Assistive technology

Jo Crawford, BDA Youth Ambassador gives her advice on useful technology for people with dyslexia.

Assistive technology is any equipment that helps to overcome a particular difficulty. These can be 'low tech' interventions such as highlighters, reading rulers and coloured overlays to 'high tech' screen readers, apps and software.

A lot of assistive technology is now free, and comes built-in to your computer or mobile phone. It usually needs to be switched on before you can use it.

How to locate the built-in accessibility features on your phone or computer

There are lots of free downloadable apps available and it's worth trying different options to find the one that suits you the best. Remember to allow yourself time to learn to use the new technology properly to make sure you get the most out of it.

A few examples of assistive technology:

  • Reading

    Text readers are a type of software that convert text to speech. There are several on the market but many are now available as free apps for smartphones and tablets, and have been included on some e-readers as standard.

    Reading pens can be useful as they are easier to carry around, but they tend to be better for small pieces of text, or individual words.

    Codpast: Top 5 Optical Character Recognition AppsOptical Character Recognition (OCR) is less well-known, it enables you to transfer text from physical sources directly into a digital document or to have read out to you. There are various types of OCR programs and apps available for desktop and mobile. They vary in price but each app or service has its own features, you will need to explore to find the one that works best for you.

    SpeechifyThis free reading app has been designed for people with dyslexia. This is a reading assistant for mac and ios. You can choose from a range of voices, change the reading speed and even take a picture of text with your phone to be read out.

    RNIB BookshareIf you are a student you should check whether your educational institution has signed up to Bookshare. This is a free service which provides textbooks in an audio or screenreader-friendly format.

    Reading for pleasure

    Many dyslexic people have found that reading apps for mobile phones and ereaders, such as a Kindle, make it more possible to read for pleasure.

    An ordinary page of text can be split into several pages, and you can adjust the font type, size and spacing. The background brightness can also  be adjusted . All of these things can help with crowding and distraction.

    If these interventions don't help then it might be worth considering the use of a screenreader (which can also be downloaded as an app) or audio books.

  • Writing

    Voice recognition and speech to text software/apps are really useful for people who find typing difficult.

    Different versions can help to search the web, take notes, send emails and dictate documents.  Many of these apps are free, and there are more that you can buy. It’s worthwhile taking time to explore which works best for you.

    Some examples are: Siri, Google Keyboard, Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Windows Speech Recognition.

    All word processing packages have spellcheck facilities. There are free add-ins which can support this facility such as WordTalk which will read back the text and the spelling suggestion.

    Spelling and Grammar

    The Codpast: Top 3 free grammar checker apps

  • Organisation

    A weaker memory is a common problem for dyslexic people. A mobile phone usually has handy organisational tools like a calendar, notes and reminder functions to help you to organise your timetable and study plan, you can use the camera to take a photo of the whiteboard or anything else that you need to remember.

    There are lots of free apps available that are helpful organisational tools. One example is 'stickies'.  You can colour code them and add them to your phone or computer screen to help you remember course deadlines, lectures, meetings etc. There are several different versions that perform a very similar function, you need to look at what operating system you already use and what 'style' works best for you.

    Google Keep (you will need a Google account)

    Colour Note for Android

    One Note (you will need a Microsoft account)

    A voice recorder can help during lessons or lectures as it enables you to fully concentrate on the subject without having to take notes.

    Mind Maps

    This video from Codpast explains how Mind Maps can be useful to help organise thoughts and ideas into a structured plan, either to help with writing essays or reports, or to just help simplify complicated information. This video focuses on Inspiration 9, but there are other free and paid for options available.

  • Maths

    Dyslexia-friendly calculators are available which read out the numbers as they are typed, or display results with assistive graphics.

  • Accessibility features in specific software

  • Useful websites

    How to bookmark dyslex.io onto your mobile phone

    British Dyslexia Association (BDA)The BDA New Technologies Committee is concerned with all aspects of technology and how they can assist dyslexic people. The website is a wealth of information on accessibility and the different types of technology available.

    Overview of assistive technologyThe BDA have also put together a very helpful overview of assistive technology.

    CodpastHelpful video reviews of different assistive technologies.

    Dyslexia ActionDyslexia Action have a great overview of the types of assistive technology available.

    Tech ThursdayDyslexia Action's 'Tech Thursday' is a fortnightly blog on different aspects of Assistive Technology.

    Dystalk

    1.Dyslexia Assistive TechnologySpeaker: Dr Ian Smythe (video: 7mins)

    2.Use of mobile phones for dyslexicsSpeaker: Neil Milliken (video: 4mins)

    Dystalk: List of technologyDystalk have put together a very comprehensive list of FREE technology available which are particularly helpful for those with dyslexia or other learning difficulties.

    Load2Learn Load2Learn provides a series of videos with useful information about technologies for reading.

    BBC My Web My Way My Web My Way is a great resource for those who want to make their web browsing more accessible.

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