Reading is a complex skill that requires motor, cognitive, language comprehension, and automaticity to be integrated and applied across subject areas! If you read our post of “Supporting Kids with Reading”, we talked a lot about a range of assistive technology tools to support the different skills involved in reading.
Let’s talk a bit more about high-tech assistive technology supports for reading. These can include visual accommodations (font changes, reduced distractions on a page, support with scanning lines of text), text-to-speech, and a multitude of text leveling tools (vocabulary supports, picture definitions, simplification of material).
High-Tech Reading Assistive Technology Tools
Visual accommodations - font changes, high contrast, reading windows, color overlays
Text-to-Speech Tools - to compensating for fluency & decoding weaknesses while allowing access to text materials auditorily
Optical Character Recognition - “scanning” tools that convert pictures of non-digital or inaccessible text in order to use text-to-speech tools
Cognitive rescaling of text - to support comprehension with vocabulary support, picture dictionaries, reading-level-based text, simplification of material on screen
When to Consider Assistive Technology for Reading
The common questions from educational teams usually resemble the following -
When does the focus on reading instruction (remediation) shift to also include compensatory supports (like assistive technology tools)?
How do you work to improve higher-level comprehension skills (understanding) when a child continues to struggle with decoding (reading)? Or -
How do you support comprehension that is weaker than one’s ability to read words on a page?
Better yet, how do you tease apart what tools would benefit a student the most when it comes to reading?
Data-informed accommodations should advise IEP development, and Don Johnston’s Protocols for Accommodations in Reading is one assessment that helps educators and parents understand the difference(s) in a child’s abilities with different levels of text supports (adult reader, e-reader, independent reading). Once you know what accommodations support a child’s participation in academic tasks, you can continue to address their weak areas in intervention, but allow for accommodations so that those weaknesses don’t impact participation outside of intervention.
Benefits of Assistive Technology for Reading
Some of the benefits to considering assistive technology are:
Increased independence with academic tasks - Why should a student’s ability to read math problems interfere with their math thinking? How will you accommodate for the reading issues so the student’s progress with other subject areas isn’t compromised by reading skills? When reading is accommodated for, a student is better able to show his thinking in other curricular areas.
Increased level of participation - If you’re a struggling reader, chances are not likely that you are seeking out silent reading as a preferred leisure activity! Now, if your classroom has sustained silent reading for 20 minutes/day, it’s unlikely that same struggling reader is engaging with text as his peers are. Maybe he’s off-task, becoming more of a “behavior problem” in the classroom to opt out of reading. If you can get at a level of participation using audiobooks or text-to-speech supported reading, and re-engage reluctant or struggling readers, wouldn’t that be a better use of educational time?
Increased access - “Access” and “independence” are related - if one has access to necessary technology that helps him to show his thinking, learn the material, or participate, it is likely that they are able to do so more independently than would otherwise be the case without that technology.
For example, a student with dyslexia may benefit from text-to-speech programming to have text read aloud. If a teacher gives him a math worksheet, perhaps his AT supports include the ability to scan and convert the text from the word problems into something readable and editable. Without that technology, the student would otherwise not be able to read the worksheet and complete the task. Or, even worse, he’d have to wait for an adult reader to get around to helping him… even though the math thinking isn’t the problem, he was dependent on that adult to read the math word problem!
Improved sense of self, self-esteem - This is a no-brainer to explain. The more we feel successful and independent as learners, the better our self-esteem. It’s not a good feeling to struggle through tasks and assistive technology promotes positive self-image by enabling independence.
Increased opportunities for inclusion - In my mind, inclusion is tied to access and independence. When a student is able to access his curriculum with the support of assistive technology, inclusion is more successful.
Improved ability to demonstrate skills/competencies - We know that learning disabilities often mask cognitive abilities - so, when a student’s reading disability is accommodated for, he is better able to show strengths and skills in other areas!
Assistive technology and reading intervention can work hand-in-hand to promote engagement, foster independence, and improve a student’s self-perception before the reading weaknesses begin to affect other areas of school participation. For more information on assistive technology supports to learning, check out our blog @ www.adaptandlearn.com/blog.