The space for tools that provide the ear reading ability is a crucial one. Making these tools effective and easy to use is crucial. I am always hesitant when new tools come into the accessibility landscape, for it must prove to better than its predecessors for me to change what I introduce to my students.
This past summer, this tool named Speechify came across my path claiming to make listening to print easy. I engaged with others to try to clarify what this could do that I already couldn’t do, but was hardly swayed. I did download it but found the interface unclear for usage. Then this fall at the International Dyslexia Association Annual Conference, I was able to meet and learn more about the tools from it’s developer, Cliff Weitzman. Cliff is a graduate of Brown University and a dyslexic. To manage all the reading he had to access at Brown, he developed this tool that could take screen shots of multiple pages and turn it into its on audiobook. Upon graduating from Brown, Cliff realized that this tool could help so many others, so has brought it to the public. It took hearing him talking about this process and truly demonstrating Speechify, that sold me as to its power.
Speechify works within iOS, Macs and Chrome, with a free and paid level. It utilizes natural voices (high quality voices at paid level) and gives the user the ability to pause, skip and even adjust the speed of the read back within the tool. The speed adjustment is key for regular ear readers can train themselves to listen at increase speeds over time that can become equal to the rates at which eye reading happens for those who can access print without support. On a laptop, one can select text through highlighting or screen shots, and it automatically gets read. On an iOS device, you can take pictures of the text and the app processes it into its own audiobook. Files on a laptop can be sent to an iOS devices for listening in the go (paid level)
While Cliff first set up to address the challenges of being dyslexic, this tool can truly be of assistance to many. For those who have a lot to read and are always on the go, for those who have long commutes and want to make use of that time to digest information, or for those who do better comprehension through audio rather that visual content, Speechify is worth a try. Speechify YouTube
(Side-note: I have run into a challenge with this app while in my building, but not at home. I am hopeful we can figure out why there seems to be such an issue for I see this tool as beneficial to my students. This does not impact my admiration for Speechify, just disclosing challenges in case anyone else runs into the same issue. I am assuming it is a firewall issue.)
This app is ideal for students with language based learning disabilities. It provides access to books with visual and auditory supports, while provided tools to annotate, take notes, and customize the reading experience. It integrates seamlessly with Bookshare, a service that provides free books to those identified with learning disabilities.
“Voice Dream Reader is by far the most feature rich mobile TTS reader. Best of all, the features are organized in an uncluttered, intuitive, highly usable way, so that what you need is always at your finger tips. All features are fully accessible with VoiceOver.”
Every time I demo this app to students (and parents) it’s the “ah ha!” moment of why this app is worth its cost. Claro has been known for their assistive technology for some time, and this app is simple and wonderful in meeting the needs of LD learners. The app utilizes the iPad camera to take a screen shot of printed text and the text appears on the screen all ready to be read to the user. This is a home run for providing students with independence in accessing printed text all with the touch of one button.
Newsela is a site to access non-fiction stories and current events for a range of student ages, while being able to easily have the same content differentiated for reading level by teacher and student. Newsela is free and articles can be printed, while there is a premium paid subscription to access more features. Most articles also have common-core aligned quiz questions and writing prompts. On an iPad, Newsela can be accessed through Safari, or by using their app.
Front Row has free and premium levels of adaptive practice in reading and math. For reading, each student initially completes a diagnostic that provides an informal level at which the student is comprehending independently. Then, as the student selects articles, the content is automatically leveled for them. If a teacher assigns content, the teacher can select the reading level. There are quiz questions and writing assignments to correspond with the articles. Articles can be selected by interest, anchor skills, and genres. With paid features, teachers can get more information within the reporting. Additionally, there is a Word Study feature that begins with a diagnostic to place the student as they then work through skills. This is a newer area and does not provide the teacher with information about strengths and weaknesses. On an iPad, Front Row can be accessed through Safari, or by using their app. What I love about this is the enticement to earn the coins, it takes a significant amount of work to get the “Piggy Store” to open, and there is a time limit for how long the student has access to the store with each visit.