Different audio experiences


As part of the Inclusive Technologies for Reading course I have explored various ways that “voice” can be used to help students with print disabilities. Text-to-speech (TTS) and audio can support dyslexic and visually impaired students. E.A Draffen says TTS voices “can place a greater demand on cognitive resources to facilitate understanding in comparison to natural voices”. They can be much harder to listen to more tiring and some find, more boring. However “high quality TTS and natural voice were more intelligible than the low quality TTS voices and high quality TTS voices resulted in higher comprehension scores”.

TTS which uses a bi-modal reading system where the text is highlighted as the words are spoken can be especially useful for dyslexic learners. It is useful to be able to control the speed of the voice. Normal readers can cope with 300 wpm and those that have been blind from birth can read at speeds of 400wpm listening to the more robotic voices. However dyslexics need higher quality voices at slower speeds of 150-180 wpm or even less.

Students will have personal preferences for a the voice. If possible, try out a range of voices with the student to see what works best for them. Try the more robotic voices, high quality voices, different gender, different age (children’s voices are available) and different countries and accents (e.g.Welsh, Scottish, Indian etc). Remember you can change the rate and pitch of the voices. Not all software will accept all voices.You may find that students prefer different voices for different reading tasks such as reading a quick note as opposed to a lengthier text or reading for information as opposed to reading purely for enjoyment.

WordTalk and Balabolka

WordTalk is an add-in to Word that will read Word documents easily with the built in Microsoft Anna voice. It also easily used the higher quality Amy and Brian voices I tried from Ivona. I did have problems downloading the free trial but Ivona were very helpful. The student can follow the text as it is highlighted and can save to an MP3 or WAV format to listen to later on an MP3 player.

Balabolka can read Word and PDF documents and use any SAPI voice on your computer and it too can create MP3 files.I tried this out with the various voices both inbuilt and commercial. Once voices are installed on your computer, Balabolka finds them and you can select and try out the different ones in a dropdown menu which is located through View – Show – Configure Voice.

Personally, I prefer to listen to the higher quality voices and will purchase probably two of the voices, one male and one female,  to demonstrate to schools when the trial period finishes..

Ivona Mini Reader

I have also tried out Ivona Mini Reader on a free trial with the Ivona voices and Microsoft Anna. It reads out any text that you highlight. I have found this very useful. It sits in an unobtrusive floating toolbar which lets you adjust speed, volume and select voices easily and quickly. It is ideal for helping students unobtrusively with a difficult sentence or word.


I intend to try out AMIS to read DAISY books when I have time over the Easter holidays as I have had problems downloading this. For further information on how AMIS works I recommend that you look at “My experience with using the Daisy reader software EasyReader and Amis” by ictXplore


ClaroCom is a new app designed primarily for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). An AAC app helps to replace speech or assist writing for those with difficulties in the production or comprehension of spoken or written language. The free app comes with two voices, Daniel and Serena, which are high quality TTS voices. Both can be adjusted for speaking rate from 90wpm to 240wpm. It comes with built in phrases but there is a window which you can type into and then tap the speech button to hear the words spoken. I think that this has possibilies for an easy support for writing for dyslexic students. It has the facility to email, copy and send messages. The Pro version has nine voices and feeds directly into Facebook and Twitter. I can see how older dyslexic students may really like being able to feed into social media easily.


Another way of accessing print is to listen to an audio book which has been narrated. Audiobooks (www.audiobooks.org) has free audiobooks,  all MP3 format and iPod compatible. They have public domain books narrated by volunteers through Librivox (www.librivox.org). I listened to “Treasure Island” which was free and a Librivox production.This was an enjoyable listening experience. Expession and pronunciation was good and easier to listen to for a whole story than a TTS or robotic voice. Many dyslexic students never read for pleasure. Consequently their vocabulary suffers. One way to enable vocabulary development and also give them the pleasure of a good story, is to introduce them to listening to books. This is becoming increasily more accessible due to MP3 technology and apps. Recent research by Learning Ally (www.LearningAlly.org) a not-for-profit volunteer organisation in America, pointed to better scores in maths and reading test scores for readers with disabilities who use audiobooks.

I have used “Listening Books” (www.listening-books.org.uk) with primary students previously and they have really enjoyed this way of accessing stories. Membership costs £20 per year and members can have MP3 CDs sent through the post,download to a portable player or can listen to over a thousand audiobooks live through streaming.


Blio (www.blio.com) is a full-featured free e-reader which lets you see books as the author intended. It comes with TTS integration, with support for both a computerised voice and synchronisation with professionally recorded  audiobooks. I bought the Heather voice for £6.99 which I think sounded better in the sample than it did once purchased and reading a book. You can adjust the speed and volume of the voice but you cannot change the type face or size of type although you can change the page colour and the brightness. It does have bi-modal reading. I didn’t like the type and I found it awkward to change the settings while reading. It is difficult to find free books in the store.


Text to speech audio blog

Text to Speech

This blog contains an audio file in which two different voices read out the same piece of text. The text is read through the free programme “Balabolka” which means chatterer in Russian. Balabolka looks like a text writer and it can read Word and PDF documents. You can adjust the speed and the pitch of reading and the progrmme will detect any voices that are installed on your computer. You can also download new voices to use with the programme and there are now a huge range available. Some downloadable voices are free for use in schools.

The first recorded voice is the Microsoft Anna voice which is already installed on the computer.


The second recorded voice is the higher quality Amy voice from Ivona which you can try free for 30 days.


New TTS voices can sound very natural, respond to punctuation, have intonation and pause when reading. They sometimes still struggle with homophones as you have heard from the demonstration.

Making the most of TTS to suit your reader

  • control reading rate to between 120-160 wpm
  • change the pitch of the voice
  • use the pause settings

Transcript of passage:

For people with reading and writing difficulties, having text reinforced by hearing it read aloud can be very useful. Specialised programs have existed to do this for a long time, and in many cases are extremely helpful and highly appropriate and should be seriously considered, perhaps in consultation with professional advice where necessary.

WordTalk is a free text-to-speech plugin developed for use with all versions of Microsoft Word (from Word 97 up to Word 2010). It will speak the text of the document and will highlight it as it goes. It contains a talking dictionary to help decide which word spelling is most appropriate.

Siting neatly in your Microsoft Word toolbar it is highly configurable, allowing you to:
•Adjust the highlight colours;
•Change the voice and the speed of the speech;
•Convert text to speech and save as a .wav or .mp3 file so that it can be played back on an iPod or mp3 player.

Productivity and organisation as an accessibility issue

File management

Unit 5 of the Inclusive Technologies for Reading course covers productivity and organisation as an accessibility issue. No-one I have questioned about these issues was ever shown how to organise their computer. Most have found their own way of arranging files and some know one or two keyboard shortcuts that someone has shown them along the way. I often resort to “search” because I can’t remember where I saved a document that I need in a hurry.

I have now learned that using the computer with the keyboard only and learning shortcuts is common advice from productivity experts but it is also essential for users with vision impairments.  Cue cards can aid people to memorise these important keyboard shortcuts. These are available from http://www.load2learn.org.uk/training/cuecards/

Most importantly, organizing files in a way that makes it easy to find and retrieve information is good practice for everyone but can be a lifesaver for anyone with a print impairment.

Simple tips such as knowing that Ctrl + C will copy  and Ctrl + V will paste is a huge timesaver. Knowing that this works not only in Word but in most other situations has enabled me to tidy up my files.

Picture of a before desktop

My Load2Learn folder before contained a long list of mixed formats making it difficult to locate what I needed efficiently.

Often I would try to drag and drop a file from the bottom of a long list of documents up past a number of folders to drop it into the correct folder at the top. Needless to say I usually lost it inside another folder on the way up the list. My docs are now sorted and tidied up and it is easy to find the document I need.

Picture of after folder

Distraction free reading – Readability

Removing unnecessary distractions from the screen and allowing readers to focus on the important parts of text is equally important for readers with processing difficulties. It is also helpful to be able to cut out flashing images which often display at the side of the screen in webpages especially for those with Scotopic Sensitivity. Readabilty is a plug-in for Chrome which does this. Find it by going to the Chrome Store and looking for the extensions section where you can find Readabilty.

webpage without using Readability

Once Readability is installed you click on the armchair icon and you have the option to read immediately, save for later or send to Kindle. The distractions are removed.

Webpage using readability

Clearly from Evernote works in the same way.

Another way to is to use the full page view


Distraction free writing – WriteMonkey

WriteMonkey can be used for those who need distraction free writing. As WriteMonkey says about itself  “Writemonkey is a Windows zenware writing application with an extremely stripped down user interface, leaving you alone with your thoughts and your words. It is light, fast and free”.

WriteMonkey screenshot

I don’t use WriteMonkey myself but know students where it might be useful. I hope to try it with them.

My productivity has increased now that I routinely use keyboard shortcuts and have organised my files.Why not give it a try yourself!  My next step is to try an file management system such as FreeCommander.


Another cue cards remix

 Cue cards to use with Co:Writer and Draft:Builder

I have remixed the cue cards to show the keyboard shortcuts that students can learn to use when working with two of the programmes from the SOLO 6 suite of programmes that I have looked at earlier. Keyboard shortcuts can be used instead of toolbar buttons or menu selections. This can be particularly useful in schools where frequently the mouse does not work properly. Using keyboard shortcuts speeds up productivity and is especially useful for students with dyspraxic difficulties.

I introduce these shortcuts as soon as a student starts to use the software.

Speech recognition

iPad Speech Recognition

I’m writing the first part of this blog using the inbuilt system on the iPad. This is really useful feature in the third generation iPad. Speech recognition in the third generation iPad is fully integrated and available virtually anywhere the keyboard shows up. It is initiated by clicking on the small microphone icon on the virtual keyboard. Click the icon again to stop voice capture. Dictation needs to be in about 30 seconds or so chunks. It appears to be highly accurate. It is also extremely fast.

Speech recognition is very useful for dyslexic students. I will give the reasons in list form as I have been unable to get it to recognise the bullet command.

Speech recognition is useful for:
People who physically struggle to write or type
Taking away the worry of incorrect spelling
It is also another way of inputting text and can be used to control the laptop.

The disadvantages of speech recognition are:
Sometimes it is much quicker to type
Speech recognition can make lots of mistakes
Correcting mistakes can be very difficult for dyslexic learners
It is often difficult to think quickly enough to dictate fluently

I have not had to do any training at all and the text is reproducing accurately. I have found it difficult to be fluent whilst dictating. Dyslexic students may need help with planning and noting down keywords before starting.


The second part of this blog is being written using the DragonDictate app. This app is a free app and can be used on iPads that do not have speech recognition built into them. Again it is highly accurate and very fast. It does not require any training and appears to be easier to use and more accurate than the inbuilt speech recognition software on the iPad. Corrections are easily done by tapping on the word and suggestions will be given or you can use the keyboard.

As with all  speech recognition, homophones can be difficult. Students will need to go back and check these. Here are a few other suggestions to help:
Enunciate clearly
Speak in phrases or complete sentences as much as possible
Minimise external noise
A good quality headset microphone will improve accuracy
The microphones will need be attached to the audio jack using a specialised iPad headset adapter
Speak closely to the microphone
Correct errors when they occur

I have been very impressed with both of these ways of using speech recognition on the iPad. With the built speech recognition I was able to type directly into WordPress. However, with DragonDictate I will now have to e-mail this part of the blog before it can be incorporated into WordPress and this is obviously it’s main disadvantage.


The last part of this blog is being typed. I am suprised to find that my typing is probably slower and less accurate than using either of the above methods to input text. However it is easier to:

  • set up headings
  • use bullets
  • stop to think what to type next
  • work in a noisey room
  • type than speak your thoughts out loud when others may hear

For some dyslexic learners speech recognition can be fantastic. If you still need to be convinced please watch Rhodri


who explains how speech recognition has allowed him to keep up with his peers and prepare for university far more eloquently than I can.

Software and hardware for supporting reading

Text Prediction


I already have Co:Writer installed on my laptop. Co:Writer can be used as part of the SOLO suite of programs, and/or it can be used on its own with any text application. I am using it to type this section. As you type, Co:Writer supports and assists writing by providing word choices. These “guesses” are based on linguistic word prediction and multiple vocabulary sources, including personal and 400 topic dictionaries. Co:Writer is very user friendly and it comes with video tutorials in “Help” and a step-by-step guide to help you train staff in 30 minutes.

Co:Writer is great for dyslexic students as it can recognise phonetic spelling, letter reversals and words with omissions and give accurate suggestions. The topic banks can be selected prior to writing and there are dictionaries at beginners (6,000 words), intermediate (12,000 words) and advanced (40,000 words) levels. You can also create your own topic banks and add personal words such as names.

Co:Writer can be adjusted for speed of speech, text size and colour, colour of background and comes with four voices- Graham, Anna, Mary and Mike. It can be set to provide guessses at word, sentence or paragraph level. You can vary the number of guesses required, where they are displayed and the spacing and order.

Co:Writer can read out each word in the drop down box so writers do not need to know what the word looks like. You can then insert a word by clicking on the word or typing the number beside it. This speeds up the writing as it is not dependent on mouse control.

Co:Writer will read the sentence back once a full stop is inserted. This enables the writer to check their sentence for sense and alter it before going on to the next sentence.


I have found Co:Writer to be a useful tool for struggling writers and it is used successfully by top older primary pupils as well as secondary pupils. They have enjoyed being able to show what they know or how creative they can be when they are freed up from worrying about spelling and proof reading and their handwriting difficulties are circumvented.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZIoD97EndM&NR=1&feature=endscreen is a useful introduction by Jamie Munro from Inclusive Technology.

LetMe Type

LetMe Type is part of the MyStudyBar suite of free programmes. It is free text prediction software. For struggling writers it is important to type up a list of words that will be needed for the topic that the student will be writing about and import them first. LetMe Type has a “learning on” function that enables it to “learn” words but it this can be switched off so that it does not learn learn incorrect spellings from these students.

As with Co:writer you can set up the desired number of suggestions for words and also the number of characters required before a suggestion is given.

The background colour, font type and size can be adjusted to suit the particular student. Vocabulary can be grouped according to subjects, through the use of lexicons. There is the facility, like Co:Writer, to create your own topic banks but it does not have built-in ones.


LetMe Type does not have the ability to have the words read out unlike Co:Writer. This is the main disadvantage.However it is free and is a useful support for dyslexic students at secondary school to use if Co:Writer or similar commercial software is not available. Once students are confident at using Co:Writer they can swap to LetMe Type and with a parent to act as the voice, it can be very useful for homework.

http://mystudybar.blogspot.co.uk/p/writing.html gives an over view of how LetMe Type works.

For younger pupils I find that Clicker 6 is a useful programme which many schools already have. For a quick overview of Clicker 6 see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1pXJ5Vcc-Y This works in a similar way to both of the other pieces of software and new word banks are easily created using the web. It has many Clicker grids built in and free new ones are available regularly through the internet. Clicker 6 integrates with the new Clicker apps – Clicker Sentences and Clicker Docs which are available very cheaply. Both apps can be used as stand alone apps so there is no need to have purchased Clicker 6 first. This makes a text-to-speech solution readily and cheaply available to schools which already have  iPads.

Mind Mapping


XMind on MyStudyBar is a free mind mapping programme which is part of the MyStudyBar suite of free programmes. http://mystudybar.blogspot.co.uk/p/planning.html  gives a really good overview of the capabilities of this mind-mapping tool that can help with planning and organisation especially for projects and writing essays. This is a really useful tool for dyslexic learners who often find a visual approach more helpful. It works like the better knowm commercial Inspiration programme and allows you to import documents and add hyperlinks easily. Topics are imported by right clicking. There is also a linear representation of the mindmap to the right of the screen. XMind allows you to copy text directly from a webpage which you can open on the left hand side of the page.Different types of mindmaps are able to be selected. You can also change the colour, format and background  colour which is useful for those who suffer from visual stress.


XMind does not have a manual and is not easy to use at first for anyone who has not used a mindmap or mindmapping software before. Sometimes MyStudyBar can be difficult to download in schools. I have found it difficult to export as a Word document. However it is a really powerful free mindmapping tool and it is worth persevering to become competent at using it.


I already have Draft:Builder installed on my laptop. It is part of the SOLO suite of programmes. Draft:Builder 6 is an organizing tool that breaks down the writing process into manageable chunks and helps with structuring planning, organizing, note taking and draft writing.  It is used to create an outline and notes to organize thoughts and write a first draft using the outlines and notes that the student created. It gives auditory feedback as the student types and they can check their spelling and use the dictionary.

Like Co:Writer it is easy to use and comes with video tutorials in “Help” and a step-by-step guide to help you train staff in 30 minutes.

Draft:Builder is great for dyslexic students who may prefer a visual style of planning. Unlike XMind it has speech support and students can hear words or sentences spoken as they write or hear a word or sentence that they have already written. The graphical view is on the right of the screen and the outline view is on the left of the screen. You can view both or either one of the views at a time. There are colours to show the levels of the ideas. Draft:Builder guides learners along until they have an initial draft and is an easier way for some students to organise their thoughts which sometimes are very disorganised initially. Suggestions of correct spellings for dyslexic-type spellings are given.  If you would like to see Draft:builder in operation  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxR2q4_oWQg gives a good overview.


Draft:Builders main advantage is the speech support but for some schools the cost of purchasing it is prohibitive. XMind could be used in these circumstances and is also a great help for students to use at home but may need support from parents because of the lack of speech support.

Draft:Builder works in a similar way to Inspiration and Kidspiration. I find that Kidspiration is great at primary level. For a quick overview of Kidspiration www.inspiration.com/Kidspiration gives a great introduction. Kidspiration is very visual and has speech support. It is great as an introduction to mind-mapping using a laptop.


My learning on ITR12 – practical implementations and challenges

My plan in Unit 1 was

  1. to install WordTalk and some voices
  2. improve my use of inclusive technologies
  3. encourage others through the use of blogs/twitter
  4. purchase an iPad or Kindle
  5. use all the above to improve recommendations for dyslexic students.

1. Installing WordTalk was relatively simple once I found the right instrucrtions for my version of Word. I also eventually downloaded Balabolka although this took some help from Dominik in “office hours”. Students have faced difficulties as the school security system blocks it from downloading and some schools have the memory stick slots blocked. Installing voices has also been difficult. Ivona have been very helpful and I hope to have some new voices this week. I have perseverd with the voices I already had on my laptop. Some commercial software also does not run on my laptop as it is a 64-bit machine and not supported so it is probably not that the software is free that is causing the difficulties. I have student currently trialing this softwarebut with the free robotic sounding voices due to cost implications.

2. Improve use of inclusive technologies was a rather broad target. I have installed and trialled speech recognition software on the iPad and was very impressed with Dragon Dictation which is very accurate. My daughter uses Read&Write Gold Version 9 and I have tried that out so feel confident to discuss it with schools. I attended training at a local secondary schools for targetted dyslexic pupilis on using the LiveScribe pen following suggestions that this might be helpful to them. I can recommend this as a useful piece of technology. MyStudyBar proved very difficult to download and sme students have found it difficult to get to grips with but others have loved it. For primary level students I still recommend CoWriter or now the new Clicker Sentences or Clicker Docs for those schoools with iPads.

3. Encouraging others through the use of Twitter and blogging. Setting up and beginning to use Twitter took time and as the number of posts that I needed to look at increased this became more difficult on the small screen on the iPhone. This was overcome by purchasing an iPad. WordPress was a challenge as I had never done anything like it before. YouTube videos were very helpful whenever I got stuck as well as other course participants’ blogs. Getting the blog roll to work took ages. I have managed to incorporate links and screenshots but have struggled with screencasts. This is something I will continue to try to sort out after the course finishes. I use Twitter now and it has been extrememly useful. I will continue to use it and I will try to improve my blogging skills further.

4. Purchase an iPad or a Kindle has turned into purchase both. The iPad is in constant use and I don’t know how I managed before. It is so much faster than using a laptop. I have downloaded books and PDFs to it in iBooks and the Kindle app and read them. I have downloaded audio books and I am listening to it while driving around. I have also subscribed to various podcasts and enjoyed listening to them although it has been difficult to fiteverything in. Last night I downloaded ClaroCom for free. It is very easy to use and I can see lots of applications. I have tried out the Kindle, Kindle Paperwhite, iPad, and Nook at home and had a good try-out of the others at John Lewis. My favourite is the Kindle due to its light weight, longer battery life and lower cost. Lots of schools have iPads so I can show how to use books on that format. For my dyslexic learners I woud have liked text-to-speech but this isn’t available on the newer Kindles. Some of the students liked the touch screen but, for those with dyspraxic difficulties, the basic Kindle with the buttons worked better. They didn’t find that pages scrolled over by mistake and then they had lost their place.

5. My target to use new knowledge from the course has been achieved gradually as the course continued. My recommendations are now fuller and give schools the option of commercial or free software to support students. Other useful strategies such as structured documents and cue cards are recommended when appropriate.


What have I learned from Inclusive Technologies for reading (ITR12) so far!

The Inclusive Technologies for Reading (ITR12) course has been run by Dyslexia Action and the RNIB through the Load2Learn Project. As one course menber has already very aptly said, it was a load to learn! It has taken far more than the five hours per week originally suggested.

Am I glad I did it? Definitely!

Would I recommend the course? Absolutely!

Would I do it again? Not for a while!

The experience has been amazing. When I look back to my incomplete blog post from October half-term and look at where I was with my knowledge then and look at how far I have come I feel really good. MY PLN is proving very useful. I have taken part in webinars, joined Google hangouts, taken part in Twitter socials, collaborated in Google Docs, watched You-Tube videos to understand new concepts, follow 184 people on Twitter and even more amazingly 119 people follow me. I have written blogs and follow blogs from other course members from whom I have learned even more. I subscribe to blogs from other educators and many are from other parts of the world which is fascinating. Through Twitter I have joined BLT, attended BETT and met with another course participant, attended a blogging day and been accepted as an accredited trainer for a Speech and Language programme to name but a few highlights.

This course has given me new skills and knowledge and kept me relevant to schools. Since being made redundant last summer from my job as a specialist teacher for the local authority I no longer have access to paid CPD and could have felt very isolated running my own business from home. I have broadened my horizons, pushed my comfort barriers with ICT, learned many new skills and felt connected to a wider world than that of my dining-room table.

What have I learned

  • the value of structured documents
  • how to buid a PLN
  • about text-to-speech and the use of voices
  • how to improve productivity and accessibility
  • about hardware for reading
  • speech recognition
  • using all of these to support learners in the classroom

Has my journey finished? I will now have time to revisit some of the Units which covered aspects that were completely new to me and look at them in greater depth. We have been shown how to continue to learn and develop once the course ends through our PLNs.

How have I involved others?

My job as a specialist assessor for dyslexia means that I visit many schools. My recommendations now include things that I have learned on the course. I am able to recommend Load2Learn to those schools who have not heard of it. I am really pleased that I can now recommend lots of useful free software especially to those small schools that I visit where funds are tight.I am able to confidently demonstrate text-to-speech and speech recognition software.

When I feedback reports I am able to recommend new ways for parents to support their children. They are really pleased to hear of ways that they can support without it costing them a lot of money. As there is an tendency for dyslexia to run in families, some parents have started to use the sorftware themselves and recommend it to other dyslexics that they know.

Access arrangement regulations have changed this year and students are now able to use an electronic reader in exams even those testing reading. Access to free software is enabling more students to use this and it to be their “normal way of working”. I have been involved with Exam’s Officers in explaining this to them.

Colleagues that I work with from time to time have seen me using Keyboard shortcuts and have been interested in how to use them. I have shared the cue cards with them.

I have encouraged training providers to use a Twitter hashtag and set up a blog to increase their reach.

My family have all benefitted too. One daughter is using Dragon on her phone, the other is using Clicker Docs on the iPad at her school and my husband has an uncluttered desktop.

Next steps

I am looking forward to having time to really embed all I have learned from the course into my practice and look at some areas in greater depth now that the course is nearly finished.

A huge thank you to all those who shared the journey and especially to Justine and Dominik.

To anyone reading this blog, who thinks that this sounds like something you would be interested in, then contact www.load2learn.org.uk to find out more about the project and training.


Plan to support a dyslexic student


This student who is in Y11 in secondary school has just been diagnosed with dyslexia. She has managed in school up to this point but her English teacher was concerned about the mismatch between her oral and written work. She has found it increasingly difficult to keep up in class. Assessments have shown that she has difficulties with single word reading, needing to re-read texts to make sense of them, spelling and punctuation, adequate speed of handwriting,visual disturbances, planning and memory.

A plan for support is listed below.


The school should join Load2Learn ( www.load2learn.org.uk ) which is a free service providing accessible textbooks and images to support dyslexic, partially sighted or blind learners who have difficulty reading standard print. The student finds larger spacing helpful when reading and this is available.

As the school already has the SOLO 6 suite of programmes  (www.donjohnston.com/products/solo) the student can also have access to Read:OutLoud 6 which is an independent text reader that works with any electronic text including the Web. It can be used to capture main ideas and supporting details in an outline and create notes to make personal connections or responses. This will also help with her planning difficulties. It will also enable her to read pages easily from the internet.

For home use I have suggested that she downloads MyStudyBar (www.eduapps.org) which is a portable app that will support her reading and writing difficulties. She can then use Orato which is the text reader. It also contains Balabolka which will allow her to convert text to MP3 format so that she can listen to texts or documents.

She will now use a blue reading overlay for texts which have not been converted. MyStudyBar has various options to help with visual stress, T-Bar Colour, Vu-Bar and ssOverlay.


The SOLO6 suite contains Write:OutLoud 6 which is an easy-to-use talking word processor with revising and editing supports. The student will get auditory feedback as she types. It also contains Co:Writer which is a writing assistant with linguistic word prediction, designed to help students write complete and correct sentences with rich vocabulary, correctly spelled words, and very few keystrokes. It is usually used in combination with another application, such as a word processor or an e-mail program.Both these programmes will support her writing, spelling and planning difficulties.

For home use she can use LetMeType in MyStudyBar which has a predictive word facility. Balabolka is also available which allows the student to momitor their writing process as it reads back exactly what has been typed.

Tiny Spell is a spell checker which is also useful.

For her hadwriting difficulties she will have access to the LiveScribe pen in 6th form to assist her in taking notes.  For now, school have suggested that she use Dragon on an iPad which they will lend to her. These will be useful to alleviate her short-term memory difficulties.

A selection of cue Cards (www.load2learn.org.uk) from Load2Learn which show keyboard shortcuts will be useful to increase her writing productivity.


The student will be shown how to use Draft:Builder 6 from SOLO6 which is an organizing tool that breaks down the writing process into manageable chunks to structure planning, organizing, note taking and draft writing. It will create an outline and notes to organize thoughts, write a first draft using the student’s outlines and notes and give auditory feedback as she types.

For home use she can use Xmind on MyStudyBar. It is similar to the well-known Inspiration.


A dictaphone can be supplied by the school and this can be a useful support for a poor working memory.

Other useful supports

Students with dyslexia often struggle to develop vocabulary because they don’t meet new words through reading. It would be useful to try to encourage the use of talking or audio books available from Librivox (www.librivox.org) who offer free audio books, www.audible.co.uk who have a great selection of books and also through listening to podcasts.

Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) is a free service that allows you to share documents immediately online. This is a useful way to be able to access homework even if the physical copy has been left at home.

www.load2learn.org.uk has lots of really useful support and training which will support the staff working with this student.




I am a bookaholic. I always have at least one book on the go, although since starting this course my free time for reading has been drastically reduced. As a small child we did not live near a library so new books were an occassional  treat. I read everything in the house, even the cereal packets, before starting on the old lady next doors classic books. These were very old and leather bound with an intreaging smell! She taught me how to care for books and I still carefully open a new book by smoothing out pages front and back to protect the spine. I have a huge collection of all sorts of books and can’t bear to part with any of them.

As part of the Inclusive Technologies for Reading course I would need to get to grips with “e-readers”. What would I make them? I felt really sad that younger people may never have the pleasure of a physical book and was convinced that I would not like the experience. But……….

I am a convert.

I now have an i-Pad with a i-Books installed, a Kindle app on which I have read my first complete e-book and I have heard a rumour that Amazon has delivered the new Kindle Paperwhite in time for my birthday in a few weeks time. I can’t wait! I have found reading with a low light in the bedroom at night increasingly difficult but with the app I have been able to change font, font size, margin and background colour to suit me and it remembers my settings and saves my page. Downloading books from both Amazon and i-Books is very easy and I have a selection of free or extrememly low cost books now to keep me going. I have even managed to download the KS2 Assessment and Reporting Arrangements 2013 as a PDF onto the Kindle app which has been very useful when visiting schools for access arrangements.

How to choose your e-reader

Before considering which e-reader to try/buy I used a helpful comparison site http://www.toptenreviews.com/configurator/ebook-reader-review/ which will give you a recommendation after you answer questions on price, design and accessibility. My recommended e-reader was the Kindle. So I borrowed my sister’s. She has the basic Kindle but I didn’t get on with the page turn buttons already being used to a touch screen on the i-Phone and i-Pad. So I downloaded the Kindle app on to my i-Pad. I have loved using it but find it a bit heavy for a long reading session. So I dropped hints about a Paperwhite. It will be much lighter and it has a light which I have found helpful on the i-Pad for my ageing sight. To me it seems more like a book because of the white pages so it seems a good compromise. I have also tried a friend’s Nook but still prefer the Kindle.

I would have liked a Kindle Touch which had text-to-speech but this has been discontinued and it does not appear that Amazon will be replacing it anytime soon. If you can get access to one for a dyslexic learner then they might find this helpful. Text-to-speech has been shown to improve comprehension of texts by 20%.

I also visited various sellers of e-readers and found John Lewis the most helpful. Go to a large one and allow plenty of time. I had time to have a meal whilst an elderly couple perused the Galaxy Note and Kindle Fire. Perhaps they had seen an article about e-readers and senior readers www.teleread.com/ereaders/seniors-find-e-books-easier-to-read-than-the-printed-page-study-finds which has bar graph showing comparisons of  older and young adults e-reading preferences.

For a more in-depth review than I can give look http://www.the-ebook-reader.com which gives lots of information including videos on all the popular e-readers and some of the more obscure ones too.

Pros and cons

When buying an e-reader, especially one for a student, try to think about that particular student’s needs. Get them to try out various models if at all possible. In the end it is a “best fit” and there will always be good and bad points.


  • battery life – better on e-readers
  • ability to show pictures –  better on tablets
  • abilty to show videos – only on tablets
  • display size – better on e-readers
  • readability – better on e-readers
  • colours – not on e-readers
  • weight – better on e-readers
  • mobile connectivity – better on tablets
  • disc space – about the same now
  • cost- lower on e-readers

Generally the benefits of e-readers and tablets for accessability of printed materials outweigh any negatives.

Some useful know-how

http://calibre-ebook.com  is a free and open source e-book library management application developed by users of e-books for users of e-books.

www.freewaregenius.com/how-to-send-documents-to-kindle-or-kindle-appwirelessly-without-a-usb-connection-itunes-or-calibre  is useful for the classroom

www.janefarrall.com/blog/2013/03/04/putting-tar-heel-reader-books-into-ibooks-with-speech/ gives you a potential library of thousands of easy to read books (with speech support) in iBooks.