Assistive technology

When the word “digital” is used in the library or literary world, one automatically thinks of e-books, apps, e-readers, etc. While I agree that all these technologies are vital and important, I am also interested in the assistive technologies that are currently available but not frequently discussed.

I recently hosted a program at the library on just this topic. The presentation was led by a local high school junior, Brian Meersma, who was diagnosed in third grade with dyslexia. Brian talked about the challenges and struggles that he and others deal with on a daily basis and how assistive technologies have made succeeding in school possible.

Several apps worth noting for those who struggle with reading are Google Voice SearchInstapaper, and vBooks PDF Voice Reader. Google Voice Search is useful for spelling unfamiliar words. It’s an extremely fast tool and unlike other Smartphone apps, this one speaks the spelling back to you. A unique way to optimize this app is to ask it “How do you spell…” It makes spelling a breeze.

Instapaper allows readers to save content from the web for later use. The app was recently updated to include a dyslexia friendly font on iPhones and iPads, and there is a similar application available for Android platforms, as well. VBook Voice Reader is an app for iPhones, iPod Touch and iPads that reads PDFs aloud using a text-to-speech format. This app has a lot in common with the interface of iBook.

While many of these apps seem too sophisticated for the pre-school set, there are many that are available for younger children. Alphabet Zoo is a free app that helps teach letter and sound pairings in a leveled game situation. Bob Books is another preschool friendly application that helps to develop early literacy skills by sounding out and reviewing very simple words in a bright, colorful game format. At a cost of $1.99, it’s worth the investment.

Two other applications that are noteworthy are Bugsy Pre-K and First Word Sampler. Bugsy Pre-K teaches essential pre-k skills such as colors, shapes, letter and number recognition. It strikes a perfect balance between learning and play and is nominally priced at $2.99. It is available for iPads and iPod Touch. First Word Sampler, is also great for toddlers and pre-schoolers. This is a free program that aides in building early language development skills.

There is a wonderful world of apps available for little or no cost that can assist struggling readers. Many have special wide range appeal for the littlest users who are just being introduced to technology. For more information on assistive technologies, please drop me an email at

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