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Leaving School with Dyslexia

by Allan Wilson

on Wed Nov 06, 2019

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CALL Scotland course,
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28th November, 2019

Technology to support learners with visual impairment - a guide to using built-in tools and features in Windows and Microsoft Word

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I had a phone call recently from a school trying to support an S6 pupil with severe dyslexia who is transitioning to an apprenticeship, involving work in an office environment. He is regarded as being capable and quite bright, but is struggling with reading written instructions and phoning people, when he has been given a list of phone numbers. He has good verbal communication skills but finds it hard to read the names and numbers on the list. The school was wondering if there was any technology that could help him as he had been used to having a reader / scribe at school.

I don't want to criticise the school as I don't have all the background information and there may be valid reasons for this situation, but, really, this shouldn't be happening in the 21st Century in an advanced country like Scotland. All teachers working with learners with dyslexia should be aware of how technology can help and all pupils with dyslexia should be leaving school knowing how to use technology to support their reading and writing.

Minimum Skills Required for a School Leaver with Dyslexia

A pupil with dyslexia may have relied on learning support staff to help with reading and writing during their time at school, but they are not going to be able to leave school with a Reader on one shoulder and a Scribe on the other. They need to have minimum skills in the use of technology to help with independent literacy. A school leaver with dyslexia should be able use technology to:

  1. Read Digital Text (e.g. from a computer screen)
  2. Read Printed Text (e.g. a set of instructions on a sheet of paper, or a book)
  3. Produce written text (e.g. fill in an online form, or write a short letter)
  4. Meet any other individual needs arising from their personal experience of dyslexia

Reading Digital Text

Digital text comes in many different forms. e.g:

  • Web page
  • Document in a word processing app
  • Digital Book in PDF or eBook format
  • Email / text message
  • Social media

A text-to-speech app would generally be the main tool for reading text ou loud from a computer screen, but there are other aspects of text that you may want to consider, and which you may or may not be able to change, e.g. text size, spacing, font, colour.)

Immersive reader screenshotText to Speech Options for Windows - Many programs now have a built-in text-to-speech facility, but it is not always easy to find. Most of the individual programs in Microsoft Office include their Immersive Reader (click on View, then Immersive Reader); most web browsers now have a Reader Mode / View, which usually includes text-to-speech. If you are using a program that doesn't have text-to-speech built-in, the Text-to-Speech page in the Information section of our web site provides 14 options, but you don't need to learn them all! In reality, all you need is something that lets you select and read a short piece of text, e.g. an email, or a posting on social media (Ivona MiniReader and NaturalReader are both good for this) and an app that helps you read a long eBook. (Balabolka works well and also allows you to change the appearance of the text.)

Text to Speech Options for iPads / Androids / Chromebooks - iPads (and iPhones) have pretty decent Speak Screen and Speak Selection facilities built into the Accessibility options of the device. Chromebooks and Android tablets (and phones) also have built-in text to speech facilities, though they are less reliable than the iPad equivalents,

Reading Printed Text

Once you're comfortable with reading digital text, you may wonder about what you can do if you have text printed on paper. Rather than getting somebody else to read it, there are various options, depending on your requirements:

Books

  • Books for All Can you get a digital copy? There may be a commercial digital version for Kindle, Apple Books or another source.
  • You may be able to get an accessible digital version from Books for All Scotland, or RNIB Bookshare.
  • You may be able to get an Audiobook from Audible, Calibre or another supplier.
  • Scan a copy - this can be a long, laborious task!

Paper copies

  • C-Pen Reader scanning penScan it, either with a dedicated scanner, or a multi-function copier.
  • Use a scanning app, e.g. Claro ScanPen or Office Lens, to take a picture of the document, automatically convert it into text and read it out. (This technique can also be used for capturing text from an interactive whiteboard.)
  • Use a reading pen, e.g. the C-Pen Reader.

Producing Written Text

  • Dyslexia is often associated with dysgraphia so people may find it hard to write notes by hand, or the writing may end up untidy and hard to read. As before, there are digital options:
  • Rather than struggling to write down a set of instructions for a task, dictate the instructions into a recording app on a smart phone, e.g. Voice Memos. Play them back one at a time to make sure you understand the instructions.
  • Use a word processor to produce your work, taking advantage of any available tools. e.g. a built-in spellchecker, or a specialist add-on spellchecker, such as Ginger or Grammarly. Use the Learning Tools in Microsoft Office when checking your work.
  • Try speech recognition - Voice Typing in Google Docs, Dictate in Microsoft Office, Dragon, or Siri (iPad / iPhone).

Meeting Individual Needs

People with dyslexia are all very different to each other, all with individual strengths and individual difficulties. Technology can help people build on their strengths and compensate for their difficulties. Ideally, people with dyslexia should be aware of their difficulties and understand how technology can help. Here are some examples:

  • Visual Stress - Some people with dyslexia have visual stress, which makes it hard to read black text on a white background. A 'low tech' compensation might be to print text on coloured paper. Using technology, an increasing number of programs  include options to change text and background, see, for example, the Immersive Reader tools in Microsoft Office. There are also options to add a coloured 'overlay' to the entire screen which will work across different apps and programs, e.g. ssOverlay in MyStudyBar for Windows or Colour Filters option in the iPad's Accessibility features.
  • Organising Work - There can be issues with keeping track of deadlines for pieces of work, appointments, gathering information together and storing it so you can find it again. Most smartphones and tablets have built in calendars and reminders and there are lots of free apps that also do this. Google Keep and Microsoft OneNote work in different ways, but are both useful for gathering information together. Individuals with dyslexia should find something that works for them and make use of it.
  • Planning Writing - Planning and structuring a piece of writing can present difficulties. Some people prefer to use a visual technique, e.g. Mindmapping to help with this, while others may prefer to use an outlining approach, starting with general headings and then gradually expanding content. Useful Mindmapping programs / apps include Xmind, Inspiration, Popplet and MindMup.

Getting Further Information

Tags: dyslexia, assistive technology

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