Jan 24th 2010

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What’s in Your Assistive Technology Reading Toolkit?

By Brian S. Friedlander, Ph.D.

A lot has changed since I entered the field of assistive
technology, owing to the fast pace of technological innovation. Years ago if
you wanted to make text accessible to students with reading disabilities it was
a rather arduous task of physically scanning the book using a flatbed scanner.
Today there are many ways for students to access books without the need to scan
a single page. The choices that you make will often depend on the availability
of the book and the service that you are a member of. To begin the process you
will have to decide whether you want to have your audio book to be read by a
human reader or read using synthesized text to speech. Next you will have to
weigh how important it is for you to be able to access the audible book on a
portable device like an MP3 player or on a your personal computer. Once you
have made some of these decisions you can begin to sort out the various
services to access your novels and textbooks.

for the Blind and Dyslexic, which happens to be located in Princeton, NJ has
one of the largest holdings of chapter books as well as textbooks which are all
recorded by human readers in their recording studios. Each book is recorded and
supplied to students on a CD in their AudioPlus format which can be played on a
specialized CD player which is available from RFB&D or can be played on a
personal computer with the appropriate software application. When playing the
audible book on the computer or specialized CD player, students can quickly
navigate to a page in the book and can change the pitch and rate of the reading
speed. Students with reading disabilities can follow along in their book as the
book is being read- which is highly suggested. RFB&D recently instituted
AudioAccess, which allows RFB&D members to download audio textbooks and
literature directly to a Windows®-compatible computer. AudioAccess books
are easy to use and can also be played on a Windows based MP3 player making
this a truly portable alternative.

Effective August 2006, legislation was passed by Congress
that would require textbook publishers to provide their current textbooks with
a copyright of 2006 or greater in a standardized National Instructional
Materials Accessibility  Format (NIMAS).
The NIMAS format which was jointly developed by a consortium of textbook
publishers and the Center for Applied Special Technology would allow students
to have a range of accessible audio textbooks. Last year, Bookshare was awarded
a large grant from the US Department of Education to provide accessible books
utilizing text to speech technology. Bookshare has a large selection of the
NIMAS formatted textbooks available and ships free reader software with each
subscription. Bookshare is now a free service to schools and gives students
with I.E.P.’s and who have a “print disability” as defined on the Bookshare web
site with access to their books and free reading software. School districts can
sign up for institutional accounts and certify that the students who are
included on the roster have a “print disability.” Once  the account is processed students can gain
access to downloading their chapter books and textbooks from the Bookshare
website. Students can have access to VictorReader Soft or Read:Outloud
Bookshare Edition to access the NIMAS formatted books. Students using the
Bookshare service need to be comfortable listening to text to speech. There are
many different speech engines available
and students should preview them to determine which one is the most
understandable for them.

has certainly received a great deal of media interest in their latest reader
called the Kindle 2 which was recently released. At just 10 ounces and a 6 inch
diagonal screen the Kindle 2 can store over 1,500 books which are available
from the vast Amazon.com library. With the new text-to-speech feature, Kindle
can read every newspaper, magazine, blog, and book out loud to you, unless the
book is disabled by the rights holder. The text-to-speech feature is very well
integrated into the Kindle and the quality of the voice is quite good. The
Kindle 2 really opens up access to those students with reading disabilities
with an elegant and easy to use device. With an Amazon.com account, books are
easily downloaded to the Kindle over the free 3G network for which there is no
charge. The Kindle 2 gives students access to the latest bestsellers using high
quality text to speech technology. Just last week Amazon announced the release
of the Kindle DX which they are piloting with select colleges. The Kindle DX
has a larger format and is intended to be used to access newspapers and
textbooks. Amazon will be testing out how college students can use this
technology to access their textbooks. With the cost of college textbooks and
the merging of this technology- it is clear that someday soon, all students
will access their textbooks utilizing Kindle based technology of one sort or

Finally, for some students who need to be truly engaged in
the reading experience there is none better than having access to Audible.com.
Audible.com gives students access to a wide range of novels, chapter books ,
and bestsellers which are all professionally narrated and can be played on an
iPod. This is a very engaging medium and having the portability of your books
on your iPod is very appealing. With an Audible.com account books are simply
downloaded to your computer and transferred to your iTunes library for easy
transfer to your iPod. This is certainly a viable alternative to making text
more accessible.

a couple of weeks ago Intel announced the Intel Reader which is a small
portable device (1.4 pounds) with a camera with built in optical character
recognition (OCR) and text to speech support. It is hard to imagine all of the
technology that is built into this device that can be used to quickly OCR a
document and have it read almost instantaneously. At a price point of $1500
dollars the Intel Reader is moderately priced for such an assistive technology
system. The Intel Reader can also be purchased with a Portable Capture Station
making it relatively fast for the student to capture the pages. The Intel
Reader has a 5 megapixel camera with a built-in flash that can quickly process
the pages and begin to read even before the entire text is converted. From all
reports the text to speech engine is pretty good and the user can make
adjustments to the speed at which the text is read. By all accounts the Intel
Reader is a technological marvel for students with reading disabilities that
need to have access to a portable tool to convert the text.

As you see a lot has changed as advances in mainstream
technology have taken a foothold in
making text more accessible for students with reading disabilities.
Certainly there are pluses and minuses with each of the technologies and it is important
to weigh them before committing to one solution or another. In certain
instances you may need to rely on several of the aforementioned solutions as
part of your assistive technology reading toolkit. If you have questions about
these technologies please consult with your child’s Child Study Team who can
help guide you through the decision making process.

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2 Responses to “What’s in Your Assistive Technology Reading Toolkit?”

  1. google on September 2nd, 2011

    I liked your article is an interesting technology
    thanks to google I found you

  2. Ora Statires on July 17th, 2012

    Great info. I am fortunate I discovered your site by chance. I’ve book marked it for later!


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