Computers can be used to promote successful and more efficient reading experiences for students by offering alternative strategies. This module identifies software features and programs that enhance independent reading opportunities. Several software programs can make the computer a "virtual reading machine." Using text-to-speech technology enriches learning by having the computer highlight text and read it aloud as the student follows along.
Talking word processors (TWP) are writing software programs that provide speech feedback as the student writes, echoing each letter as it is typed and each word as the spacebar is pressed. Many of these inexpensive programs, typically used to assist with writing, also incorporate powerful tools for reading. Students with learning disabilities find that having written material read aloud assists them to better edit, comprehend and organize. Once any file (story from a book, assignment, article, typed information, etc.) is imported into a talking word processor, the text can be read aloud to the student. These TWP programs offer other adjustments such as enlarging the size of the text and changing the color of the foreground, background and highlighting box to assist students in following along as the text is read.
These TWPs offer the ability to select from a variety of different voices, as well as adjust the rate and volume of the speech. Other features may include spell check, highlighting rates, word prediction or Internet connection. The table below offers program examples of different voices and adjusted rates. Adjusting these features can be very important for increased control and comprehension.
Write:Outloud (DJ, Inc.)
IntelliTalk II (IntelliTools)
Type & Talk (textHELP! Systems)
Text displayed in a talking word processor can be read word by word, sentence by sentence, or from beginning to end. As each word is spoken, it is "highlighted" or visually presented in a different color that can be set by the user. The TWP programs contain a variety of different voices for reading; the speed of the speech can also be adjusted. This means of reinforcing the look and sounds of words as they are read is very effective for students with disabilities and early readers.
Another program feature that helps with editing and comprehending information is the ability to re-read the text word by word, sentence by sentence or the total page, as often as the students wants.
New information can be imported into a talking word processor in a number of ways including:
Remember: Once text is in digital format it can be accessed and manipulated in a variety of ways.
In addition to dedicated talking word processors that read their own files as well as copied text, there are other "readers" available. As students get older and work in multiple programs, including web browsers and e-mail, we need to look at other options.
Text Readers are software programs that read all the text in any given document or application and often include other assistive features such as word prediction and spell check. Those with a reading disability, but with adequate vision most often use them.
Read & Write (textHELP)
TextAssist (Mindmaker, Inc.)
TextAloud MP3 (NextUp Technologies)
Wynn 2 (Freedom Scientific)
Screen readers read ALL the text elements on the screen, including menu bars, buttons and dialogue boxes and may include screen magnification features. They provide access to program navigation and written text for students with visual impairments.
Reading text aloud benefits anyone having difficulty reading information on the screen or for whom simultaneously hearing and reading text aids comprehension. Any the reading programs can also assist reading speed. Features within programs vary and should be investigated for each user.
JAWS (Freedom Scientific)
ScreenReader (textHELP! Systems)
ZoomText Xtra Level 2 (AI Squared)
Frequently, students need to have books or other printed material translated into digital format to have the computer read the text aloud to them. To do this several steps are necessary:
These are OCR (optical character recognition) software programs packaged together with flat-bed scanners. They are sometimes referred to as "scan to speak" products.
Scanner + OmniPage Professional
With these bundled products, scanning text into a word processor becomes simply a matter of selecting an item from the FILE pull-down menu (for Windows-based computers) or from the APPLE menu (for Macintosh computers.)
Kurzweil 1000 (Kurzweil Educational Systems)*
Kurzweil 3000 (Kurzweil Educational Systems)*
* prices can include a color flatbed scanner
WYNN (Freedom Scientific)
There is a growing number of sites that offer scanned materials for students. Copyright issues are addressed at each site.
Kentucky Scanning Network (coming!)
New York State Scanning Network (coming!)
Making the graphics and text on the screen larger can be helpful for students with learning disabilities and/or visual impairments. With total screen magnification, everything on the screen is enlarged: toolbars, menus, windows, etc. There are several ways to magnify items on the screen.
One place to find screen magnification options is within your computer operating system. The following are suggestions as to where on your computer to find these "built in" enlargement options.
Control Panel: Display Options
Accessories: Accessibility Program: Microsoft Magnifier
Universal Access Tools
Once CloseView is installed, the following keyboard commands facilitate its use:
Software programs are available that enlarge the size of the text and graphics on the screen, making them easier to see and read. Other programs offer partial screen enlargement of certain areas.
ZoomText Xtra 8.0 (AI Squared)
Lunar for Windows (LS&S Group)
Although magnification alone may make text easier to see for students with visual impairments, by adding speech to the enlarged words, reading and comprehension improves for many other students! This can be very beneficial for students with cognitive impairments, learning disabilities and visual impairments when reading information on the screen. The following suggestions provide ways to combine enlarged text with speech output.
Talking Word Processors
One way is to use a standard feature of any TWP and enlarge the size of the font from 12 pt. to a larger font, such as 24 pt. Import any text into a talking word processor, enlarge it and even change the color of the foreground and background. Then select a voice and the rate at which you want the text to read.
ZoomText Xtra 7.0 (AI Squared)
SuperNova (Dolphin Access Group)
E-Readers are the applications used to view available e-books that are often enhanced with music, external links, simulations and sound effects. Many offer additional features such as the ability to highlight text, bookmark a page, search a book for for a word or a name or look up an unfamiliar work in a dictionary.
Students who are blind or have learning disabilities use computers for reading text in an accessible format through a screen reading device and/or software that speaks words produced on the computer screen. E-Reader features include text-to-speech so that any e-book can be read aloud.
E-books are able to provide information in alternate formats to diverse learners, effectively reducing the "Digital Divide" that exists for students with disabilities. They are going to change how education is delivered and may reduce the cost of textbooks and print materials. Although e-books have great educational potential, publishers have been reluctant (due to intellectual property and industry standards) to move to this format. Recent legislation requiring instructional materials to be provided in alternate formats may encourage publishers to move quickly to resolve these issues.
In using the e-book version of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, as a student clicks on a word on a page several options become available: hearing the word, adding a highlight, copying the text or looking up its meaning.
No need to actually turn a page or look through an index. Finding other occurrences of a word is immediately available!
There are several popular free eReaders that can be downloaded to your computer to read any text file or e-book. Some include graphics, offer a 2-page view and provide ways to draw and take notes.
Comparing eBook Readers (Barnes & Noble)
...and eBooks for all
Knowledge Rush Book Directory
Lambropoulos, Dinos. A Virtual Paradise for Readers in E-link Newsletter Archives. Offers information on books for e-readers. November, 2002.
Meyer, A. & Rose, D. (2000). Learning to Read in the Computer Age. CAST Website: http://www.cast.org/udl/index.cfm?i=18
O'Neill, Jennifer (February 06, 2001). Book Industry Takes Lessons From Napster: Publishers try to deliver what you want in a digital book, but still turn a profit. PC World.
EBook Add-In Reader for Office 2000: Make any Word 2000 document into an EBook-format document. PC World, Apr 23, 2001
Poftak, Amy (April, 2001). Getting a Read on E-Books. Technology and Learning Network.
Sly, Rudolph (July, 2000). eReaders for Handheld and Palm-size PCs. PocketPC Magazine
There are a wide variety of resources and software programs designed to promote literacy development. Some encourage exploration of words, sounds and relationships, others focus on specific curricular skills areas associated with literacy and reading; many incorporate read aloud features.
Several authors have created scales for determining the readability level of text: Dale-Chall, Fry, Flesch and Spache. A free resource using the Fry Formula that will give you general grade level of any written information can be found on Kathy Schrock's site. It includes directions for using Edward Fry's Readability Graph.
These books are designed to motivate students who read on lower levels by combining interesting reading information with low vocabulary. Literacy resources include many books which can be scanned into the computer to be read aloud with special software programs.
Other sources include software series such as Start-to-Finish (Don Johnston, Inc) books that offer their stories in three formats: CD-ROM for a "talking" computer book, paperback book and audiocassette to provide different levels of reading intervention and support to promote independent reading. Over 60 titles are available in two reading levels 2/3 grade and 4/5 grade.
For early readers, these programs provide an opportunity to hear a popular story read page by page. Words are highlighted as they are read. These programs also allow the user to interact with words and objects to amuse and further strengthen the development of language and labeling skills. Several offer word explanation or definition.
Several resources exist:
Ukandu Series (Don Johnston, Inc.)
Living Books (Broderbund)
Story Time Tales (P. King De-Baun)
Web LINK: Project LITT
Are Talking Storybook Programs Effective? (pdf)
The Internet is another resource for stories and books for elementary students. Some sites offer stories at various reading levels to download. Some of them are "classics" or well-known eBooks; others can be found only online.
These stories can be read aloud with a screen reader or by importing them (with copy and paste commands) into talking word processing programs.
Websites exist that require subscription opportunities to "users with print disabilities" to legally share books in specialized formats, including braille, audio or digitized text. Organizations that serve individuals with print disabilities may sponsor subscriptions for their students or clients.
"... it is not an infringement of copyright for an authorized entity to reproduce or to distribute copies of a previously published, non-dramatic literary work if such copies are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities." [Copyright Law, Chaffee Amendment, 17 U.S.C. § 121]
Accessible Book Collection
Several publishers offer series of computerized books and/or complete reading programs which offer literacy opportunities for students at different interest and reading levels. The programs often combine interactive software, quality print materials, with take-home materials. Digital versions lend themselves to easy adaptation for students with disabilities.
Start To Finish Books Series (high interest/low reading level) Don Johnston, Inc.
Stories & More (K-1) Riverdeep
Earobics (Pre-K - 3) Cognitive Concepts
Balanced Literacy (K-1) (IntelliTools)
Technology in Literacy Resource
Reading Online Journal
Research on Children's Literature
Our Children's Future: Changing the Focus of Literacy and Literacy Instruction
This section provides examples of software programs that address specific literacy skill development. Such as letter and word recognition, comprehension and phonics.
Balanced literacy programs look to integrate writing and reading activities in elementary classrooms. Thematic units provide the content for both guided and independent activities for learning. Technology is seen as an integral support in these programs.
Some early software programs work on pre- and early reading language skills which focus on letter identification, word patterns, rhyming and early sound to letter associations. Children learn best when words are used within a context.
Other software programs focus on the development and assessment of reading skills at different grade levels. Reading activities include recognizing, building and comprehending hundreds of new words used in context. These programs are good for reading practice and portfolio assessment.
Software programs are available that focus on the development or strengthening of specific skills used in reading, including phonics, decoding words, sounding out words, parts of speech, spelling, etc.
Earobics (Thinking Publications)
Lexia (Lexia Learning Systems)
With the easy-to-use Writing with Symbols word processing program, students who cannot read can follow the pictures that accompany any reading passage.This reading assistance program shows symbols of words above the actual written text and also speaks the picture/words out loud.