Software and apps for kids who struggle with reading

By The Understood Team

If your child struggles with reading, there’s a range of software that may help. These computer programs and tablet apps offer several features for reading aloud, such as text-to-speech (TTS) with different computer voices and optical character recognition (OCR) that turns images of text into electronic text (e-text). They may also offer other features:

  • Visual tracking highlights words as they’re spoken to help kids follow along.
  • Text-to-audio conversion creates an audio file of TTS reading aloud for listening on digital music players.
  • Pronunciation dictionary corrects how TTS pronounces certain words (like names).
  • Display control sets the text font, size, color, and spacing of what’s read.
  • Screen masking hides parts of the screen, which can help reduce distractions.
  • Different types of dictionaries and thesauri help kids look up words using sound or pictures.
  • Translator displays selected words in a kid’s first language to aid comprehension.
  • Colored highlighters and annotation tools let kids take notes on what they’re reading.
  • Digital help kids visually outline and understand what they’re reading.
  • Reading templates help kids keep track of important details and facts about what they’re reading.
  • Direct access to services like Bookshare provides digital TTS books. (Bookshare is a program of Understood founding partner Benetech.)

Here are some options to consider for macOS, Windows PCs, iPads, and Google Chrome. Tools that run on Chrome will also work with Microsoft’s Edge browser on PCs and Macs. Built-in reading features like basic TTS and visual tracking are also available in most devices.

Program and priceKey featuresUser experience

Microsoft Immersive Reader: Free (included with Microsoft Word, OneNote, Outlook, and Edge browser on Mac or Windows, and with other Microsoft products such as Word for iPad and the free online versions of Microsoft Office)

Available through the Office Chrome extension.

  • TTS

  • Visual tracking

  • Screen masking

  • Display control

  • Picture dictionary

  • Grammar options

  • OCR (with companion app)

 

With the TTS: Kids can listen to text read aloud in several Microsoft applications. Words are highlighted as they’re read aloud, making it easier for kids to follow along.

With the screen masking: The line focus option hides all but a few lines of the screen while kids are reading, to reduce distraction.

With the display control: Kids can control how documents are viewed. Spacing, fonts, and margins can all be customized. The color of the text and background can also be changed.

With the picture dictionary: When kids click on a word, they can hear the word read aloud and see a picture of what it means. This is in addition to the standard dictionary and thesaurus tools already in Microsoft Word.

With the grammar options: Immersive Reader can divide words into syllables, which can help with decoding. Words can also be colored and labeled according to parts of speech, like nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.

With the OCR: Using the separate Microsoft Office Lens app for iOS and Android, kids can convert images of text into electronic text and upload it to OneNote or Word.

Bookshare Web Reader: Free (works with Chrome or Safari browsers; no installation needed)

Anyone can use Bookshare Web Reader with Bookshare public domain books. Qualified students with Bookshare memberships can use it with copyrighted Bookshare books.

  • TTS

  • Visual tracking

  • Display control

  • Direct access to Bookshare

With the TTS: Kids can listen as Bookshare e-text is read aloud. Words are highlighted as they’re spoken, making it easier for kids to follow along.

With the display control: Kids can control how text is displayed. Text size, font, line spacing, and margins can all be customized. The color of the text and background can also be changed.

NaturalReader: $99.50 for the personal version (Mac or Windows)

There’s also a free basic version without text-to-audio, and a free Chrome extension with TTS and visual tracking for listening to webpages.

  • TTS

  • Visual tracking

  • OCR

  • Text-to-audio file

  • Pronunciation dictionary

  • Display control

With the TTS: Kids can listen to webpages and various documents read aloud by computer voices. Selected text is copied to a separate floating window where it can be reformatted and saved.

With the OCR: Kids can scan up to 30 documents for reading. (More expensive versions allow kids to scan more documents.)

With the display control: Kids can control how text is displayed in the floating window. Text size, font, line spacing, and margins can all be customized. The color of the text and background can also be changed.

The program also syncs with an app to use on mobile devices.

Voice Dream Reader: $19.99 (iOS, iPadOS)
  • TTS

  • Visual tracking

  • Pronunciation dictionary

  • Display control

  • Screen masking

  • Dictionary

  • Highlighter and annotation

  • Direct access to services like Bookshare

With the TTS: Kids can listen to documents read aloud by computer voices. The words are highlighted as they are read aloud, making it easier for kids to follow along. Documents can be downloaded directly from Bookshare as well as from Google Drive and other sources.

With the display control: Kids can control how text is displayed. Text size, font, line spacing, and margins can all be customized. The color of the text and background can also be changed.

With the screen masking: Kids can choose to see one, three, or five lines of text at a time.

With the dictionary: Kids can look up an unfamiliar word and use their device’s built-in TTS to hear it read aloud.

With the highlighter and annotation: Kids can highlight text and add their own notes, then collect the highlights and notes.

ClaroRead: $85–$225 (Mac, Windows, Chrome; price varies by version and features)

A free extension for Chrome includes only TTS plus some writing supports.

  • TTS

  • Visual tracking

  • OCR

  • Text-to-audio file

  • Screen masking

  • Pronunciation dictionary

  • Talking dictionary

  • Thesaurus

With the TTS: Kids can listen to webpages and various documents read aloud by computer voices. The words are highlighted as they’re read aloud, making it easier for kids to follow along. 

With the OCR: Kids can scan and read unlimited image files. A screenshot reader lets kids scan and read image text on a screen (e.g., text in a picture or on a map).

With the screen masking: The software can also mask or hide parts of the screen while kids are reading, to reduce distraction.

With the talking dictionary: It can read aloud definitions for better comprehension.

With the pronunciation dictionary: If the TTS is mispronouncing a word, you can type in the word phonetically. From then on the TTS will pronounce it correctly.

In addition to these reading tools, the software has other features to help kids with writing.

Read&Write: $145/year (license provides access for one user from Windows PCs, Macs, Chrome, iPad, and Android tablets)

 

Free version includes TTS and single-word translator.

 

Read&Write is free for teachers who sign up with their school email address.

  • TTS

  • Visual tracking

  • OCR

  • Text-to-audio file conversion

  • Display control

  • Screen masking

  • Highlighters and annotation tools

  • Talking and picture dictionaries

  • Translator

With the TTS: Kids can listen to webpages and various documents read aloud. The words are highlighted as they’re spoken, making it easier for kids to follow along.

With the OCR: Mac and Windows versions let kids scan and read unlimited image files. A screenshot reader lets kids scan and read image text on a screen (e.g., text in a picture or on a map).

With display control: The software can reformat webpage text to remove distractions.

With the screen masking: The software can mask or hide parts of the screen while kids are reading, to reduce distraction.

With the talking dictionaries and translator: The software can read aloud definitions for better comprehension. Kids can also translate an unfamiliar word to their first language and hear it read aloud.

With the highlighters and annotation: Kids can highlight text and then collect the highlights into a separate document. They can also add recorded voice notes to documents.

In addition to these reading tools, the software has other features to help kids with writing.

Snap&Read: $60/year (Chrome and Edge browser extensions, iPad)
  • TTS

  • Visual tracking

  • OCR

  • Display control

  • Talking picture dictionary

  • Translator

  • Text simplification

  • Study tools panel

  • Reading templates

With the TTS: Kids can listen to webpages and various documents read aloud. The words are highlighted as they’re spoken, making it easier for kids to follow along.

With the OCR: A screenshot reader lets kids scan and read image text on a screen (e.g., text in a picture or on a map).

With display control: The software can reformat webpage text to remove distractions and overlay text with colors and reading guides to aid visual focus.

With the talking dictionaries and translator: The software can read aloud definitions for better comprehension. Kids can also translate an unfamiliar word to their first language and hear it read aloud.

With text simplification: The software can improve readability by replacing difficult words with simpler words or definitions. 

With the study tools panel: As kids highlight text, it is automatically added to an outline along the right margin of the webpage. Kids can create multiple outlines for different topics, add their own comments, and use their collected notes for writing or study.

With the reading templates: The program’s reading templates are broken down by type of book or text. Kids can use these templates to take notes on key details and facts in what they’re reading.

Kurzweil 3000: $1,395 or $500/year subscription (Mac or Windows)

It’s available at a big discount if your school is a Kurzweil customer.

Students can also access their Kurzweil materials and most tools through various web browsers or the Kurzweil iPad app.

  • TTS

  • Visual tracking

  • OCR

  • Text-to-audio file conversion

  • Talking and picture dictionaries

  • Highlighter and annotation tools

  • Graphic organizers

  • Direct access to services like Bookshare

With the TTS: Kids can listen to webpages and various documents read aloud by computer voices. The words are highlighted as they’re read aloud, making it easier for kids to follow along.

With the OCR: Kids can scan and read unlimited image files, or scan and read image files. A screenshot reader lets kids scan and read image text on a screen (e.g., text in a picture or on a map).

With the talking dictionaries and translator: The software can read aloud definitions for better comprehension. Kids can also translate an unfamiliar word to their first language and hear it read aloud.

With the highlighters and annotation: Kids can highlight text and add their own comments, then collect these notes into a separate document. They can also add recorded voice notes to documents.

With the graphic organizers: Kids can visually organize their collected notes as a diagram to aid understanding.

In addition to these reading tools, the software has other features to help kids with writing.

 

Assistive technology software offers kids with reading issues a wide range of tools and features in a wide range of prices. Explore more assistive technology for kids with reading issues. You can also look into assistive technology that’s built into mobile devices. For a low-tech tool, download some of our free graphic organizers.


Price and availability may vary but were accurate as of March 23, 2021. Understood does not endorse or receive financial compensation for the sale of any of these products.

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    About the author

    About the author

    The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Shelley Haven has spent more than 30 years helping individuals with physical, sensory, and cognitive challenges unlock their potential with technology.