Supporting Online Reading Using Assistive Technology
Assistive Technology for Reading
Access to information is a fundamental right; however, individuals with diverse needs may have difficulties accessing online reading materials when not designed properly. Difficulties with reading can stem from needs such as learning disabilities (LD) and in some cases, distracting elements on digital platforms can impede a student’s ability to focus on the content. Learners with LD, such as dyslexia, may have difficulties decoding words which slows down the reading process and impedes comprehension. Learners with visual impairments may also encounter barriers when accessing online content, only in written formats without alternatives (e.g., auditory information).
As an instructional framework, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can assist educators in identifying learner variability in the area of reading, thus providing data that further guides the selection of Assistive Technology (AT) for students with diverse learning needs. For example, UDL encourages providing multiple options for presenting information. Many general AT tools can support UDL implementation in this aspect, such as Text-to-Speech, Note-Taking, Text Magnifiers, and Live Transcribe. In this blog, we continue our conversations around using AT to address learner variability, with a focus on AT tools for reading. Interested readers can check our previous blogs about AT decision making, key questions asked when considering AT, data tools for AT selection, and AT tools for writing.
AT to Reduce Reading Barriers
One example of an AT tool that can support reading is Immersive Reader. This free tool can be used in many applications and allows students who may have text or comprehension-related disabilities to access the materials on Learning Management Systems such as Canvas. If a learner struggles to decode a word, for example, Immersive Reader has a feature that can “break it into syllables.” If a learner is not able to visually read the text, the “read aloud” feature of Immersive Reader can benefit them. Another example of how this AT tool can support reading is using the ability to turn off distracting images or text (visual crowding), which can simplify the reading task and improve reading speed.
Considerations for Teacher Preparation
A significant component of having a program designed based on UDL is offering multiple means of representation. Tools such as Immersive Reader offer the ability to increase modalities of representation which means access to the knowledge without the student having to request special accommodations. One strategy to ensure that all students are aware of accessibility tools is to refer to the option in the syllabus and reference its use as a question on the syllabus quiz. Instructors can also model the use of AT tools available to students during the first class session. By modeling this behavior and making accessibility a priority in teacher preparation programs, pre-service teachers can replicate this practice when they enter the profession. For more information about Immersive Reader and the integration into Canvas, check out this article. For more AT tools for reading, visit the AT HIVE.
Keep the Conversation Going
What other applications or tools do you use to support accessibility in reading? How do you ensure your students are aware of the availability of these supports? Join the CIDDL community and keep the conversation going! Keep an eye out for the rest of our AT Blog series.