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I Have a Reading Difficulty, What can Help?

"Reading is a complex visual task. It requires identification and localisation of the orientation of the lines of which letters are constructed, memory of what is seen, followed by association with meaning and language"

From 'Visual Problems and Reading Difficulties' by Dr Sue Fowler



Identifying the problems

Reading difficulties can arise from a range of factors, i.e.

  • Specific learning difficulties with language and reading.
  • Vision or visual processing - acuity, visual field, visual tracking.
  • Difficulties holding a book or turning pages.

Do you recognise any of the following?

  • You take excessive time to and effort to read.
  • You are reluctant to read and try to avoid reading.
  • Letters and words on the page appear to move or float on the page.
  • You don't take anything in or find it difficult to recall what you have read.
  • You lose concentration when reading.

Some ways to improve reading

SAT abd phonics

The most effective approach to teaching reading is direct, systematic instruction. A good phonics programme should enable teachers to cover all of the following:

Shared and Paired Reading

As children develop their phonic skills and learn to read other reading strategies should be considered to help encourage and improve confidence:

Reading strategies and resources

Different types of reading materials

Traditional novels in the form of 'pages and pages' of unbroken text can be a daunting and insurmountable challenge for learners with reading difficulties.

Graphic novels, with text divided into manageable chunks, supported with colourful images, provide a useful alternative and can help to engage pupils in the reading process. Images can often help learners to make the connection between words and meaning.

Reading support resources

The nature of paper-based books with black text on a white background can be challenging to readers who experience visual stress or scotopic light sensitivity – learners can experience text moving or floating on the page or letters appearing back to front.


Coloured overlays or colour transparencies can be placed over a page to soften contrast of black text on a white background. Sticky highlighter strips can also aid the reading process as important words, sentences or phrases can be annotated in different colours.


Some ways technology can help

If you have tried the above but still have difficulties reading, technology offers a rich range of opportunities to support reading. Read on to see how.


Adopting a SETT (Student, Environment, Tasks, Tools) approach

At CALL we believe that technology (or the tool) is only part of the solution. The needs of the pupil should always be the starting point - rather than vice versa.

Also, it's important to know which tool is appropriate for which task , the environment in which the pupil will be using it, and how to use the tool for the task - with appropriate support from staff.

SETT was developed as a Framework to help with identifying appropriate assistive technology to support a student.

It encourages a team to:

  • consider the capabilities of the individual Student,
  • the Environment in which they are working,
  • and the Tasks they are needing to carry out,
  • before selecting Tools.

Ideally SETT should be a collaborative decision-making process, including the teacher, support for learning teacher, parent and pupil (and/or significant others). In a school, the pupil should be at the centre of the process.

CALL Scotland produced a short video that illustrates the use of a SETT approach to help a pupil with a physical disability to access mathematics coursework.

Further information on the SETT Framework can be found at


Customising your device settings

Customising the screen on your device or the background and font colours can make all the difference. 

Examples include:

  • Choosing a 'Reading Mode' in your browser, which simplifies the layout and lets you choose a different font, colour or use text-to-speech.
  • Changing the font style, colour and size - a non-serif font is usually recommended for dyslexics. 
  • Changing the background or desktop colour - to help overcome difficulties with text colour and background colours. 
  • Increasing the line spacing from single spacing to line and half or double line spacing.
  • Changing the page layout.
  • Increasing the magnification of the desktop.

Information on customising the computer settings:

if schools (or other organisations) 'lock down' or prevent access so you can't customise the settings i.e. make reasonable adjustments, they could be breaching disability discrimination legislation.


Visual Stress

Visual Stress is identified in the Rose Report as a term used to describe the experience of:


  • eye strain,
  • difficulty in focusing,
  • headaches and illusions of colour or movement in written text.

Coloured paper, coloured overlays and tinted lenses can be used to alleviate the condition. Tests for visual stress are generally provided by optometrists.


The computer can also be adjusted to support visual stress, e.g. background colours and fonts styles can be changed to suit individual preferences.

Tools that can help customise the computer

  • TBar - places a rectangular colour filter bar across the screen. Now available as part of MyStudyBar.
  • SSoverlay - provides colour filters over the whole screen. Now available as part of MyStudyBar.


The 'Making a document dyslexia friendly' guide explains how to customise a Word document to improve readability.


eBooks and digital books

Digital or eBooks are widely available and can be read on most devices.

With eBooks you can:

  • Customise the font styles, colour, size and character spacing to suit your personal preferences.
  • Customise the background colours to improve readability.
  • Use text-to-speech to so the book is read aloud.
  • Use word/sentence highlighting to aid concentration.
  • Create bookmarks, highlight important points which can be collated and summarised.
  • Find the meaning of words.
  • Navigate the book with ease - can also aid physical access.
  • Share or synchronise your books so they are available on different devices, e.g. Windows, Macs, iPads, etc.

eBook Sources (free for people with Print Disabilities)

eBook Sources (Commercial)

iOS devices such as iPhones and iPads can read Apple Books, Kindle and Google Play books
      search for the apps on the Apps Store. Windows tablet devices can read Kindle and Kobo eBooks.



A 'text-to-speech' program or 'text reader' on your computer or tablet reads text from a document or web page to you using a computer voice.

A text reader can read:

  •  Text on the Internet and emails;
  •  Digital SQA exams and assessments;
  •  Difficult words and sentences;
  •  Books, documents, and homework;
  •  Scanned or photographed paper materials;

A text reader helps you to:

  • Hear individual words or sentences read aloud;
  • Proof read your own writing;
  • Identify mis-spelled words;
  • Read your text back to improve sentence
    structure, sense and meaning.

Where can I get a text reader?

There are many text readers on the market and some of the free programs you can use are detailed in our text-to-speech section (of this website).

What's a computer voice?

A computer voice is installed onto your computer and sits in the background. It's not an actual program you can open but more of a service that the text reader can use to read the text to you. There are a variety of different voices with different accents and languages.

If you're in Scotland you may be able to get a free Scottish Computer voice.



Audiobooks offer learners an alternative to eBooks or a text reader, i.e. instead of a synthetic computer voice, audiobooks are read or narrated by a 'real' person often making the reading experience more enjoyable and exciting.


Amazon has linked some of their Kindle and Audible books so that they can be read with a human narration from Audible in conjunction with highlighted text in the Kindle, which can be a powerful combination. Note that you don't have to use a Kindle device as this will work perfectly well in the free Kindle apps available for various devices.

With audiobooks you can:


  • Listen on your own or with others.
  • Improve listening skills.
  • Improve concentration.
  • Use with a paper copy of the book - multisensory.
  • Navigate, play, skip, fast forward to different parts of the book.

Read about the benefits of audiobooks for people with dyslexia (research by the University of Edinburgh)

Audiobook Sources (free)

  • Load2Learn (RNIB - for print-disabled learners).
  • Project Gutenberg (free out of copyright audiobooks).
  • Listening Books (fiction and non-fiction titles for children and adults).
  • RNIB (Talking Books service).
  • Calibre (eBook management and eBooks).
  • Your local library (the OverDrive App can access audiobooks in your local library).

Audiobook Sources (commercial)


Apps to Support Reading

There is a range of iPad and Android apps which can help to support reading.

For example:


  • VoiceDream - text-to-speech, customisation options and access to book resources.
  • iBooks - comes pre-installed with the iPad - font and background options.
  • ClaroPDF - text-to-speech, annotation tools, and options to add voice notes.
  • Kindle - works across multiple devices with customisation options.
  • Audible - audiobooks for iPad and Android.
  • Ladybird Classic - digital version of the classic Ladybird books.
  • Collins Big Cat series - immersive and interactive reading.

The iPad also offers a range of built-in settings to support reading, such as:


  • Speak Selection
  • Speak Screen
  • Highlighting
  • Safari Reader

The 'Using the iPad to Support Dyslexia' guide explains how to make the make the most of these tools.


Reading Pens

Reading Pens are small pocket-sized devices that scan and read back single words lines of text from a variety of documents, such as worksheets.

Advantages of a reading pen

  • Lightweight and portable.
  • Provide independence to learners - just scan the word and hear it read aloud.
  • Can improve reading comprehension and speed - scanned text is read aloud fluently.
  • Can make reading more accessible.

Disadvantages of a reading pen

  • Document text must be clear - scanning may not always be accurate.
  • May need to scan word or sentence more than once.
  • Requires a steady hand to scan text.

Features of reading pen

  • Reads scanned text aloud.
  • Good quality voices (depending on model).
  • Some reading pens include a dictionary.
  • Scanned text can be uploaded to a PC or Mac.
  • Can be used with headphones.
  • Some models can be used in exams.

Reading Pens Available


Snap and read apps for mobiles and tablets

One alternative to a reading pens is an app for your mobile phone or tablet that can take a photo of some text, convert it and then read it out. Potential advantages, compared to a reading pen, are:

  • Much cheaper than a pen (provided you already have a mobile or tablet)
  • You are probably more likely to have it with you when you need it.
  • Better voices and audio quality.
  • May be more practical for environmental print such as labels.
  • Some apps let you edit, annotate or save the text you have snapped.

Snap and read apps

We have more information about Reading Pens and apps in a blog on Scanning Pens and Scanning Apps, dated 30th May 2017.

Alternative Formats

Traditionally, the term 'Alternative format' was a method of accessible information (Braille, large print etc.) designed to support learners with a visual impairment, i.e. blind people. More recently legislation such as the Equality Act 2010 recommends that information must be accessible for print disabled learners including those with dyslexia.

Alternative formats include:


  • Braille
  • Large Print
  • Digital
  • Easy Read
  • Symbol Supported.

Some tips when creating information for print-disabled learners

  • Keep it simple - write in plain language.
  • Avoid overlay complicated information - make it as concise as possible.
  • Think about your wider audience - consider font styles, colours and sizes.
  • Avoid 'serif' fonts, small text sizes and complicated layouts.
  • Making your original document more accessible will reduce the need for producing accessible formats.
  • Find out how to create accessible digital documents here.

'Addressing Reading Difficulties' Infograph

A step-by-step guide in the form of a question and answer 'checklist' helping you to identify problems and suggesting a range of practical technology focused solutions to support pupils with writing difficulties.

The poster is a PDF with clickable links that take you to sources of information on the internet.

This poster can be downloaded from the 'Posters and Leaflets' section of the website.