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Helping People with Dyslexia and Reading Difficulties to Access Books

by Allan Wilson

on Tue Jul 29, 2014

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Following on from Stuart's blog on Changes to Copyright Law (10th July). we've had a series of emails seeking clarification of the practicalities of access to books for people with dyslexia and other reading difficulties. A lot of information about this is available on CALL's Books for All web site, but we thought it would be useful to summarise some of the existing information, and add some new material that is particularly relevant to adults who don't necessarily have access to the same resources that are available to schools.

How can a book be made more accessible?

Most people with dyslexia and other reading difficulties find it easier to read text if the space between lines and words can be increased and if the size of print can be increased (reducing the number of words in a line). Some fonts are easier to read than others and many people find it hard to read black text on a white background, preferring a coloured background. Different people have their own preferences so it is hard to produce one single type of paper books to meet everybody's needs - it is good to be able to personalise the book to meet your own needs, which can be done if you have an electronic copy. More information on this is available from the book, Accessible Text: Guidelines for Good Practice by Fran Ranaldi and Paul Nisbet, available free from the CALL web site.

Many people find it easier to follow a book if they can hear the text being read, particularly if the book is available in an electronic format which can be read using a high quality voice such as the Stuart and Heather computer voices available for use by people with disabilities in Scotland from the Scottish Voice web site.

There are definite advantages to being able to get a book in an electronic format!

e-Book Readers

Kindle e-book readerVarious portable e-Book readers have been developed in recent years, such as the various Kindle devices from Amazon, the Kobo (from WH Smith) and the Nook. These devices all have different facilities to support people with reading difficulties, e.g. ways to change font size, line spacing etc., and there is usually a (limited) choice of fonts, but the available options won't necessarily meet everybody's personal preferences. There's a good comparison of the various features within each device on Wikipedia.

Apps are available for reading e-Books on iPads and other tablets. These may provide additional facilities compared with the stand-alone e-Book readers. Note that you don't have to own an e-Reader to access e-Books for the device. For example, you can use the free Kindle app to read a Kindle book on an iPad, or you can download free Kindle software to read it on a PC or Mac computer. There is more information on e-Books on the Books for All web site.

Getting hold of an accessible copy of a book

As of June 1st 2014, UK Copyright Law Regulations allow the creation of an accessible copy of a book (and other copyright materials) for a person with dyslexia (or other disabilities that make it hard to read a standard book).

There are various stages you should go through to see if an accessible copy of a book is available, before you think about creating your own accessible version:

  1. Is a suitable accessible version commercially available? If the book is available in a format you need, e.g. for a Kindle you should buy this version, rather than a traditional paper copy. In addition to the various commercial sites, there are also various free sites, such as Project Gutenburg where electronic copies of out-of-copyright books can be found. More of these sites are listed on the Books for All web site. A good way to search for an e-Book is through Calibre, a very useful free program that can be used to search the main online e-Book sites for a particular title. (Calibre can also be used to translate between different e-Book formats - see the CALL Quick Guide, Using Calibre to Read eBooks and Convert EPUB files for the Kindle.).
  2. Can I get a copy of the book from a library? Many libraries now provide loan copies of e-Books that you can download and read via the OverDrive service. The OverDrive books are EPUB format which you can read on PC, Mac, iOS, Android, smart phones etc. On a computer you read the books with Adobe Digital Editions (ADE), which also reads PDF versions. For iOS, Android and e-Book readers or smart phones, you read e-Books and listen to audiobooks using the OverDrive Media Console app. The Books for All web site has more information about borrowing e-Books and the services provided by libraries in Scotland.
  3. Has somebody else already made an accessible copy? Over the years various people have been making accessible copies of textbooks for use in schools, colleges and universities, and of a few novels for general enjoyment. These copies have been made available through various databases: Books for All Scotland, Load 2 Learn, The Seeing Ear and can be downloaded from these sites, though there are restrictions on who can access the material.
  4. Can I get an accessible copy from a publisher? The process of publishing a book can involve the production of an electronic PDF file, which can be read out loud by a computer or tablet with appropriate software. These files are not necessarily 'fully' accessible, as they were designed for a different purpose, but they are still useful. Details of contacts within academic publishers are available from the JISC TechDis Publisher Lookup site. Many of the publishers listed are the same ones used by schools. Note that there may be an administrative charge for this service and it may not be possible to get older titles due to changes in print technology, or files getting lost over time.
  5. Can I make my own accessible copy? As a last resort, it is possible to make your own accessible copy from a paper copy of a book by, for example, scanning into a PDF or Word file using a flat-bed scanner with appropriate Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. If you are scanning a book with a mixture of text and pictures and you want to retain this formatting, it is usually better to create a PDF, which generally retains the appearance of a document pretty well. Word is fine if your document is mainly made up of text. Scanning a book can be a long and laborious process. If you need to scan a few books, you can save a lot of time by using a commercial scanning company, such as DDSR, but note that they will remove the spine of the books in order to run them through a high-speed scanner. You can also make an accessible copy from an intermediate file (a file ready to be made into other accessible formats), but if you want to share this you need to be what is known as an 'authorised body'. More information about scanning books and making accessible copies is available on the Books for All web site.

Once you have an electronic copy you can use appropriate software to read the book out loud. Microsoft Word and Adobe Reader both have built-in software for reading text, but there are better options. We generally recommend WordTalk for use with Word and Ivona MiniReader or NaturalReader with Adobe Reader for reading text from a PDF document.

If you have an e-Book, e.g. for a Kindle or an EPUB file for another e-Book Reader, but want to read it on a computer, then Balabolka is a great free program that you can use. This will be the subject of my next blog.


Tags: Text to speech, Accessible Books, Kindle, EPUB, Balabolka

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