Dyslexia Awareness Week will take place from Monday 1st to Sunday 7th October 2018 with World Dyslexia Awareness Day being celebrated on Thursday 4th October. On 2nd October, NTC member Abi James delivered a webinar about Realising Potential Through Enabling Technologies.
This year, we will be highlighting how technology can help remove barriers linked to dyslexia and other Specific Learning Difficulties. On this page we will introduce some of topics technology related topics and link to useful resources.
What are Enabling and Assistive Technologies?
Technology is discreet, street credible, encourages independence and most importantly increases confidence and self-esteem. Technology can create a level playing field from which learners affected by dyslexia can demonstrate their true strengths and abilities. A wide range of appropriate hardware, software and assistive tools are available to support individual needs. These include support for everyday skills such as accurate reading, comprehension, spelling, writing and recording information, organisation, memory, recall and processing written or spoken information. To get started read:
- Five tips and hints for schools to support dyslexic learners
- Back to Basics – slides from presentation at the BETT 2018 show.
- Mind map of dyslexia-friendly teaching approaches using technology.
Built-in Enabling Technologies
Over the past year we have published a series of articles describing the wide-range of tools now built into phone, tablet and computer operating systems.
- Part 1: iPads and iPhones
- Part 2: Mac operating system
- Part 3: Windows 10 and Office 365
- Part 4: Chrome browser and Google Drive
Making digital documents accessible for easier reading.
Reading digital documents can be much easier for people with dyslexia and disabilities if they are created in an accessible format. If you are using a computer or even a smart phone or tablet, it is possible to have text on the screen read aloud. It is also possible to change the look and feel of a message, document or web page and this can be important if you like large fonts and more space between lines etc. But, there can be difficulties when people use images of words, small writing that stays cramped looking or pages with lots of clutter and not enough contrast between the text and the background. These problems do not help to make things easy to read for anybody.
Documents and webpages that are accessible are the ones that allow you to choose how you want to read them. The BDA Style Guide has some advice for all writers. If it is followed, along with more strategies that you can find on the LexDis guides, not only will assistive technologies such as text to speech and magnification work, but you will be able to change the look and feel of the content to suit your needs.
So for example if you are reading a web page using the Chrome browser you will find many extensions to help or if you using a Microsoft Word document it will have a Speak button that you can add to your toolbar and many other options across the Microsoft Office programs. Reading aloud sections of text on a smart phone may just be a case of holding you fingertip over the writing and selecting Speak from the message that appears and changing settings for other options such as speech recognition is not difficult. If you are using a Mac computer it is also possible to change colours, have text read out and make text larger by heading off to your system preferences.
There are many free Accessibility Document checkers available including:
- Use Microsoft Accessibility Checker to ensure your documents and presentations are accessible and well structures.
- Ensure PDFs are accessible with the free checker from PAC 2 or online PAVE. If the document started off as in Microsoft then save time by making sure the original document is accessible and then use Save to PDF to create an accessible PDF.
- Convert materials into allowable ebooks via Calibre which creates ePub and many other formats.
Enabling technologies using other languages?
Across the world, many technologies will work in the language of your choice. But, sometimes the voices are expensive, so it may help to use what is available via your browser or word processor. If you use a laptop or desktop computer, the Chrome browser with text to speech (or even Firefox that uses the same system on a page) will offer several languages. Google Translate will work whether online or in app form for Android, iOS and Windows. If you use Microsoft 365, you can also switch voices via the Speak it button, if you do not want your whole computer language settings to change. Sometimes there are localisation problems with different fonts affecting readability and switching between left to right and right to left scripts can be difficult but there are guidelines for developers that can help with language issues. If you want to develop an app and check whether you need to add more languages for your target audience, you can always use a mobile app localisation checker!
New technologies on the horizon
Mobile and online technologies have changed the way we learn, work, communicate and play! In particular, we seem to have a much more flexible approach as to how we use tools that might have been developed for one purpose and end up helping in other ways. Artificial Intelligence that uses masses of data is now providing object descriptions for those with visual impairments, but Seeing AI can also help with facial, colour and handwriting recognition, which could be useful for many people.
Mobile technologies also make it easier for us to work on the move. Think about being able to read a document and make notes at the same time using a ZTE Axon M with dual mobile screens! At present this is a rather expensive way of being able to read a mind map across two mini screens rather than on a tablet, but flexible and dual screens are coming!
The Horizon 2018 report for Higher Education also mention “mixed reality (MR), where digital and physical objects coexist” in learning environments and a recent blog discussed how virtual reality can help dyslexic students. All these ideas show how offering alternative ways of presenting things and learning can help. The Horizon 2017 report for K-12 children also adds the idea of makerspaces for increasing creativity and enabling active learning. Finally both reports mention the ‘Internet of Things’ and according to an elearning industry article there will be “50 billion IoT-enabled devices in the world by 2020” with our learning coming from more streamed videos and assessments being less about multiple choice and more about research projects. Perhaps a positive note with which to end this topic!