assistive technology

Dyslexia apps

Nice round-up of apps from NCLD for dyslexics and others with reading difficulties:

Reading is the area in which students with dyslexia struggle the most. Fortunately, there are many mobile apps that can help. While we’ve reviewed all of the following ones, and they work well for my daughter who has dyslexia, we also know that “one size (or app) does not fit all.” You may need to do additional research before finding the app that provides the best “fit” for your child.

See the list...

In a recent Wall Street Journal "Ask Ariely" column, a woman named Paula wrote in and asked: do audiobooks count as “real” books? Why am I embarrassed to say that I listened to the book, and what can I do about it?

Dan Ariely’s response was on the right track—you can read it here— but we’d like to go a step further.

There are, in fact, three types of reading: eye-reading, ear-reading, and finger-reading.

Blind people read with their fingers, much of the mainstream reads with their eyes. We dyslexics often read with our ears. Privileging eye-reading above these other modes excludes not a small number of people from accessing information from texts and from enjoying the fruits of a good author.

How big is our community? Conservative studies estimate that dyslexics comprise over 10% of people in the US. It also turns out we are 35% of entrepreneurs and 41% of prisoners (many of who are entrepreneurs in the wrong business!).

One commenter on the blog got this, pardon the dyslexic pun, backwards:

“Let me be brief: books are created to be read the same way plays (and movies) are created to be watched, and music is created to be listen to. There is not a way around it and trying to take a shortcut... deprives her of real pleasures of reading.” —Elizabeth P.

This view is likely held by many mainstream readers but it is narrow and, truly, antiquated. Before the availability of the printed word, people trained themselves to remember great amounts of information by listening and storytelling. Recounting Socrates' dialogue with Phaedrus about the rise of the written word, Plato wrote:

"[F]or this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth."

By the above commenter's standards, Socrates was illiterate.

The inclusion and acceptance of ear-reading, eye-reading, and finger-reading as valid pathways to learning, foreign as they may sound, are key to leveling the playing field for our many unique minds.

If you are a dyslexic who has identified ear reading as your optimal path, this may be old news. You may be like Headstrong Nation’s founder, Ben Foss, who completed both a law and a business degree at Stanford and recently wrote a book about how to become an empowered dyslexic. He accomplished all of this by reading with his ears, and using books on tape and talking computers.

Ben explains his philosophy on reading in his Random House book, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blue Print to Renew Your Child's Confidence and Love of Learning:

A child with dyslexia will never eye-read as well as his peers, and that, I hope to reassure you, is fine. Yet all children need to be exposed to vocabulary and ideas to be successful in school. If your child was blind, providing text as audiobooks or Braille would allow her to read with her ears or with her fingers. No one would ever claim that a blind person was lazy or stupid for not reading text with her eyes. When I listen to audio, that’s ear reading. When I speed it up to four hundred words a minute, four times the pace of standard speech... I am leveling the playing field for me.* It’s not what the mainstream conceives of as reading. But it’s ear reading. It’s learning. It’s literacy.

*This needs to be heard to be understood. Check out a demo of super-fast speech below or visit our Tools page for more videos about text to speech and speech to text:

It will take time before people internalize this three-pronged definition of reading. Luckily there were other commenters on the WSJ, who are helping to pave the way:

“I read books - preferably Kindle books, but on paper when necessary. I listen to audio lectures. I watch (and listen) to video lectures and on-line training courses. The point is the information; not the medium. If Marshall McLuhan meant the obvious by “The Medium Is the Message" then I think he got it wrong. The pipe is not the water; the wire is not the electricity. This whole subject strikes me as a bit pretentious, like focusing on the make of car you drove to get to a destination instead of the worthiness of the destination.” —Terrence W.

Thanks for listening, Terrence.

Photo credit: Luci Gutiérrez

Assistive Technology blogger Brian

I'm dyslexic and a senior in high school. I've used assistive technology for many years to help me read and write. In third grade I started use the Alpha Smart computer to help me with writing. As I got older I started using Kurzweil 3000, Bookshare, and Learning Ally to help me with reading. In middle and high school the technology became increasingly important and allowed me to participate in interesting classes. Now in school I read all of my books with Bookshare and I use Kurzweil to read handouts. I'm definitely an ear reader.

A few years ago I started an assistive technology blog: I write about a variety of technologies, but focus on technology that is useful for dyslexics. My first blog posts was about the Intel Reader.* I was very excited about winning it in a contest and it got me started on blogging. I thought it was really cool. I got it just before final exams and I used it to study. The Intel Reader was so helpful because some of the hand-outs and study material I had were only in hard copy. I decided that I wanted to let other people know about it, so that people who couldn't read would know there were solutions. Because technology is so helpful to me and so few people seemed to know what is available I wanted to share all the things that I found to help spread the word. —Brian Meersma

Brian got in touch with us a few weeks ago and we wanted to share his story here as a young dyslexic who has found the right technoglogies to empower him in school and in life. Brian lives in New Jersey and has been a passionate advocate for using assistive technologies and empowering dyslexics and the LD community. You can subscribe to Brians' blog here and follow him on Twitter here:
*Many people have written to us about purchasing an Intel Reader and we want to make sure the right information gets out there. There are few retailers currently selling the Intel Reader at present and it appears that it is reaching the end of its 4 year run on the market. Please visit our Workplace Accommodations page and look at "Expanding your tech toolkit" and our Classroom Accommodations page ("Taking Notes the Easy Way") for alternatives.


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