This article presents further information on the talk presented by Abi James at the BETT show in January 2018.
Word processing and scanning supporting writing difficulties
Word processing helps everybody produce and edit text and written tasks. But for children and adults with dyslexia it can be particularly useful. Just the act of copying and pasting text allows the writer to rearrange words and redraft ideas, reducing the stress and strain for those who find forming sentences difficult. For some typing, rather than handwriting, can make ideas and words flow more easily as the cognitive load is reduced. Crick Software offer a wide range of apps and desktop software to support dyslexia from targeted writing support to ready made learning resources.
Spell-check, grammar and auto-correct tools can also provide invaluable support. However, these strategies do not always work if you find it difficult to identify the correct word from a suggestion list or make misspellings that miss out syllables or are attempted phonetically. Global Autocorrect provides auto-correct tools in all applications, and can be trained to catch mistakes commonly made by dyslexic writers. Ginger, Ghotit and Grammarly also provide online grammar checks, although there should be an element of caution when using these types of tools as they can inadvertently change the style of the writing.
The integration of voice search into computers, smartphones and internet search engines has opened up a new approach to making sure words are spelt correctly. No longer do you need to search endlessly in dictionaries, now you just ask your mobile phone, tablet or computer to spell a word! Very often you will also have the meaning supplied that ensures you have got the right word for your sentence and you can have it read aloud as a double check! If you have an iPhone or iPad try asking Siri to spell a word
Scanning can also be a useful way of turning images of text into print that can be read aloud and used for notes when revising or working on a topic. The smartphone with a camera and useful apps such as Claro ScanPen for both iOS and Android devices allows you to take a photo of text and have it read back. You can select the sections you want read and you do not have to be on the internet for it to work. Microsoft Office Lens can convert images to PDF, Word and PowerPoint files, and save images to OneNote or OneDrive. It works on Windows, Android and iOS devices. To quote Abi who wrote on LexDis “The really good thing about Office Lens is that when I take a picture of a presentation or whiteboard, I can make sure it is exactly the right shape and is straight not set at an angle using the outline on the screen by selecting the document or whiteboard menu item.”
Text to speech, talking word processors and ebooks
For many combining text to speech (when your computer or device reads aloud onscreen text) can be helpful for those who find it difficult to read. This may be because it is difficult to see, focus, read accurately or read fast enough. As well as encouraging independent working strategies, using text to speech can improve reading and spelling as hearing text read back can help with proof reading, noticing missing words and recognising spelling patterns. CALL Scotland have a helpful page on the subject and Mac and Windows operating systems have text to speech built in but if you want text highlighting try their free WordTalk with Microsoft Word.
Reading books that have been digitised so that they can be used on computers, smartphones or tablets with text to speech support is so much easier now and there are many apps that allow for colour tinting overlays, font changes and extra line spacing. CALL Scotland’s iPad Apps for Learners with Dyslexia/Reading and Writing Difficulties (PDF download) provides a useful starting point. When it comes to getting ebooks with text to speech and highlighting for use on your device RNIB Bookshare have thousands covering many topics and they offer a service for schools, support centres and as an individual with dyslexia.
Speech recognition software and how it can support learners with dyslexia
Speech recognition software has become a stunningly good tool. For anyone who struggles to get their ideas on to paper, it offers a release from many of the inhibiting factors that hold them back. It is not for everyone, but for those it helps it can be educationally transforming.
Free speech recognition is built into Windows, Google Docs, the Mac iOS and iphones/iPads. The limitation is that you cannot train the software to recognise an individual voice and that you must be online. A noise-cancelling headset remains necessary to ensure high-quality sound reaches the computer. Using text-to-speech when editing will help ensure accuracy in the finished piece of writing.
Commercial packages, such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking for PC and Dragon for Mac is costly by comparison, but delivers excellent results. To get the best from the software it is still necessary to train it to recognise your voice by reading text to it. This has become a very rapid process, requiring barely a minute of reading. Accuracy in recognition is normally 95%+ correct for any experienced user. Its accuracy can be further enhanced by correcting errors in the approved way. However, it is also a sophisticated tool and so requires training to ensure success.
Abi James, Victoria Crivelli, Malcolm Litten and EA Draffan
BDA New Technologies Committee