The Best Assistive Technology for Dyslexics

Whether you’re grappling with homework or just trying to get things done, these tools will help your tech adapt to you—instead of the other way around.

My daughter is part of the 15–20 percent of students and adults living with a language-based learning disability. According to the International Dyslexia Association, these individuals have some or all of the symptoms of dyslexia, including slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing, or mixing up similar words and numbers.

Once we diagnosed her dyslexia, I understood she needed the help of assistive technology to learn at a rate on par with her classmates, but I wasn’t sure where to start. In honor of Dyslexia Awareness Month this October, I reached out to several assistive technology experts to find out what technology they recommend for facilitating and improving reading, writing, spelling, and math.

Here’s what Jamie Martin, Assistive Technology Specialist at the New England Assistive Technology Center and Karen Janowski, Assistive & Educational Technology Consultant at EdTech Solutions and co-author of Inclusive Technology 365 recommend. Although Janowski offers one caveat:

“Keep in mind there are pros and cons to all assistive technology and there isn’t one miracle app, You may have to try a few before you find the best solution for you or your child.”

Reading
Man reading on couch with dogs
Photograph: Getty Images
Voice Dream Reader

IOS, Android

Both experts recommend Voice Dream Reader as the best app in the text-to-speech space. “It’s like a Kindle app for your mobile device. You can highlight, take notes, and sync with Google drive, Safari, email, DropBox, and other reading services,” says Martin.

You can change the fonts, colors, and line spacing, making small text far less intimidating for people with dyslexia. You can also use Voice Dream Scanner to scan text into the app and read it aloud.

You may be able to get the school to buy the app for you, or you can access it for $20 with the choice of in-app purchases.

Learning Ally

Web, IOS, Android

What began as Recording for the Blind to help blinded soldiers after World War II is now a comprehensive library of more than 80,000 audiobooks designed for anyone with learning differences or visual impairments.

“It’s a fantastic service where you can follow along with the text as you’re listening, which is important for kids with dyslexia,” says Martin. A human voice reads the text, which some kids find easier to listen to than a computer-generated one.

Ask your school’s special education coordinator to provide you with a free membership. If your school doesn’t offer one, you can buy the service for $11.25/month.

Bookshare

Web

Bookshare is a government-funded program that provides free access to electronic or ebook text and digital texts to people and students with disabilities. It’s free for anyone K through 12 in the United States, and adults can buy access for $50/year.

Because Bookshare operates under a copyright exemption, you have to show a Proof of Disability (POD) form or documentation from the school.

Martin recommends Bookshare based on its extensive library, including many textbooks kids need for school. But, it’s only digital text, so you’ll have to use a text-to-speech tool to read the text out loud. Bookshare links to several reading tools, including Dolphin Easy Reader, Speech Central, Capti Voice, and Voice Dream Reader.

Speechify

IOS, Chrome, Desktop

Speechify also deserves an honorable mention. It’s a well-designed app for students and adults alike, and it’s free with in-app purchases. You can scan a book, import a PDF, download from Google Drive, and sync across all your devices. Janowski says her 31-year-old dyslexic son swears by the app.

Apple or Android Device Settings

Check the settings on your Apple or Android device. By default, the text to speech option is turned off.

For Apple devices, go to Settings, select Accessibility, then Spoken Content to turn text to speech on.

For Android, go to Settings, select Accessibility, then text-to-speech output.

Digital Scanning Pens

C-Pen Reader, Scanmarker Air, Ectaco C-Pen

Also called reading pens, these tools use optical character recognition software to capture text and send it to your computer or mobile device. Use it as a highlighter to scan written material and then read or manipulate it digitally. Some pens will read the text out loud as you’re scanning.

Reading pens are particularly helpful for reading handwritten material not available through programs like Bookshare or for mild dyslexics who struggle with multisyllabic words but don’t need all text read out loud.

Writing, Grammar, and Spelling
Woman working from home on sofa with laptop
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says half of the company’s employees may soon work remotely. Photograph: Getty Images

Because dyslexia is a language-based disorder, troubles with spelling, grammar, and expression of thought are also challenges people with dyslexia face.

“I always recommend two different tools for kids: speech to text and word prediction,” says Martin. “Luckily, the technology has come a long way and is no longer expensive. Built-in dictation tools on devices like phones, iPads, and Google Docs work incredibly well.”

The problem is that kids may not want to use speech to text in the classroom because it’s disruptive to other students, or they feel embarrassed to go out in the hall. They can use headphones, but teachers aren’t always keen on this option during class. Programs that help with word prediction, spelling correction, and grammatical formatting like these will help with digital writing.

Co:Writer

Web, IOS, Chrome Extension

From Facebook groups to experts, Co:Writer came up repeatedly as the best writing tool for people with dyslexia and others who struggle with handwriting or the expression of thought.

Janowski loves Co:Writer because you can build libraries of words based on what you’re writing about, or you can select from ones already available. For instance, you can select the Harry Potter library, and when you start typing H-o-g, Hogwarts will come up. The app also does a great job of recognizing phonetic misspelling, like blk for black or lfnt for elephant.

At $4.99/month for students, parents, or educators, the price tag is small. School districts can also buy a license for a large number of students and may be able to offer it free while your child is in school. Once you install the app or extension, it automatically syncs with Gmail, Google Docs, and many more.

Read & Write for Google Chrome

Chrome Extension

My daughter’s special education coordinator set Read & Write for Google Chrome up on her school account, so I’ve had a chance to see how it works in action. The extension uses tools like screen mask (only the line being read is visible), simplify (summarizing complex language), and talk and type for a speech to text option. My ten-year-old navigates it like a pro, and the fact that the school gave it to her is a big plus.

The basic extension is free, but the premium version includes support for Google Docs, specifically, multi-highlighting options for active reading, extracting highlights, a vocabulary chart, a regular and picture dictionary, and word prediction. According to Google, the premium version is free for teachers to explore and costs $99 for a yearly subscription for student accounts.

Grammarly

Web

Martin says Grammarly is a little more than most kids need, and it’s aimed at ages 13 and up, so keep that in mind. It’s a cloud-based program that integrates with Google Docs and has a plug-in for Microsoft Word. What’s great about Grammarly is it considers the context surrounding a word and can suggest changing something like your to you’re when necessary.

The app also makes suggestions to re-phrase wordy sentences and add transitional phrases that can improve your writing. However, the full range of features isn’t available on the free version. You’ll have to upgrade to premium for $29.95/month or $139.95/year.

Math
Ruler with kaleidoscope effect
Photograph: Getty Images

Not everyone with dyslexia struggles with math, so the options aren’t as vast as language-based apps. If your child struggles like mine, Martin and Janowski recommend the following.

Microsoft Math Solver

IOS, Android

This free app allows users to write a math problem on the screen or use their camera to snap a photo of the problem. The app then provides the answer and step-by-step instructions on how to come to the solution. Students can use the example as a guide for completing other problems.

It also links to interactive graphs and programs like Khan Academy for support videos.

Mod Math

IOS

The developers behind this app created it for their son, who has dyslexia and dysgraphia (a severe handwriting disorder.) The program provides students with virtual graph paper, and they can use a touchscreen keypad to solve math problems without using a pencil. They will have to type equations on a keyboard, so if they prefer dictation, this app might not be for them.

You can also save assignments in a searchable library. However, Mod Math is better for younger grades doing lower-level math. Mod Math is free but only available on Apple devices.

Math Learning Center

Website

Math Learning Center is a collection of apps targeted to students from pre-K to 5th grade. These apps support what’s taught in school and provide extra resources for parents, teachers, and children. All are available on the web, IOS, or Android operating systems and provide English and Spanish options.


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