Universal Access to Reading Software

1. Introduction

Students live in a world of symbols, icons and words. Every day they process printed text online and in printed newspapers, journals and magazines, in school worksheets and handouts, in sports reports, recipes, product information, accounts, social web sites, text messages, online chat and/or emails. As emerging readers, they rely on their reading skills, comprehension and experience to understand and interpret the wealth of information crossing their paths at home and at school.

‘Reading is a complex cognitive process of decoding symbols for the intention of constructing or deriving meaning (reading comprehension). It is a means of language acquisition, of communication, and of sharing information and ideas. Like all language, it is a complex interaction between the text and the reader which is shaped by the reader’s prior knowledge, experiences, attitude, and language community which is culturally and socially situated. The reading process requires continuous practices, development, and refinement.

Readers use a variety of reading strategies to assist with decoding (to translate symbols into sounds or visual representations of speech) and comprehension. Readers may use morpheme, semantics, and syntax as well as context clues to identify the meaning of unknown words. Readers integrate the words they have read into their existing framework of knowledge or schema (schemata theory).’ [Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reading_%28process%29 ]

Two open booksSome students struggle with reading. Many of these students may have one or combined conditions, including a reading disorder, literacy difficulty or disability, Dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, Acquired Brain Injury, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Aspergers Syndrome, Communication and Language Delay, Dyspraxia or an intellectual disability.

Visual dyslexia often referred to as Meares-Irlen Syndrome or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome might need to be investigated and the student assessed and properly tested to see whether this is an underlying factor.
[Refer to: http://www.dyslexiaservices.com.au/ ]

Other students experience difficulties as English is their second language or is not spoken nor encouraged or promoted at home by parents and grandparents. Yet other students are simply disengaged from the learning process, and due to continued failure, they have lost confidence and struggle with age appropriate strategies and skills. After teenage years start, locating suitable stimulating material and content can prove to be difficult.

These struggling students may need intervention and assessment as they have missed out on critical diagnosis in the early years. Due diligence in engaging the services of a suitably experienced and qualified Child Psychologist or Speech andLanguage Pathologist will help and guide parents and educators to help determine the necessary interventions, methods, treatment and technologies that will help them to master reading.

2. Technology and Societal Changes

In general, it is a matter of how young people are changing their attitude to reading. With the increased exposure to and influence of portable technologies that are small, discreet, relatively inexpensive and ubiquitous in our schools, homes and in the community, students are gravitating to them in preference to traditional hard copy and paper back books. With the advent of laptops, followed by Notebooks and Netbook computers, and particularly with the more recent use of Tablets including iPads and Android devices, access to information can be increasingly acquired via audio and video content and directly from internet services. Does this represent progress, or are we ‘dumbing down’ society and classrooms?

Some students, of any age, describe reading as being laborious, tedious, tiresome, difficult and unworthy of their time and attention. Attitudes of the ‘YouTube generation’ have altered the relevance for the need and ability to read fluently as they consider that movies, TV content, video clips and moving images relay information faster, more engaging and visually – accompanied with music, sound effects and narration. Educators are battling with how to ‘control’ and gainfully use emerging technologies that provide different avenues to research, obtaining data and accessing information.

Is education keeping up with the increasing speed and sophistication and evolution of information delivery systems? Is it finding ways to merge traditional reading strategies and skills so as to integrate and compliment technologies that can assist and re-engage struggling readers? Or do we embrace and gainfully use these new technologies to support students at risk and who struggle with reading and show them how to maximise the many benefits of electronic text and eLearning systems.

3. Background to Reading Skills


‘There are several types and methods of reading, with differing rates that can be attained for each, for different kinds of material and purposes.’ [Refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reading_%28process%29#Skill_development ]

Reading print text, on paper, cardboard, posters, billboards or on other ‘hard’ surfaces as well as more recently electronically on computing and display systems and devices, is now an important way for the general population to access information. Historically it has not been the norm for most people. Only a small percentage of the population in many countries, mostly privileged or wealthy people, was considered literate before the Industrial Revolution.

‘The earliest dated printed book known is the "Diamond Sutra", printed in China in 868 CE. However, it is suspected that book printing may have occurred long before this date. In 1041, movable clay type was first invented in China. Johannes Gutenberg, a goldsmith and businessman from the mining town of Mainz in southern Germany, borrowed money to invent a technology that changed the world of printing. Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press with replaceable/moveable wooden or metal letters in 1436 (completed by 1440). This method of printing can be credited not only for a revolution in the production of books, but also for fostering rapid development in the sciences, arts and religion through the transmission of texts.’ [Source: http://inventors.about.com/od/gstartinventors/a/Gutenberg.htm ]

4. Learning to Read

Boys happily reading a bookLiteracy is the ability to use the symbols of a writing system, in this instance, the English language. It is the ability to consistently and accurately interpret the information symbols represented and to be able to re-create those same symbols so that others using that language can derive the same meaning. Reading underpins every subject in the curriculum – not just in literacy lessons or subjects. It plays an important and pivotal role in building confidence and promoting self esteem. Children who are independent readers can process and interpret information and engage in the learning activities, at an acceptable level with competencies and skills commensurate with their peers.

Illiteracy is not having the ability or skills to derive meaning from the symbols used in a writing system. Analysis from the Australian Bureau of statistics found that 7 million Australians between the ages of 15 and 74 were below the acceptable benchmark for understanding their own language in print (in 2008).

5. Dyslexia

Dyslexia refers to a cognitive difficulty with reading and writing. The term dyslexia can refer to two disorders, either developmental dyslexia which is a learning disability or alexia – acquired dyslexia, often referred to as reading difficulties that occur following brain damage or trauma to the head. Most students with acquired brain damage can relearn and reacquire language with the necessary support and interventions. Major predictors of an individual’s ability to read both alphabetic and non-alphabetic scripts are phonological awareness, rapid automatic naming and verbal IQ.

It is critical that students learn to read at an early age and continue to read a wide range of literature. Children’s books with illustrations, picture, drawings, cartoons and photos assist in enticing young children to explore the story, pore over the pages (or computer/iPad screen displays) and find meaning. Repetition, use of rhyme, and the gradual introduction of new vocabulary assists in developing skills and understanding.

Without adequate age-related and competency in reading skills, students’ access, engagement, participation and progress through classroom activities and projects, due to their difficulties with reading, as well as writing and organisational skills, impedes their development and tends to cause behaviours that are negative and disruptive.

A student concentrating on his homeworkThere is a list of critical skills that relate to reading success. It is important for struggling readers to receive intense, systematic and explicit instruction in a number of areas so that they can become, over time, proficient readers. These include phonemic awareness and practise with phonics, followed by fluency, increasing their awareness and appropriate use of vocabulary; and the ability to comprehend text. These five areas, plus the confidence to continue to master interpretation of text, are a fundamental part of any approach to promoting reading success with students.

A diverse and ever expanding range of compensatory inclusive technologies to support students exists. The research concerning the use of inclusive reading technologies indicates they can assist learners and that they can make advances in their overall learning and educational performance. Technology in the form of software, utilities, devices and portable tools is increasingly being used to remove barriers to learning and participation and provide access to knowledge and comprehension of text-based material.

6. One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Graphic showing cycle of the affects of dyslexia on a person. Source: http://www.causesdyslexia.net/early-signs-of-dyslexia/As with all areas of learning and skill development, there are competing methodologies, systems and conventions. There is no cure, nor one-size-fits-all solution. Having Reading Recovery classes in a school can help children, yet it is just one intervention and strategy to help young learners, albeit a positive one.

Every student is different. All children come to school with different experiences, from homes and environments where reading is promoted, celebrated, enforced, ignored or totally disregarded. Each child will have a propensity to learn independently or with support or struggle due to a wide range of reasons.

Use of phonics software might be required. Sub-lexical reading involves teaching reading by associating characters or groups of characters with sounds or by using phonics or synthetic phonics learning and teaching methodology. This is often argued to be in competition with whole language methods. Unfortunately, approximately ten per cent of English words do not follow typical letter-sound patterns.

Definition of Dyslexia being projected onto a wall and the back of a personOn the other hand, Lexical reading involves acquiring words or phrases without attention to the characters or groups of characters that compose them or by using whole language learning and teaching methodology. It has been argued that the whole language approach tends to impair learning how to spell. Which is right or wrong or the best method? The child’s particular strengths and weaknesses need to be identified and with appropriate testing a range of options might prove to be the key. Schemes that teach young students to associate letters and letter patterns with the sounds they make as well as teaching blending, segmentation, sight word recognition are crucial in the development of reading and spelling ability.

7. Reading Software Genres

Wordshark 4 logo and screenshotEducational software to assist in reading has previously been devoted to computer based software, the primary purpose of which is teaching or self-learning. Now the iPad and tablet technologies offer solutions, although many at this point in time are elementary and further development and sophistication may be required. Titles can be broadly described as being:

Home Based Software Programs devoted to be used at home by parents with their children
Edutainment A combination of teaching and learning methods combined with fun elements, primarily about entertainment but tends to educate as well. It is marketed partly under the educational umbrella. It is often not aimed at school curricula and does not necessarily involve educational advisors
Drill and Practise Programs designed to assist with continued exposure and practise with rewards and games
Talking Books Software where the text is spoken using actors’ voice or synthesized speech, with features such as narration with onscreen highlighting, illustrations and animations some with inclusion and support features such as text and background colour options, custom pointers and switch access
Phonics Readers Young readers are exposed to simple words first, such as dog and cat. The stories help to sound them out, letter by letter. Then they are gradually introduced to the sounds of the typical letter-patterns of English, such as ‘sh’ and ‘aw’.
Phonics Games Activities devoted to sounding out letters and blends, within fun activities and exercises
Spelling Software Programs devoted to teach children the basics of spelling (e.g. WordShark V4)
Learning to Read Whole courses designed to assist in students acquiring and mastering reading skills
Talking Word Processors Software that will speak or voice text as it is typed or after it has been created, copied or scanned using real or computer synthesized voices
Symbol Word Processors Software with text-to-speech together with picture, photo or symbol supports

Reading Supports

Software tools that assist with reading tools such as text to speech, text to audio, screen reading capabilities, screen masking, and tints, word prediction, optical character recognition, dictionary and thesaurus as well as data and organisational features and functions
Assessment Software Programs that can assist in assessing skills with diagnostic tools and conventions
Courseware The entire package may consist of one class or course bundled together with the various lessons, tests, and other material needed in a subject area or curriculum
Teacher Tools Programs to create worksheets, cloze exercises, electronic lesson plans and worksheets

A. Reading Software and Support Options

Reading Doctor Software http://www.readingdoctor.com.au/
Reading Doctor screenshot
Read:Outloud http://www.donjohnston.com/products/read_outloud/
Read On http://www.edsoft.com.au/reo0400wl5
I-Read http://www.edsoft.com.au/i-read
Lexia Reading http://www.lexialearning.com.au/
Reading Freedom Pack http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/product/reading-freedom-pack
BRAINtastic Reading Success http://www.edsoft.com.au/eda-rs6-0002d
UpFront Reading Success http://www.edsoft.com.au/eda-ur6-0001d
Read Live http://readnaturally.com/
Fast ForWord http://www.scilearnglobal.com/

i) Talking Books and Readers (predominantly for younger students)

Dandelion Readers http://www.crossboweducation.com/
(Available SA Speld)
Fitzroy Readers http://www.fitzprog.com.au/ (Available from SA Speld)
Nessy Tales http://www.nessyshop.com/category-s/4.htm
Jolly Phonics Readers http://jollylearning.co.uk/shop/ (Available from SA Speld)
SPELD SA Phonic Books http://www.speld-sa.org.au/index.php?option=com_virtuemart&
Naughty Stories V2 http://shop.sherston.com/sherston/genre/talking-stories/v2ns-mlt-cdrm-1.html
PM Story Books http://www.greygum.com.au/nebula/index.php/pm-story-books
Phonic Books (UK) http://www.phonicbooks.co.uk/
Oxford Reading Tree http://www.edsoft.com.au/oxford-reading-tree-for-clicker
Suitable for Middle Years Students
Spin Out Stories http://www.greygum.com.au/nebula/index.php/spinout-stories
Don Johnson Start-to-Finish Books http://www.donjohnston.com/products/

ii) Spelling and Phonics Programs

WordShark V4 http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/product/wordshark-4 or http://www.edsoft.com.au/wordshark
The Spelling Centre http://www.spellingcentre.com/ – an inexpensive but comprehensive program for home use
Clicker Phonics http://www.edsoft.com.au/clicker-phonics – works with Clicker 5 software
Don Johnson WordMaker http://www.donjohnston.com/products/word_maker/index.html
Phonics Alive! Series http://www.edsoft.com.au/phonics-alive-1
Phonics Focus http://www.edsoft.com.au/education/phonics-focus
Letterland http://www.letterland.com/

iii) Literacy Support Tools

Texthelp Read & Write V10 http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/product/texthelp-readwrite-10-gold or http://www.edsoft.com.au/texthelp-read-and-write-10-standard-windows-licences
ClaroRead http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/catalogue/claroread
ClaroRead PLUS V5 toolbar
MediaLexie http://www.medialexie.com/accueil.php?langue=us
Kurzweil 3000 http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/product/kurzweil-3000
Wynn http://www.freedomscientific.com/lsg/products/wynn.asp
Refer to a very useful chart to compare features and functions of some of the commercial software mentioned above at: http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/article/literacy-support-software-comparison-chart

iv) Word Processors

Clicker 5 ANZ http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/product/clicker-5-anz-australiannew-zealand-version
Clicker 5 ANZ
TextEase Essentials CT http://www.edsoft.com.au/education/textease-essentials
Write:Outloud http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/product/writeoutloud-6-uk-version
Write Online http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/product/writeonline
Communicate:Symwriter ANZ http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/product/communicate-symwriter-anz-australiannew-zealand-version
IntelliTools Classroom Suite 4 http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/product/classroom-suite

v) Teacher Tools

SpinWorks http://www.greygum.com.au/nebula/index.php/spinworks
ClozePro http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/product/clozepro
Test Talker http://www.freedomscientific.com/lsg/products/testtalker.asp
CAST UDL Lesson Builder http://www.cast.org/learningtools/lesson_builder/index.html
Mind Play http://test4free.com/

B. Freeware

MyStudyBar www.eduapps.org – up to 5 reading tools within this floating toolbar
AccessApps www.eduapps.org – some reading tools included
MS Reader http://www.microsoft.com/reader/ – Microsoft Reader is a free, downloadable software application that allows users to read eBooks on Windows-based devices that users own
Thunder – Screen Reader http://www.screenreader.net/ – Thunder is a free screen reader talking software program for people with little or no sight. It works well with MS Windows 7, Vista or XP and is available all over the world in 8 languages.
Study Dog http://www.studydog.com/ – a free online early reading software program

C. Online literacy web resources:

The Spelling Center http://www.spellingcenter.com/ – free online dictionary, thesaurus tools
Interactive Reading Sites http://jc-schools.net/tutorials/interact-read.htm
Starfall http://www.starfall.com/
ELR Software www.elr.com.au/downloads.htm – Extra Language Resources (ELR), Build a Sentence, Word Meanings, Rude Readers, Word Cue Trainer, Literacy Online, Black Window
Florida Reading Association http://www.flreads.org/Reading%20Websites.htm
Book Adventure http://www.bookadventure.com/Home.aspx
Professor Garfield http://www.professorgarfield.org/pgf_home.html
Also refer to the relevant pages and sections in the Weally Wonderful Websites V6.6 document hosted at http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/blog/web-links/weally-wonderful-websites-v6-6/ including Talking Books, Literacy Activities and Games, eBooks and free Online Books, Spelling and Phonics links.

D. iPad Apps for Literacy

Suitable Apps for Reading http://www.iear.org/iear/tag/reading-apps
Five iPad eBooks for children http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-31747_7-20002462-243.html?tag=mncol
Greg’s comprehensive list for Literacy http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/article/apps-for-literacy-support

E. Reading Devices

ReadingPen TS

  1. Reading Pens
  2. Digital Pens
  3. OCR scanning devices and software
  4. Digital Voice Recorders
  5. MP3 and music players
  6. Digital tablets
  7. eBook Readers

Refer to the article http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/article/learning-disability-dyslexia-and-print-difficulties-inclusive-technology-overview that expands more fully upon these devices as well as http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/blog/tools-and-resources/universal-access-using-ebooks-readers-and-devices/ that examines the use and relevancy of eBook readers.

F. Other Genres

  1. Screen Readers – software to assist print handicapped, vision impaired and blind users
  2. Speed Reading – software to increase speed and efficiency
  3. Accelerated Reading – software to improve performance in reading

These are subsets of reading software – each meets a specific need.

G. Using text to Speech Solutions

Text to speech software provides voiced feedback of documents or typed text in almost any program (using a variety of commercial and free programs) as well as internet and web site content. This allows people who struggle with reading to equitably access content that is difficult or impossible to read. Both MS Windows and MAC OS have built in text-to-speech capabilities. Free software applications for MS Windows computers include Balabolka, DSpeech, Natural Reader, Orato, ReadPlease 2003 and many others. Free plug-ins for MS Word that provide speech feedback within a Word document include WordTalk and FX Toolbar (for MS Word 2007).

Note: Refer to Universal Access using Text-to-Speech for more information in greater detail and lists of suitable software applications. http://ndco.cds.org.au/index.php/at/60-gerry-kennedy-at-articles

8. Support for Educators and Parents

There are associations, groups, self help networks and professional bodies that exist to guide and support parents and students with dyslexia, learning difficulties and disabilities.

9. In Conclusion

This article is only an introduction to reading technologies and was written as a brief overview into some of the issues in assisting students to learn to read using Inclusive Technologies. Every student’s needs are different, so more than one tool, software program, methodology or approach may be required. As performance improves (or degrades) other solution paths may need to be explored. It is a complex area and one that is still being studied and debated.


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About Gerry Kennedy

Gerry Kennedy is an Independent Information and Inclusive Technology Consultant, working in private practice in Melbourne, Australia. He has specialised in the areas of special needs, rehabilitation and assistive technology support in education and employment for over 27 years. A teacher of 31 years, he currently works at East Burwood SDS school part time, as an ICT Teacher.

Gerry has had experience working in all states in Australia and Territories. He advises from Early Education and Pre-school through to secondary schools, having lectured to TAFE and University to under and post graduates. He frequently publishes articles and software reviews on numerous web sites and in journals and magazines.

Gerry promotes leading practice in the implementation and deployment of innovative ICT and Inclusive Technology in education and training. He consults, trains and advises parents, therapists, and other education and therapy related professionals as well as school personnel in how best to utilise and harness the features and functions of mainstream and specialised software as well as assistive device implementation.

12 Responses to Universal Access to Reading Software

  1. Anna says:

    Thanks so much for this post – it contains so much useful information, just what I needed right now!

  2. Berni says:

    Thanks for this most informative summary. As an adult literacy teacher, more and more I see potential benefits in adaptive and accessible technologies. I feel like I’m on the tip of the iceberg for knowing the spectrum of what’s available.

  3. Thanks, this can be worthwhile. I do think Now i’m ultimately getting my personal brain around every little thing!

    • Gerry Kennedy says:

      Hello Leanne

      I am very glad that you might be able to use this as a resource. There’s a great deal to consider so take things slowly. Requesting demonstration disks of software or downloading copies from the web is advised, then trial before you buy. Clicker 6 has just been recently released and it has some excellent features for proof reading as text is typed or copied/pasted from other sources – particularly for Primary aged children.

      My kind regards

  4. You are so awesome ! My partner and i do not assume I’ve examine anything this way ahead of. hip hop news

    • Gerry Kennedy says:

      Thank you Fidela for responding so positively to the article. I hope that it’s useful.
      My regards, Gerry

  5. Hey just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the pictures aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different internet browsers and both show the same results.|

    • David Vu says:

      Thanks for the heads-up.

      Can you please let me know the URL of the page you visit, what browser and platform you use and attach a screenshot showing the picture(s) not loading so I can replicate this result.

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