Alfabet Soop (July, 2020)
Amy Traynor, OTR, M.A., ATP
A column dedicated to facilitating an understanding of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework and Assistive Technology (AT) and what each might look like for individuals with dyslexia.
Released in the July, 2020, Issue 3 of The Dyslexia Revolution,
the quarterly newsletter by The Dyslexia Initiative
If there is anything we know as parents, advocates, educators or individuals with dyslexia know is that one size does not fit all. Whether you’re examining the characteristics, intervention needs or even assistive technology, each is personal to individuals with dyslexia. To say there is “one best AT tool” for dyslexia would be remiss, however, there are categories of tools that are a brilliant place to start when investigating support solutions for literacy. Text-to-speech (TTS) is one category of tools that do exactly that, they take printed text and turn it into “speech” that is spoken/read to the user, and what we will focus on this time.
Text to speech (TTS) takes many forms and is an ever growing segment of technology; it is the ultimate in ‘leveling the playing field’ for an individual with dyslexia. While it is exciting to see ‘mainstream’ platforms embrace accessibility, it is important to remember that while there are free options, many times the customizable features that individuals desire are only available in paid apps/programs/devices. Given that TTS is critical for providing grade level content to students with print disabilities in a barrier-free format, it is most responsible to consider all options, not just those that are free or most easily obtained. Don’t just take my word on it though; the benefit of TTS for individuals with dyslexia or other print disabilities is well documented in evidence-based, peer-reviewed sources! Here is one very current resource that you can have in-hand when you address TTS needs for your student with their school. Keelor, et al (2020) published a nice research article that in short provides that “Text to speech technology is an effective compensatory for struggling readers. Increasing reading comprehension with TTS not only allows students with reading difficulties to access but also comprehend text that is more commensurate with their typical peers. This has positive implications in overall academic success, self-esteem and self-efficacy.” It’s available for download for free-I’ve cited it at the end of this article!
The following are my “top picks” for tools that provide TTS and what I like most about them. Remember, this area is ever-expanding and these are just a few of my favorite text-to-speech options to have available in your ‘toolbox’ of options!
Snap and Read Universal (paid): This tool is available as a Chrome extension as well as an iOS app. It is much more robust than simply text to speech. Created and distributed by Don Johnston, Incorporated (https://learningtools.donjohnston.com/product/snap-read/), Snap and Read will of course read text both in standard electronic presentation and as screen-shot for “locked text” but also can change the reading level of text, translate text into 100+ languages, annotate (write on, complete) PDFs/worksheets, remove distractions, provide overlay/line guide, provides study tools such as outlining, bibliographer and picture-supported dictionary. The toolbar also integrates with Overdrive for use with borrowed library books! There is nothing I don’t love about this extension and I really love the v2 iOS app! You can LITERALLY receive a worksheet from a teacher, snap a picture of it and be able to have it read to you AND complete electronically using the keyboard, word prediction OR speech to text that can then be immediately saved or shared! They have fabulous demos and product support on their website and also offer a free trial, so go check it out!
ReaderPen (paid): What I love most about the ReaderPen is the discrete portability of this tool. It is about the size of a highlighter, used in a similar fashion and is much less ‘attention getting’ than tablets or even mobile phones. Another bonus to the pen is that it does not require internet! The user moves the pen over printed text (ideally a flat, non-shiny surface) to hear the text read either through the speaker or use of a headset. The pen can be used in English, Spanish or French and also provides dictionary support, voice recorder and has the ability to scan and store text! This company also offers free trials (typically between the company and school districts) so head to their website ( www.scanningpens.com) to learn more and find out how to get your hands on one for a trial!
Microsoft Immersive Reader (free): Immersive Reader is part of Microsoft’s Learning Tools suite and students and teachers are eligible to have Office 365 Education free! Immersive Reader reads text aloud, contains a picture dictionary and also allows the user to change the spacing and size of the text, highlight words as they are read and break words into syllables. While free and built in, there are quite a few steps and the learning tools are not built into all of MIcrosoft's programs, lending it not as ‘user friendly’, in my opinion, but it is a free option. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/education/products/learning-tools.
Office Lens: Office Lens is a free app (iOS or android) that allows the user to take a picture of text and then provides options to store/save the captured text but also provides Immersive Reader as an option that will covert the text into a format that can be read. Once text is converted into readable text, the text is highlighted as it is read out loud. Again, while free, there are multiple steps and cannot be used with all programs, lending it not as user-friendly (again, my opinion), but it is a nice free option when there are no others. Search it up in your app store!
Seeing AI: Developed and touted as a ‘talking camera for the blind’, Seeing AI provides some lovely support for all individuals with print disabilities! It is designed to work with the voice-over accessibility option in iOS devices and the features most beneficial for individuals with dyslexia include text to speech (signage, documents, menus, etc) as soon as it appears in front of the camera, can scan product barcodes which then allows the user to hear the product name and information (when available) including instructions, and can even read small amounts of handwriting! It is available in English, Italian, Dutch, German, French, Japanese and Spanish.
Speaking of working with the iOS voice-over accessibility option, don’t forget about accessibility options that are built into mainstream technology-computers, phones, tablets, etc. all have accessibility options already available!
Keelor, Jennifer L. “Text-to-Speech Technology: Enhancing Reading Comprehension for Students with Reading Difficulty.” Assistive Technology Outcomes and Benefits, Nancy Creaghead, Noah Silbert, and Tzipi Horowitz-Kraus, vol. 14, Spring 2020, pp 19-35. https://www.atia.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/ATOB-V14-A2-Keelor_etal.pdf
Amy Traynor, OTR, M.A., ATP: Amy is an occupational therapist, assistive technology professional, and most proud of her role as mom. She began her occupational therapy career in August 2000, committed to success and participation for ALL students in the school setting. Most of her 20 years supporting students in public schools were focused on assistive technology supports for literacy and physical access. As a parent of a child with dyslexia, she has a deep understanding and appreciation for the role technology plays for students who learn differently. Amy is also the founder of E2 Alliance, LLC, providers for educational consultation, evaluation, advocacy and training. Given her commitment as a parent advocate, the National Center for Learning Disabilities has contracted with Amy to lead their Texas Parent Advisory and Advocacy Council. Feel free to share thoughts or ask questions by emailing Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org