For people who struggle to read text, technology can be a lifeline. An audiobook, for example, allows them to experience a story they might not be able to access with a traditional book. These assistive technology (AT) tools for reading are inexpensive and easy to find. But with so many tools out there, it’s not always easy to know which ones to use.
To help, here’s a guide to AT tools for reading and where to find them.
Types of Assistive Technology Tools for Reading
Here are some of the most helpful AT tools for reading.
Text-to-speech (TTS) lets you see text and hear it read aloud at the same time. To use this tool, you click on or highlight words, and the words are read by a computer-generated voice. TTS can be used with books, emails, web pages, and any digital text. It can also be used to convert text files into audio files.
Audiobooks and digital TTS books let you hear books read aloud. Some people like to read along with the book so they can see the words at the same time. Audiobooks are read by human voices. Digital TTS books are created with TTS, and use computer-generated voices.
Optical character recognition (OCR) reads aloud text from images and pictures. You can use OCR by taking photos of worksheets and paper documents, and even objects like street signs. They can also scan documents in. OCR can read words from pictures on web pages (such as image files, like JPG). Like TTS, OCR uses computer-generated voices.
Graphic organizers are visual representations, like diagrams and mind maps, of ideas and concepts. Students can use graphic organizers to take notes while reading, which can help with comprehension. Graphic organizers can be digital or pen and paper.
Annotation tools let you take notes and write comments while reading. This can make it easier to retain information. Annotation tools can be part of software or apps, or they can be traditional pens, markers, and sticky notes.
Display control allows you to control how text is displayed. When reading on a screen, they can change the font, font size, color, and spacing of text. You can also cover (or mask) parts of the screen to lessen distractions while reading. When reading on paper, you can use a simple adaptive tool, like a plastic reading guide. Some books use large print or special fonts. Or they may replace certain words with images.
Dictionaries and thesauri let you look up words you don’t understand when reading. A picture dictionary is a popular tool that uses images to define words. And a talking dictionary reads definitions aloud.
Keep in mind that using AT won’t prevent kids and adults from learning to read. For example, experts say audiobooks can actually help kids become better readers.
Where to Get Assistive Technology for Reading
Some reading tools are “low-tech.” There are traditional classroom tools like sticky notes and highlighter pens. You can find them at any store that sells school supplies.
Schools or teachers might provide some adaptive tools, like reading guides or graphic organizers. You can look at your school or local library for tools like books on tape or CD (they require an audio player to use).
Today, however, most AT tools for reading are used on one of three computer platforms:
Desktop and laptop computers: Computers typically have built-in AT options, like TTS. You can download AT software programs for reading to add more functions to computers.
Mobile devices (like tablets and smartphones): Mobile devices also have built-in AT. You can add more reading tools to mobile devices with apps.
Chromebooks (and Chrome browsers on any device): Chromebooks also have built-in AT. And you can add Chrome apps and extensions to help with reading even more.
Learn more about assistive technology and where to find free audiobooks and digital TTS books. And get advice on the first assistive technology to try.
Watch as an expert explains more about assistive technology for reading, and how it helps her son with dyslexia.