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Assistive Technology Tools: Reading

Learn about assistive technology tools — from audiobooks to variable-speed tape recorders — that help students with reading.

There is a wide range of assistive technology (AT) tools available to help individuals who struggle with reading. While each type of tool works a little differently, all of these tools help by presenting text as speech. These tools help facilitate decoding, reading fluency, and comprehension.

AT tools that assist with reading fall into several categories:

Audio books & publications

Recorded books allow users to listen to text and are available in a variety of formats, such as audiocassettes, CDs, and MP3 downloads. Special playback units allow users to and search and bookmark pages and chapters. Subscription services offer extensive electronic library collections. This type of tool may help people who struggle with reading.

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Resources to help you evaluate assistive technology for your child

Optical character recognition

This technology allows a user to scan printed material into a computer or handheld unit. The scanned text is then read aloud via a speech synthesis/screen reading system. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is available as stand-alone units, computer software, and as portable, pocket-sized devices. OCR may benefit people who struggle with reading.

Products to consider

Resources to help you evaluate assistive technology for your child

Paper-based computer pen

This technology records and links audio to what a person writes using the pen and special paper. It enables the user to take notes while simultaneously recording someone( e.g., a teacher) speaking. The user can later listen to any section of his notes by touching the pen to his corresponding handwriting or diagrams. This type of tool may benefit people who struggle with writing, listening, memory, and reading.

Products to consider

Resources to help you evaluate assistive technology for your child

Speech synthesizers/screen readers

These systems can display and read aloud text on a computer screen, including text that has been typed by the user, scanned in from printed pages (e.g., books, letters), or text appearing on the Internet. This type of tool may benefit people who struggle with reading and writing.

Products to consider

Resources to help you evaluate assistive technology for your child

Variable-speed tape recorders

Tape recorders/players allow a user to listen to pre-recorded text or to capture spoken information (e.g., a classroom lecture) and play it back later. Variable speed control (VSC) tape recorders speed up or slow down the playback rate without distorting the "speaker's" voice. This tool may help people who struggle with reading and listening.

Products to consider

Resources to help you evaluate assistive technology for your child

The assistive technology products listed on this site have been compiled under the direction of Marshall Raskind, Ph.D. This does not represent a comprehensive list. The inclusion of any product is not intended as an endorsement. The information is provided to guide parents and educators in selecting products to meet children's specific needs.

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Kristin Stanberry and Marshall H. Raskind (2009)

There's one notable form of AT that's missing from this list: captions. Think about it--captions are widely available on television programming, educational media, and--increasingly--web-based content. They're easy to use (in most cases, requiring only a simple menu option selection or button click), using them doesn't require any additonal expense, and their literacy benefits are backed up by research and practical evidence. Check out http://readcaptionsacrossamerica.org and http://dcmp.org/captions for more information about how captions--aside from providing a needed path to accessibility for people who are deaf or hard of hearing--can build literacy and boost learning.
Posted by: Thom Lohman  |  January 21, 2010 09:01 AM
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