graph, speak from the cur­sor.

Tex­thelp pro­duces Read&Write for Google, a Google app which pro­vides text-to-speech, edit­ing and trans­lat­ing tools. It is free for teach­ers, but there is a cost for in­di­vid­u­als and schools.

It is a good op­tion for some­one who wants to work with the Google suite of apps. There is an app ver­sion of Read & Write for Google, which is free for the lite ver­sion. iRead­Write is an iPad app also pro­duced by Tex­thelp with text-tospeech and word pre­dic­tion fea­tures, as well as a dic­tionary and a num­ber of shar­ing and dis­play op­tions.

Text Pre­dic­tion

Text pre­dic­tion is a fea­ture com­monly used on tablet de­vices and smart­phones. Many peo­ple with­out a print dis­abil­ity use it rou­tinely. Imag­ine how much dyslex­ics ap­pre­ci­ate it! Many of the pro­grams and apps al­ready men­tioned in­clude this fea­ture, but an­other cou­ple of apps that use it are Typ-O HD and Spell Bet­ter. Th­ese are quite sim­ple apps with­out a lot of ex­port­ing op­tions and ex­tra fea­tures, but that can be a good thing for younger stu­dents and those who are eas­ily dis­tracted by a lot of clut­ter on the screen.


Dys­lexia of­ten goes hand-in-hand with ex­ec­u­tive func­tion­ing chal­lenges, so apps and pro­grams which help peo­ple with dys­lexia to plan, or­ga­nize and re­mem­ber are also use­ful. Of course, dyslex­ics are not the only peo­ple who want to im­prove their plan­ning, or­ga­ni­za­tion and abil­ity to re­mem­ber to do things. Be­cause of the wide mar­ket de­mand, there are a huge num­ber of pos­si­bil­i­ties here, such as the apps Nudge (by Sim­ple Tailor), Vo­Cal (re­minders can be cre­ated us­ing voice record­ing—no need to type), Alarmed and For­get­ful. Google Cal­en­dar can be set to give re­minders or alerts, as can Cal­en­dar for Mac and the No­ti­fi­ca­tions fea­ture on iPads and iPhones. Th­ese are all es­sen­tially time based.

There is an­other set of apps that can also give re­minders based on ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion, for ex­am­ple, when I ar­rive home, re­mind me to feed the fish. Some apps with this fea­ture are Todoist, IFTTT (If this, then that) and Tasker. Smart watches also have re­minder fea­tures and can be hard to ig­nore when they are at­tached to a per­son’s arm!

Note Tak­ing

Older stu­dents who need to make a record of classes or lec­tures can re­ally strug­gle if the only op­tion is to write notes. Th­ese pro­grams al­low vary­ing com­bi­na­tions of typed text, hand­writ­ten notes (could be pic­tures or sym­bols), au­dio record­ing, photos, PDFs and Pow­erPoint pre­sen­ta­tions: Au­dioNote, No­ta­bil­ity, GoodNotes, ShowMe, ScreenChomp and Ex­plain Ev­ery­thing. Dif­fer­ent stu­dents will have dif­fer­ent pref­er­ences for how they like to work.

Mind Map­ping

Good plan­ning leads to a good out­come. Plan­ning is es­pe­cially vi­tal for those with a learn­ing dis­abil­ity and they of­ten find a plan­ning sys­tem which uses sym­bols, di­a­grams and maybe even au­dio more ef­fec­tive than one which is purely print-fo­cused. Mind map­ping is of­ten rec­om­mended to en­hance learn­ing for all stu­dents, so this is an­other ex­am­ple of an AT strat­egy which can ben­e­fit the en­tire class, not just those with a dis­abil­ity.

With that in mind, here are some ex­am­ples of mind map­ping pro­grams and apps:

• Pop­plet – a sim­ple-to-use iPad app de­signed for stu­dents. There is a free ver­sion which al­lows one pop­plet (or mind map). Images, text and draw­ing can be in­cluded in a pop­plet and it can be ex­ported via email or saved as an image in the iPad cam­era roll.

• Tool­s4S­tu­dents and Tool­s4S­tu­dents2 – each of th­ese low-cost apps in­cludes 25 dif­fer­ent graphic or­ga­nizer tem­plates, for ex­am­ple Cause and Ef­fect, Com­pare and Con­trast, Main Idea and De­tail, Prob­lem and So­lu­tion. The de­vel­op­ers con­sider the apps suit­able for stu­dents in Years 4–12.

• In­spi­ra­tion and Kid­spi­ra­tion – part of a suite of prod­ucts for plan­ning and mind map­ping. The soft­ware is pur­chased by li­cence, but there are also iPad ver­sions. Kid­spi­ra­tion is de­signed for K–5 and In­spi­ra­tion for Grade 4 up. Like Tool­s4S­tu­dents, there are tem­plates to choose from or users can start a mind map from scratch. The fin­ished prod­ucts can be ex­ported to a va­ri­ety of other pro­grams.


Those with poor read­ing skills can strug­gle to re­search ef­fec­tively, although their con­tent knowl­edge may be very good. Ads and ban­ners on web­sites can be very con­fus­ing and dis­tract­ing for some. The fol­low­ing sug­ges­tions ei­ther de­clut­ter the page, pro­vide a sim­pli­fied ver­sion of text or both.

Re­wordify.com is a free web­site into which users can paste text or a url for a web­site. The site then sub­sti­tutes words it judges to be dif­fi­cult with a sim­pler word or phrase. It is a use­ful tool, although it does come up with some strange sub­sti­tu­tions and the flow is of­ten in­ter­rupted when a phrase is sub­sti­tuted for a sin­gle word. Sin­gle words can also be pasted in to get their mean­ing and there are other fea­tures which pro­vide ac­tiv­i­ties for learn­ing vo­cab­u­lary. More fea­tures are avail­able for regis­tered users, but it is not nec­es­sary to reg­is­ter to use paste and sub­sti­tute func­tion­al­ity.

Read­abil­ity.com is a free web and mo­bile app that de­clut­ters the web page to re­move dis­trac­tions which can be very… well… dis­tract­ing for some stu­dents. Once the Read­abil­ity book­marklets are in­stalled, an icon will ap­pear on the browser tool­bar. When the re­quired page is open, users click on the arm­chair icon and choose Read Now. They will then be pre­sented with a ‘clean’ ver­sion of the page. There are other fea­tures in Read­abil­ity which al­low users to mark ar­ti­cles on their read­ing list to read later and to send ar­ti­cles to a Kin­dle. The Read­abil­ity.com op­tion ob­vi­ously needs a bit of set­ting up, so it is harder to use when users away from their own com­puter.

The pre­vi­ously men­tioned Read &Write for Google in­cludes a sim­plify and sum­ma­rize but­ton in its many pre­mium fea­tures. Sadly, Google has re­moved the op­tion to fil­ter search re­sults ac­cord­ing to read­ing level, but the stu­dent’s fa­vorite re­search tool, Wikipedia, still has a sim­ple English ver­sion for many of its pages.

The learn­ing fu­ture is bright for stu­dents with a learn­ing dis­abil­ity who have ac­cess to tech­nol­ogy to al­low them to learn in the ways they learn best.

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