The following are questions and answers from Dr. Tracy Gray on this topic.
Where can I find more books to use with a reading pen?
Your question depends a bit on what type of reading pen system you are using, as different companies use different technology. Products such as LeapFrog Tag and VTech's Bugsby Reading System use specially-designed books with their reading pens. In order to access more titles, you will need to purchase their books, most of which are targeted towards younger or early readers. The benefit of books like these is that the text is typically read by a human voice, rather than a computerized voice. Children can also click on different icons within the text to get more information or sound effects while reading. The disadvantage to such products is that they can only be used with a limited number of titles and so may not be a good solution for a student with disabilities who needs to access a wider array of books. You may also look at the different types of reading pen/scanners available — many of these tools you use like a highlighter, running over printed text and getting instant speech feedback. While most of these pens are not appropriate for reading an entire book, they can serve as a valuable support for difficult words, definitions, and pronunciation.
How can I track down appropriate software for my daughter with multiple disabilities?
Finding the right software program, can be challenging, especially for students who have multiple disabilities or are struggling in different areas. The process of finding something that meets your daughter’s needs involves a process of trial and error, but a few resources can help get you started.
The Tech Matrix is a great resource to help you find assistive and educational technology tools. You can search for software and technology tools by IDEA disability category, content area, and grade level. You can also compare up to four different products to find the product that best meets your daughter’s needs.
LD Online is another great source of information to consider. Check out some of the many articles on teaching strategies for students to get a better idea of the different types of supports that would be of benefit to your daughter. LD Online has numerous articles on how to select the right software in reading and in math. For example, there are several resources that might help you figure out what technologies might work best for a student with an auditory processing disorder and other learning disabilities.
Your daughter may enjoy hearing text read aloud (example), using a text-to-speech program (example) or following along with text on the computer. Many reading programs can highlight each word or each sentence as it is spoken, giving your daughter two ways to get the information. The highlighting can also help her focus on the information being read to her. Try looking for reading and writing programs that have text-to-speech, dynamic highlighting and allow your daughter to control the speed of the reading. She might also benefit from software programs that focus on early reading skills. Our article on Learning to Read with Multimedia Materials has some good suggestions.
For additional ideas on different technology tools, be sure to check out PowerUp WHAT WORKS (www.PowerUpWhatWorks.org). This site provides a wealth of free, online resources on strategies and technology ideas to help struggling students in English Language Arts and Math.
What reading technology tools and supports are effective for students who struggle with reading?
TheTechMatrixcan help you become an informed consumer of technology tools and resources. This matrix is intended to serve as a resource that matches technology tools with supporting literature on promising practices for the instruction of reading for students with disabilities. With the matrix, you can examine the features of reading software for students who struggle with various aspects of reading, as well as the research on which such products are developed and used. PowerUp WHAT WORKS is also an excellent free, online resource for teachers who are looking for strategies to incorporate technology tools and software to help struggling readers. PowerUp's Teaching Strategies cover a range of topics related to reading, including fluency, context clues, word analysis, and more.
There are a growing number of reading software programs that can help students who struggle with reading. Before you select a tool, read some of the following articles on how to select the tool that best fits the student's particular needs. Education Week's article on Finding the Right Reading Program explains the importance of selecting an evidence-based reading program, intervention strategies, and suggestions of technology tools. Learning to Read with Multimedia Materials is another great article if you are lookingfor some suggestions about selecting tools and identifying resources.
Can you recommend an effective typing program for our son, who is dyslexic and dysgraphic?As you noted, there are a variety of typing programs on the market. The best answer to your question is that there may not be one single program that best meets your son's needs. Keyboard development requires practice and unfortunately, repetitive exercises can be boring. Access to a variety of programs offers choice, lessens boredom, and increases motivation for practicing keyboarding skills. Find them through a Google search for 'free keyboard tutorials for children". A program that might work is Read, Write and Type by the Learning Company, which has been rated as an effective early reading intervention by the What Works Clearinghouse. Many dysgraphic students have difficulty with correct fingering in keyboarding skills. It would be best if your son used correct fingering, but he should not be forced. The ultimate goal is for him to type fluently, with speed and accuracy. Some students who type in their own style have been known to reach 60 words per minute. Others gradually begin to type with correct, or partially correct, fingering. The key to improvement is practice and consistency. I suggest that you encourage him to practice every day, but limit the practice time to 10 minutes. Let him choose which program he wants to use, what he wants to type and what fingering method works best for him.
Are there any scanning devices available that can help my dyslexic child improve his reading and math skills?
There are many devices that can scan and read. As with all assistive technology, the key is to find the right match for the individual user. You know your child better than anyone. You need to find out all you can about the various devices. The TechMatrix is a gateway to reading and math software products that provides a brief description, including a side-by-side comparison, and links to more product details that will help you identify the most appropriate software for your child. There are several reading pens on the market in addition to the ones listed on the matrices, such as the Reading Pen II, the LeapFrog Fly Pen and the Wizard. You might want to contact the distributors to ask for an evaluation copy or whether the company is displaying the devices somewhere close by where you and your child can go and try it out. You might want to pose a question on a listserv provided by Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT), where parents and practitioners post their questions and comments about AT. There are currently several postings on the listserv related to reading pens. I recommend that you review the TechMatrix to compare the various products, search the Internet for product information for the different talking/reading pens, and also search the QIAT listserv by keyword to learn from the experiences of other parents and teachers.
Where can I calculate readability levels online?
There are many websites and software programs that can calculate readability for you. For shorter pieces of text, you can use one of the many online readability programs available listed below. Most of them allow you to paste text into a window, or link directly to an URL (for determining readability of websites).
Before getting started, it would be a good idea to read about the different readability metrics and how reading level is determined. Once you have an idea of what might work best, you can check out some of these online tools for calculating readability.
- Readability Test Tool: test the readability of a webpage or specific text
- Readability-Score.com: read text and URLs for free, and files and bulk content for a fee
- Readability Formulas: takes a sample of your writing and calculates the number of sentences, words, syllables, and characters in your sample
- JuicyStudio: Test website readability; also provides information about different scales, what scores mean, etc.
- SMOG Readability Calculator: Can calculate up to 2000 words; includes detailed explanation of the SMOG formula
What online resources are available for a student in a rural area without access to special education services?
Finding help for your child can be difficult if you live in remote or rural areas without access to specialists. However, there is a wealth of resources available online through free websites. With the growing number of educational websites, students who live in such areas can now access a wide variety of tools, specialized information, and helpful hints for working with their struggling child. One great example of a website to explore is ReadWriteThink, a website that provides "resources in reading and language arts instruction through free, Internet-based content." Here you can find information on the best ways to teach reading and writing, as well as helpful tools and resources.
One of these online tools, a comic strip creator, may appeal to your child as a fan of comic books and superheroes. If you child enjoys these creative activities, you may also want to introduce them to Kerpoof, which allows children to create their own stories, animations, videos, and comics. Using these tools, your child can create stories of their own, perhaps with some help from you for some of the writing. It is possible that the high interest of creating his own comic strip may encourage him to try writing more. Such activities take advantage of your child's interests and help him engage in telling and writing stories; studies have shown that storytelling is the first step in learning to read and write, so encouraging your child to use technology tools and artwork to tell stories may help their build up his reading and writing skills.
- Learning Ally: The site offers over 100 searchable audiobooks that can be filtered by grad level, subject, or year.
- Do2Learn: Students with special needs learn academic and life skills through songs, games, and activities.
- PBS Kids: Interactive activities and games to teach reading skills.
- Raising Readers: free games and suggested resources for parents.
- International Children’s Digital Library: online library of children’s books.
You may also want to explore the many free, online course providers now available to students of all ages and needs. For example, Khan Academy offers all online courses and instruction in traditional subject areas such as math, science, and English Language Arts, as well as other subject such as computer programming and art history. It is especially good for students with disabilities since the lessons are self-paced, allowing the student to take as much as time as they need to grasp the concept. If you child is more engaged with iPhone and handheld games, check out the many educational apps now available in the iTunes and Android store. To get started, explore the suggested resources on Children with Special Needs and their related resources.
How can I get help with technology accommodations in graduate school?
As a graduate school student, you will likely find that you have access to many of the same accommodations you had in your undergraduate program. Your first step as an incoming student should be to meet with your university's disabilities services office. Policies regarding resources available for graduate students with disabilities may vary from program to program, but you with a documented disability you are eligible for accommodations.
Depending on the university, you may need to provide additional documentation, or updated testing regarding a learning disability. Contacting disabilities services early will ensure that you have all necessary paperwork submitted in plenty of time for your first class. If you are requesting texts in alternate formats, or other reading supports, contacting the office well in advance also gives the university time to prepare accessible materials for you. You may find that your university is willing to provide the reading software you need; some universities have computer labs set up with accessible software for student use.
If the university is unable to provide you with the software accommodations you need, they may be able to help you find additional sources of funding to help you upgrade your computer. Many universities have hardship funds for their students, providing small grants for medical needs, emergencies or other issues.
Your university's disabilities services may also be able to help you locate grants, loans, or other options. The booklet Learning Disabilities, Graduate School, and Careers: The Student's Perspective may provide you with some helpful suggestions for working with your school. You may be able to find additional helpful suggestions for getting the technology tools you need from the community on the LD Online Postsecondary Education forums.
What tools can help my son with LD learn a foreign language?
Learning a foreign language can be frustrating for a student with a language-based learning disability. Many of the same elements that may have posed problems in English (letter sounds, decoding, spelling, grammar), can cause difficulties in foreign language learning.
Since your son has been successful in his regular classes with the assistance of a paraprofessional, I would suggest that he use many of the same strategies he uses already to help him with language. What tools and support have helped your son succeed in his coursework? Some of these same strategies can be easily adapted to his foreign language learning. It is a good idea for your son to work directly with his special education and foreign language teachers about what areas are presenting difficulty for him, and discuss strategies and accommodations that may make language learning less challenging for him.
There are also a number of excellent technology tools for learning language that your son may find helpful. Beyond the familiar CDs and language software, many language learners are now taking advantage of social networking tools for foreign languages. A number of websites feature online chats and forums where users can practice language with a native speaker. User-created social networks on the Ning platform also provide opportunities to join a group interested in learning a specific language. Try searching Ning for "learning a language" to find a list of available groups. Many of these groups are full of others learning new languages that are happy to share tips, support, videos, and ideas for practicing vocabulary.
Finally, if your son is a visual learner, he may enjoy watching subtitled movies. He can choose to watch movies in the target language (i.e. Spanish) with English subtitles or watch English movies with foreign subtitles. Watching movies is an enjoyable activity and may lower your son's anxiety around language learning.
How can I help my 14-year-old daughter who struggles with reading?
One difficulty with older struggling readers is that they can often become hesitant and anxious about reading, avoiding situations where they might read because reading is so challenging. A key strategy for older struggling readers is to find situations that make reading more enjoyable.
Though there's no replacement for instruction in basic reading skills, frequent opportunities for independent reading can be helpful for struggling readers. A good way to do that is to provide your daughter with high-interest (and lower level) reading material. There are a number of books available that are at a lower reading level, but are written with a style and topic selection that are more interesting for teen readers. You could also introduce her to book review Web sites by and for teens, to help her find books that she might find interesting and motivating.
Your daughter may also benefit from the use of reading software, or accessible books. Look into the many resources on this site and others (Bookshare) for more information about the types of accessible books available for young adults with print disabilities.
Another fun option that has been shown to be effective with kids with LD and struggling readers is watching subtitled or captioned television shows and movies. Find your daughter's favorite shows and movies, and put the captions on. Because your daughter will be watching something she enjoys, the reading of the captions will be less stressful and may encourage her to read. The captions can also help your daughter recognize words she hears when she seems them written.
Because all TVs made after 1993 have captioning built-in, this is an easy and free option that may help make reading a bit more pleasurable for your daughter. Your daughter can also watch captioned programming online, Web sites such as Hulu offer free viewing of most television shows, many of them with closed captioning.
Should I go back to school as an adult if I suspect I have a learning disability?
Many college students, both of traditional and non-traditional age, have learning disabilities and learning difficulties. You can absolutely still pursue your chosen career! The first thing you should do is discuss your concerns directly with your university's Disability Services. They can help you find resources at your school, explore avenues for being tested for a learning disability and recommend accommodations and strategies that might help you with your coursework.
With a documented disability, you are entitled to accommodations and support, so it may be worthwhile to get tested and identify your areas of strengths and weaknesses. Working with Disabilities Services, you can identify strategies and resources to help you succeed. Check out the wide variety of resources on LD Online for more information about LD, testing, and learning strategies that may help you.
How can public libraries better support people with learning disabilities?
Many public libraries have grappled with the same issues, so looking at how other librarians have worked to make their libraries accessible is a good start. Many libraries provide their patrons with online resource lists (on accessible websites), in addition to offering a wide variety of accessibility options within the library building. It may be helpful to get in touch with other librarians, either online or in person to ask how they met their patrons' accessibility needs. The American Library Association has a number of excellent resources available to assist librarians in thinking about and respecting the needs of their patrons with disabilities. The ALA also has several options for connecting with other librarians, from online forums to an island in Second Life.
Some accessibility options for your patrons may include providing helpful links on your library website, pointing users to both local and national disability groups. Within the library, it is important to make sure that media is accessible — books on tape, audio books, captioned videos, descriptive videos, magnifiers and large print books can all help ensure that a variety of media is accessible to many of your patrons. Many librarians also provide patrons with assistive software and hardware where needed. This may include reading and writing software, software capable of reading text aloud (text-to-speech), software that can enlarge text on the screen or Braille embossers for blind patrons. Check out the Montgomery County Public Library website for a good example of the types of tools you might offer. For further ideas, check out the ALA's disability-specific Tip Sheets on Learning Disabilities, Children with Disabilities, Autism & Spectrum Disorders, and many others.
What assistive technology tools could we use with a middle school student so he doesn’t feel singled out and different from his peers?
Using assistive technology tools can be a challenge for students as they enter middle and high school. Many kids that age are incredibly aware of how they look, and what their peers are doing, and want nothing more than to blend in with the other kids. Using a device or "different" technology tool than the rest of the class can certainly make a student feel that they stick out.
One solution is to make all technology "assistive" technology in your school. Creating a creative technology environment in your school can help students remove the separation between "regular" technology and "special" or "assistive" technology. Learn more about various technologies that support the writing process in the article, Using Assitive Technology to Support Writing.
This is one benefit to using technology to differentiate instruction in your school. If all students are using a computer to write an essay, then it isn't all that noticeable that some students are using word prediction software, others are using text-to-speech software, and others are using voice-recognition software. Technology is just something that everyone is using. For example, every student in your class could be using a literacy software package (see several compared in the TechMatrix).
Strong writers could be using the built-in word processor and spell checker, struggling writers could be using text-to-speech to edit or word prediction to help them compose, other students may use the graphic organizers or the audio notes. Each student is using the same program, but different students make use of different features according to their needs. See more ideas for differentiating instruction through technology at the free online course offered by CITEd.
Would a portable book reader be appropriate for a child with visual processing issues?
Amazon's Kindle is a wireless reading device that does allow the user to adjust font size, so it might be appropriate for your son. The Kindle offers variable font size, with the largest font appearing to be about the size of a typical large print book. Currently there are 200,000 books available, but most of them are targeted to adult readers.
The Kindle is also rather expensive, so you may want to do a little research first. If your son needs something larger than a typical large print book, the Kindle's largest font may not be what he needs. Another good place to do some research and ask questions is the Kindle discussion board on Amazon's website. Here you can ask other users about their experiences, talk to other parents who may use the Kindle with their child, or even arrange to see a Kindle in your city so you can try it before you buy. Find other reading hardware and software options in the article, Reading Software: Finding the Right Program.
If your child has a diagnosed print disability, he is eligible to receive texts in alternate formats through his special education program. Discuss this option with the school. Learn more in these articles for parents: Accessible Textbooks: A Guide for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities and Making the Written Word Easier for Readers with Print Disabilities.
What options are available for audio versions of textbooks?
Scanning and converting a text to audio can be time consuming and expensive, depending on the software you use. If you only need one textbook (and all of his other textbooks are available in audio format), it may not be worth it to purchase software for yourself. Start with Learning Ally or Bookshare.org; they often have textbooks available when you may not be able to find them elsewhere. If your son has a documented disability, he can access any books from Learning Ally or Bookshare.org.
If you cannot find his textbook through a source such as Learning Ally or Bookshare.org, or you think you'll need to scan and convert texts on a more regular basis, you may want to consider purchasing a scanner and accompanying text-to-speech software. What you end up purchasing will depend on your needs and how much you want to spend. Solutions for having text read aloud range from the incredibly simple — scanning in text and using built-in voices to read — to the more complex — scanning in text and using human sounding narration and converting to an mp3.
For example, Adobe Acrobat Reader and Microsoft Word both have very simple text-to-speech capabilities. If your son just needs to have the text read aloud to him while sitting at the computer, and doesn't mind synthesized speech, this could be a very basic solution. However, if you'd prefer something with more natural-sounding narration, you might need something with more features. Find a variety of solutions for scanning and text-to-speech in this customized search on the TechMatrix.
What technology tools can I use in my work writing to make sure I haven’t made errors?
This is a common issue for adults (and kids!) with dyslexia. It can be particularly challenging when you have a word spelled correctly, but your usage is wrong. Swapping "their," "they're," and "there" is a great example. A traditional spellchecker won't identify the mistake, so you may not discover it.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of technology tools and apps that can help check your writing to make sure that you have made these types of errors. Google Docs has a built in free grammar checker that works much better than Microsoft word. In addition, Google Docs has an add-on feature called the Consistency Catcher, which will catch any variations in spelling, abbreviations, titles, dates, etc. There are also a number of great apps, such as Ginger and Ghotit. There two contextual spellcheckers work in a similar way, by identifying both incorrectly spelled words and those that might be incorrect based on the context of the sentence (i.e. saying "they're dog" instead of "their dog"). Grammarly is another free great technology tool that helps catch errors in writing, especially for adults that are looking to enhance the clarity and readability of their work. Find other software and technology tools that could help with your writing in the TechMatrix.
What technologies are available to help a college student with a reading disability access textbooks?
With the strong public interest in books in MP3 format, portable reading devices and the availability of simple to use scanners, more and more books are becoming available in a variety of formats. While you are correct in that many of the audio books available through bookstores and others are not college textbooks, there are options for finding audio versions of academic texts.
One of the first places for your daughter to check is Learning Ally. Learning Ally has a wide variety of textbooks available freely accessible by anyone with a documented disability. She will more than likely be able to find some of her required textbooks there.
Additionally, many textbook publishers are making digital versions of their textbooks available. It would be worthwhile for your daughter to check with publishers to see whether any of her required readings are available in another format. If your daughter can get her texts as PDFs, she can use the built in text-to-speech feature in Adobe Reader. Adobe's Read Out Loud is a scaled-down text-to-speech application, so it may not have every feature your daughter needs. However, it is freely available and would be a good tool to use with digital texts.
Both Apple and Microsoft computers also have simple text-to-speech capabilities built into their operating systems. Again, these built-in programs are very basic and so they may not meet all of your daughter's needs. They are also generally designed for the blind or those with low vision; however you can use them to read selected text aloud rather than reading the entire screen.
Because you aren't sure whether a text-to-speech program might be beneficial for your daughter, one of these free programs might be a good place to start. If she tries using a simple speech-to-text program and finds it helpful, she can investigate purchasing a more full-featured program. I wouldn't advise starting off purchasing a piece of software until you and your daughter are sure it will help her.
She might also try talking to the Office of Disability Services at her university. They may have text-to-speech software available on some university computers. This could allow your daughter to try out a program or two before making a purchase. You can also search for and compare programs with text-to-speech capabilities on the Tech Matrix.
What technology is available to help a nine-year-old read?
Reading doesn't come naturally to some students, but there are many things you can do at home with your child to help improve his reading skills. The Reading is Fundamental website has a great list of 20 Ways for Parents to Encourage Reading, and Reading Rockets has a robust parent strategy section. You can find helpful suggestions at both of these sites.
There are also a number of free games and activities online that can help encourage struggling or reluctant readers. Depending on your son's reading level and maturity, some of these websites may feel too young, so it is important that you give him a variety of options and see what he likes best. A good resource to help you get started is Learning to Read with Multimedia Materials. The article discusses the different ways multimedia tools can be used to support reading instruction and provides a resource list with suggestions of different websites and games to help kids build reading skills.
Starfall has a collection of online books and activities for different reading levels and ages. Students can hear words read aloud and read at their own pace. The section I'm Reading might be most appropriate for your son. Sylvan Learning has a free website called Book Adventure that may also be motivating for your son. Students read books, take a short quiz and earn points. Points can then be redeemed for prizes (books, games, etc.). Book Adventure also has a page for parents with suggestions for encouraging reading, making reading fun and recognizing reading challenges.
A game format can be a non-threatening way to practice reading. If your son enjoys the game or wants to find out what happens next, he may be more motivated to read. PBS has a great selection of educational games and activities for students. PBS Kids Cyberchase is designed for slightly older elementary or middle school students. While not a reading game specifically, there is a significant amount of text for students to read. All spoken dialogue is also shown on screen, and players have to read signs and other information in the game. This type of experience may help your son practice reading without even realizing it. The Kaboose Family Network also has a page with a variety of free online reading and spelling games for different age groups.
If you're interested in purchasing a software program for use at home, educational publishers such as Tom Snyder and Houghton Mifflin sell a number of programs, both games and skill building tools that can help struggling readers. You can also search for and compare reading programs using the Tech Matrix.
What is the role of technology in Response to Intervention?
Response to Intervention (RTI) is a multi-tiered approach to identifying and supporting struggling students. In this approach, all students receive the same high quality instruction and assessments. Students who do not respond to this instruction (as revealed by frequent in-class assessments) will then receive more targeted and intensive instruction. Students who continue to struggle will receive further interventions, possibly in the form of direct one-on-one instruction.
For some students these tiered interventions may be enough to accelerate their learning and help them catch up with their peers. For others, their lack of response to the intervention may signal a need for an evaluation for special education services. Because data on each student is collected at every stage, much of this data can then be used to help determine the presence of a specific learning disability.
Technology can play a key role in the response to intervention process, both as a means of assessment, and as a means of intervention. It might be helpful to check out the CITEd webinar on the Role of Technology in Response to Intervention. There are two national centers providing technical assistance to schools and districts, see the National Center on Response to Intervention and the RTI Action Network.
A critical part of response to intervention is ongoing student assessment and progress monitoring, often through the use of curriculum-based measurement. This data can help teachers make decisions about student learning and identify areas of difficulty right away. A variety of progress monitoring tools are software based, allowing teachers to quickly assess individual students and keep track of student data.
The relative ease of using technology to track, monitor and graph student assessment data may be an enticing benefit for teachers. It allows them to quickly determine student achievement and level without having to deal with data collection and recording themselves, leaving them more time to focus on teaching. The National Center on Student Progress Monitoring has a helpful chart of tools and the content areas they cover.
Technology tools can also be used as a part of the intervention process with individual students. Students who are identified as needing extra help may benefit from the use of skill-building technology tools. The use of these tools can help teachers differentiate instruction, which can be especially helpful when students require extra help in a particular area.
CITEd has an online module on differentiating instruction using technology that may be helpful; they also include a discussion forum and a number of helpful resources. The CITEd webinar on the same topic may also help teachers see how technology can assist in the teaching of different students at different levels. Each of these resources provides practical advice on using technology in the classroom to address the diverse needs of students.
Once teachers are comfortable that technology is an appropriate intervention tool, you can direct them (or technology coordinators for your school) to the Tech Matrix to find tools that match specific student needs. Because evidence-based instruction is a critical component of RTI, be sure to check out the research support articles listed with each tool.
How can we e-mail a textbook page home to a student with dyslexia?
There are several options that might be appropriate for this student or for others in a similar situation. Some scanners come with software enabling the user to scan directly into a PDF document; however, it is more likely that you will have to purchase either Adobe Acrobat or third-party software that will allow you to convert scanned documents into PDF.
Converting the scanned image would enable you to maintain the original layout of the document and still work with Natural Reader since it is capable of reading PDFs as well as MS Word documents. Having the capability to convert documents to PDF could also be beneficial for other students, as the newer versions of Adobe Reader have improved read out loud capabilities. This could be helpful for students who don't have access to a screen reader at home. You could convert any text to a PDF and students could hear it read aloud using the free Reader program.
If purchasing additional software is not a feasible option, you may also try searching for a digital version of the text online. Learning Ally has audio versions of many textbooks, and websites such as BookShare and Project Gutenberg have electronic books freely available for download (BookShare provides books free for users with documented print disabilities).
Where can I find software that can read websites aloud to me?
Depending on your needs, there are several products available that can help you with being able to hear text on your computer read aloud. Some options are free, while others require software purchase.
If you are regularly downloading articles or documents to read that are in PDF, you can use the built in screen reader in Adobe Acrobat Reader called Read Out Loud to hear any text in the document read aloud.
If you need assistance with reading MS Word documents, or to have the text of your writing read back to you for editing purposes, one good option might be WordTalk, a free program text-to-speech program for Microsoft Word. You can also use the built-in screen reader/text-to-speech features on your computer.
Both Microsoft and Apple have simple text-to-speech programs built into their operating systems. Microsoft's Narrator is relatively limited in features, and is intended for users with visual impairments. However, some of the features may be helpful for you. Apple's VoiceOver has similar capabilities and can assist users with reading typed text, windows, menus and controls.
If you are mostly concerned with being able to hear text on websites read aloud, you might consider Talklets. Talklets is a small web-based application that allows you to hear any web text read out loud. Because it is web-based, you don't have to install software, which may be useful if you are using different computers (at the library, in the classroom, etc.). Talklets is free for a few websites (Google, Wikipedia, the BBC) and charges a monthly fee for unlimited access to any website. ReadPlease and Natural Reader also have free text-to-speech programs with limited functionality that may be sufficient for your needs. Several options are available from a basic copy for free download, to a more full-featured version for purchase.
If these free tools don't provide you with the level of functionality you need, you can also try searching the TechMatrix to find other text-to-speech products and compare features by selecting the Subject Area of Reading and the Learning Support of Access to multiple formats of text, notation, and symbols.
Where can we get recorded books for our students who read slowly?
Fortunately, there are now a number of fairly inexpensive ways to provide struggling readers with access to printed materials by providing text digitally, see An Educator's Guide to Making Textbooks Accessible and Usable for Students with Learning Disabilities. Once you have digital text, you have many options.
Many publishers now offer their textbooks on CD-ROM and teachers can easily scan print materials into their computer to create digital versions of texts. One of the easiest (and least expensive) ways to provide students with recorded text is use text-to-speech features built into your computer's operating system to read digitized text. These simple programs can read text files aloud for students and are freely available with all Windows and Macintosh operating systems. Although they lack more sophisticated control options and choices for speaking voices, they may be an appropriate solution for helping students read short pieces of text.
Another free option for helping students access text is to download books from a website such as Project Gutenberg or LibriVox. The books available from these sites are in the public domain, so you will not be able to find newer books here. However, they are freely available to all and may be a good solution for providing electronic versions of popular classics (Pride and Prejudice, A Christmas Carol, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, etc.). Files are usually available in HTML, PDF or Text format, which can then be read aloud using any text-to-speech program. The Adobe Reader has a built in Read Out Loud feature which allows the user to have any part of a PDF file read aloud. You could also use this feature with any hard copy text that you scan and save as a PDF.
A third option is to obtain audio books from Learning Ally. Membership is required in order to access audio books and a special player or software is necessary to play the books. Another site, Bookshare provides digital talking books for students of any age with disabilities. Students with qualifying print disabilities can now access the entire Bookshare collection free of charge. Additionally, audio books can be ordered from websites such as Amazon, Audible, or Barnes & Noble. However, this option will likely be more expensive than the cost of a Learning Ally membership.
The most flexible option (and also the most expensive) would be to purchase software capable of converting text files into audio files. A quick internet search will reveal several downloadable programs for running text to audio conversions. However, for a school purchase, it might make sense to investigate programs that can be used for a variety of reading and writing tasks such as Kurzweil 3000, Proloquo, TextAloud and WYNN. With these tools, you can convert any text file to a sound file; students can then listen to text using an MP3 player, their computer or CD player. Using a scanner, you can easily scan any print material and create recorded text for your students for any book, textbook, handout, or article you use in your teaching.
Can you recommend any computer programs to help my son, who is dyslexic, with his writing?
An expanding array of technological devices provides new options for minimizing the writing difficulties experienced by students with learning disabilities. Programs and devices, such as talking word processors, word prediction programs, child-friendly voice recognition, and portable note-taking devices may assist your son with his writing.
Tech Tools for Students with Learning Disabilities: Infusion into Inclusive Classrooms will provide you with detailed information on each of these options.
Using Assistive Technology to Support Writing is another valuable resource that can assist you in selecting the best technologies to meet the needs of your son and may be worth sharing with his teachers to ensure that he has the support he needs in the classroom.
Also check out the Tech Matrix, which is a free online resource for writing products, reviewed for accessibility and instructional features. Related research on the use of technology for students with special needs will also be included with this tool to inform your decision on the best programs to provide support to meet your son’s needs.