Reading and Assistive Technology
The importance of reading cannot be overstated. It underpins access to education, ‘if you can read, you can learn anything’.
Even though it is a skill that we have been learning in our masses since the popularisation of printing it is a skill that does not come naturally to everyone.
Globally 14% of the world’s population cannot read or write. In the UK, the National Literacy Trust reports that 1 in 5 children leave primary school unable to read or write properly.
Technology can support reading skills in many ways.
Firstly, there are the obvious ways that assistive technologies (such as text to speech) can support the skill-based challenges associated with reading. These challenges are sounding out words, developing fluency and developing comprehension.
Secondly, technology can help to develop an interest and motivation to read. There are many ways that this is achieved but one way is simply by providing a variety of platforms on which a person can access and read a book. In doing so, truth can be found in Serafini’s statement that ‘there is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book.’ For many people who are reluctant readers, the right book is an e-reader or an iPad.
Assistive technologies on electronic readers can create an immersive environment where you can read and listen to the words simultaneously alongside real-time highlighting of the text. This follow along captures and prolongs attention spans and of course improves fluency and comprehension of the text.
E-readers also provide the potent alchemy of
- Shorter length sentences
- More white space
- Adjustable font size
This combination can simplify the reading process not just for people with dyslexia but for others who struggle to read. The consequence is that people are likely to spend more time reading. Generally, increased time spent on reading will result in increased skill levels.
The connection of reading devices to the internet offers an additional way that technology can stimulate interest in reading. The internet offers access to a community of readers which in turn can promote awareness of a particular book and by extension interest in reading.
Goodreads is a well-known online site that does this. Its tag is ‘Meet your next favourite book’. There is provision on this site for book reviews, to log the books that you have read and generally to converse about the world of characters in novels that you are reading or want to read.
Digitalbooktalk offers something similar. It has been described as ‘trailers for books’. You can watch short videos recommending popular books and you can submit your own.
The National Literacy Trust’s 2020 survey indicated that 53% of children enjoy reading ‘very much’ or ‘quite a lot’. One of the reasons that children may not enjoy books is because their reading skills are limited and thus too is the type of story they can access. When a child falls behind their peers they may be stuck with rudimentary texts which are unlikely to invoke interest or excitement, whilst their peers have gone on to read fantastical tales of wizards and zombies and never-ending beanstalks.
A child may fall behind if they fail to grasp phonics, the association of the correct sound(s) with the correct letter(s). Synthetic phonics is by far the most widely used approach to teach reading and writing. A child is taught to produce each individual sound in a word and then blend them together to sound out the word. For some this connection becomes an easy automatic process. For others the recollection remains fragmented or delayed and it must be practised again and again and again. Fortunately, there are many apps which can help a child (or adult) to do this.
Once a person accomplishes the basic skills of reading: sounding out words, fluency, and comprehension, they are on their way to becoming an independent reader. For some, this will only be possible with the use of technology.
The inclusion of technology in our personal and professional lives is widespread. Sometimes it may feel intrusive and extraneous but assistive technologies for reading is one area where technology can actually be essential for some.