Surprisingly, 15-20% of the population has a language-related learning disability and more than 65% of them have reading deficits. Often these go undiagnosed because students, parents, and teachers simply think the child is not a good reader, lazy, or disinterested. Fortunately, the International Dyslexia Association sponsor a Dyslexia Awareness Month in October aimed to broaden understanding of this little-understood language-based learning condition.
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a condition that affects people of all ages, men and women alike, and causes them to mix up the letters and words they read, which for most is a joy-filled act, challenging and frustrating.
“Dyslexia refers to a set of symptoms, which lead to difficulty with specific language skills, especially reading. Dyslexic students often experience difficulty with oral and written language skills. … This is called a learning disability because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed…” — the International Dyslexia Foundation
There is no cure for dyslexia. Instead, people with this disease must develop coping strategies that help them work around their condition. In education, it is not uncommon to accommodate dyslexic students with special devices, extra time, various format approaches (such as audio or video), and others. Major educational testing centers (such as SAT, ACT, PARC, and SBACC) make them available for most of the tests they offer.
For individual needs such as homework, occasional reading, personal research, or anything else that requires a significant amount of reading, there are plenty of aids out there. The IDA recommends accommodations in areas such as:
- variable work and test settings (such as small groups, reduced distractions, and other furniture arrangements)
- change presentation methods (from verbal instructions to repetition, text size or shortened pages)
- provide visual prompts (such as highlighted text)
- propose an alternative answer sheet
- provide assistive technology (such as a calculator, text-to-speech tools, and electronic dictionaries)
- suggest various response methods (such as dictation, recording, typing, and tallying responses)
- make accommodations in time and schedule
Here are some of the most popular online websites, downloadable tools, and materials that many find helpful in countering the effects of dyslexia on reading:
Requires installation; available as an app or extension
Beeline Reader helps guide readers’ eyes from the end of one line of text to the beginning of the next using a color gradient. It is available in sixty languages.
BrowsAloud software adds speech, reading and translation functionality to websites for people with not only dyslexia, but other mild visual impairments as well. Many sites now offer this on their web pages. To see if the site you’re interested in offers it, look for the BrowsAloud logo in the corner. You will see it on this page at the bottom right.
At the time of this publication, Chrome offered twelve apps and extensions for users with reading difficulties. These include text-to-speech, translations, webpage readers, and more.
HumanWare offers assistive technology for people who are blind or visually impaired. Products include a wide range of innovative products such as BrailleNote Touch (the first Google-certified braille tablet), iOS-compatible braille displays, digital audiobook readers, desktop and portable viewing/reading systems, and portable magnifiers mobile electronics.
JAWS Paid is one of the most popular screen readers for computer users whose vision loss prevents them from seeing screen content or navigating with a mouse. JAWS provides voice and Braille output for PC documents in Microsoft Office, Google Docs, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Edge, and more.
Web tool or software
Natural Reader is a text-to-speech tool that works on most types of documents: PDF, Word, Docs, EPub, etc. All you do is paste some text into the dialog and the site reads it to you. There are free and paid versions, depending on how much text you want to read and what additional features you want. For example, users can convert text to audio files, making them available anywhere.
Free Chrome extension
Open Dyslexic is an open source font that improves readability for students with dyslexia. It actually changes the font of the pages and reformats the words for easier reading. This is what the font looks like:
Open-Dyslexic is an open sourced font created to increase readability for readers with dyslexia.
This free extension for teachers will read passages aloud to users. It also includes a dictionary, allows users to create voice notes, and can simplify and summarize text.
Once the Snap n Read toolbar is installed on your Chrome browser, the user selects some text on a website or document and clicks the speaker icon in the toolbar.
This paid note-taking software allows students to take audio notes of lectures and class assignments, copy whiteboard diagrams, and watch videos online, all easily and independently. Once the notes are recorded, they can be made available as an audio file, converted to text and edited.
If you have dyslexia, there are tools that will make reading and learning easier. Check out the ones I mentioned, but also do a browser search to see what’s available for your specific condition. If you have a favorite that works well in your class, please add it in the comment section of this article to share with others.
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Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over 100 technical resources, including a K-12 Technology Program, K-8 keyboard program, K-8 Digital Citizenship Curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in technical education, master teacher, webmaster for four blogs, a Voice of the Amazon Vinefreelance journalist on technology education topics, contributor to NEA Today and author of technology thrillers, Chase a submarine and twenty four days. You can find his resources at Structured learning.