Learning Disabilities and Assistive Technologies Guide: Chapter 3 - Reading

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Problem: Individuals with reading learning disabilities have difficulty with the task of reading individual words, sentences, and/or paragraphs and with understanding what they read. This difficulty stems from an inability to decode words (associate sounds with letters), track words and sentences on a page, comprehend the written information, keep thoughts and images organized, and/or generalize the information to previous knowledge. This deficit may stem from problems with visual processing or auditory processing.

In order to effectively use assistive technology for persons with a reading disability it is imperative to understand where the difficulties arise. Does the person have trouble with visually seeing the difference between a “’b” and a “d” or loses her place frequently while reading. This may indicate a visual processing difficulty. Does the person have trouble associating the correct sounds with letters or letter blends or not understand text even when read aloud? This may indicate auditory processing difficulties. The tools needed to compensate for these are different. A person able to understand text read aloud can use screen readers or text to speech software to read text. A person who can’t process the information even if read aloud may be able to benefit from tools that present information in a more graphic manner. Successful use of assistive devices depends on pairing appropriate lower tech tools, hardware or software with the individual based on deficits and training the individual to use the AT in real life situations.

The individual with reading difficulties may do one or more of the following:

☐ Read slowly and deliberately with no fluency;

☐ Appear to re-read or read very slowly, when reading silently;

☐ Reread or skips lines in oral reading;

☐ Have trouble reading signs, notes, forms, want ads, etc.;

☐ Substitute, omit, and/or transpose letters, words, syllables, and phrases;

☐ Lose place on page;

☐ Skip lines, words, letters, and numbers;

☐ Have poor comprehension of written materials;

☐ Guess at unknown words and thus compromise comprehension;

☐ Have trouble sounding out unknown words

☐ Have decoding problems (difficulty with sounds/symbol relationships; problems discriminating between sounds and between certain letters (e.g., bs and ds, ps and qs; frequent reversal of letters and numbers; difficulty blending sounds together to form a word) ;

☐ Have difficulty with basic skills assessments;

☐ Have problems keeping place in test answer sheets;

☐ Have difficulty tracking from test booklet to answer sheet.

Many of the first assistive devices were developed for individuals with visual impairments, but these tools have been found to be very effective for people with reading disabilities and have since been adapted for persons with learning disabilities.

Light Tech, Mid-tech & High Tech:

Technology both light, mid-tech and high tech can:

  • read any text printed on the computer screen to the user;
  • convert printed text from a paper or a book using a scanner into editable text so a screen reader can read aloud on a computer or be converted to wav files for use in an MP3 or similar player; text can be read aloud and highlighted as its being read to help with tracking
  • provide auditory access to printed materials through tapes, CD-ROMs, DVDs, portable readers/players, and special internet services;
  • format text to be easier for a user to see such as increasing size of text, pairing use of graphics with text, changing background and font color, changing to a more readable font, or using highlighting to emphasize certain text.
  • give pronunciations and definitions for words using portable spell checkers, auditory dictionaries and thesauruses on the computer or reading pens
  • provide materials through videotape, DVD or videodisc
  • pair text with graphics such as rebus symbols or picture communication symbols for users who can interpret pictures but not the printed word;
  • help a user keep his/her place on the page, use transparent overlays to change background color of a page, or magnify a line of text for easier reading

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