Text-to-Speech / Screen Reading
This software will read out loud, in a digital voice, any text on the computer screen. This could be text which the student has just typed, an email, a webpage, a Word/PDF document, or pages of a textbook. The reading voice and speed can be adjusted. Text can be read word-by-word, in sentences or continuous passages. Individuals words can also be targeted to check the pronunciation and definitions.
Traditionally this type of technology was unreliable and expensive. But now it is built into most devices (laptops, tablets, phones), apps and websites. The user just needs to know how to turn it on. Examples of text to speech/screen reading software include:
- Apple products: Speak Select or Speak Screen (See Settings/General/Accessibility). Speak Select allows a small section of text, or individual words, to be highlighted and then spoken whilst Speak Screen reads the entire screen out.
- Android products: The Speak function is available under Settings/Accessibility.
- WordTalk is a free plug-in for Microsoft Word that reads out text and also has a talking dictionary feature.
- PDFs have an in-built screen reader (see Menu/View/Read Out Loud)
- Voice Dream apps
- IVONA Text-to-Speech for Android.
- Natural Reader naturalreaders.com.
- Electronic readers such as Kindle, Sony eReader and others have opened up the world of digital books. Some are more basic than others. The Kindle Fire has an in-built screen reader.
There are third party software available, that use to dominate the market. However, now this type of functionality is quite mainstream and these stand-alone programmes are often not required and can be very expensive. These include such products as ClaroRead and TextHelp Read & Write.
Reading Pens/Scanning Pens
For those students whose reading is reasonably competent, but where they come across occasional words that they cannot identify, a reading pen can be a good solution. These are handheld pens containing OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software which enables them to scan and read words and phrases. They also include a dictionary to explain what a word means. Companies which make these pens include Scanning Pens and Wizcom.
There are also lots of OCR apps for tablets and smartphones including App Writer and Textgrabber.
For students with reading difficulties, accessing curriculum textbooks can be very difficult and time-consuming. Digital versions of textbooks are a great benefit to people with dyslexia as they can be used along with Text-To-Speech software to have the textbooks read out to the student.
For the most up to date information of how to access digital textbooks please see our handout on Digital Copies of Books.
Bookshare Ireland is the largest accessible digital library in Ireland and is available to individuals with visual or print disabilities including dyslexia. Members can access Bookshare Ireland using their desktop computer, tablet or smartphone by signing up at www.bookshare.ie.
Accessing Pre-Existing Audio Formats
Some material is available on CD, audio book or digital book format, particularly English novels, drama and even some poetry. This can be accessed through most good bookshops, libraries or online.
BorrowBox is an app for tablets and smartphones which allows borrowing of digital and audio books from local libraries
Audible is a subscription service for high-quality audiobooks.
There are also numerous websites where cheap or free digital copies of novels can be downloaded, such as www.epubbooks.com.
DVDs may also be available where novels or dramas have been filmed. These would all be good interactive learning tools.
Developing Key Reading Skills
There are many programmes which target specific areas or reading development, such as reading phonics, sight words, comprehension. comprehension These can be useful motivational tools to reinforce learning. These include:
- Wordshark, based on the ‘Alpha to Omega’ programme, combines the excitement of computer games with learning to spell and read. It offers 41 games that use sound, graphics and text to teach and reinforce word recognition and spelling. New words and vocabularies can also be added.
- Wordswork is the more advanced programme from the makers of Workshark. Wordswork is designed for older students, second, third level and adults. As well as reading and spelling it also has sections on memory, writing skills, study techniques.
- The Lexia reading series helps students to strengthen skills through interactive exercises working on areas such as phonemic awareness, decoding skills and comprehension.
- Nessy Reading Spelling is designed to reinforce spelling, reading and listening skills in a multi-sensory way.
- Words Worth Learning is an online literacy programme that aims to address reading and spelling difficulties. It can be used both in school and at home with learners from age 6 upwards.
- Nessy Learning also have a wide range of apps available for tablets and smartphones, such as Hairy Letters, Hairy Phonics and Hairy Words. These are fun, multi-sensory games for helping with the development of reading and spelling skills.
- My Reading Coach offers a comprehensive reading programme aimed at phonetic awareness, pronunciation, word building skills, grammar and reading comprehension. After an initial test, it sets out an individual programme for a child, focussing on the areas that needs development. Builds in lots of repetition and reinforcement, and monitors progress.
NB Please note that all the software and programmes listed above are for information purposes only and does not constitute a recommendation.