What is dyslexia and how can technology help with its symptoms?
You will almost certainly have heard of dyslexia, a common learning difficulty which makes reading and writing more challenging without affecting its sufferer’s intelligence. People who suffer from dyslexia often have the capacity to verbalise their thoughts but struggle getting them down on paper.
But can tech help? In a world where you can access a therapist via an app, or conference call 16 people on Snapchat, the ever-burgeoning realms of technology must be able to offer some kind of alleviation. Well, it can; we’ve explored the myriad ways in which technology can help with the symtoms of dyslexia, from software and hardware to YouTube gurus. Read on to find out how…
What is dyslexia?
In the UK, around one in ten people suffer from dyslexia – that’s around six million people. Of this six million, 4% are estimated to have a severe form of dyslexia. In America, around 40 million people are estimated to be dyslexic. Many successful people have struggled with dyslexia, including Walt Disney and Sir Richard Branson
Signs of dyslexia normally become apparent during school years, when children are beginning to learn to read and write. Signs of dyslexia include struggling to read and write, confusing the order of letters in words, and writing letters down the wrong way round (“b” in the place of “d” and so on).
Other signs are more organisationally-oriented; for example, people with dyslexia may find it hard to carry out a sequence of directions or may find planning and organisation difficult.
Dyslexia tests and traditional treatment
If you have a child with dyslexia, the NHS recommends speaking to their school’s special needs coordinator (SENCO) first up. They may be able to offer additional scholastic and pastoral support. If the child needs extra assistance, it might be an appropriate for you to contact a specialist dyslexia teacher or an educational psychologist.
If you’re an adult who wishes to be assessed for dyslexia, you can contact a local or national dyslexia association for advice. Dyslexia Associations on both of these levels coordinate meetings with speakers, workshops and courses designed for sufferers.
Dyslexia: Can technology help?
Tech has proven pivotal in the healthcare industry, from lupus to dementia, and that assistive role certainly extends to dyslexia. The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) has formed the New Technologies Committee (NCT), an organisation concerned with aspects of tech that can assist dyslexic people – known as assistive technology.
The below video provides further insight into the ways in which assistive technology can ease the routine problems dyslexics face:
The NCT does note, however, that while products and technologies mentioned have been found to help some dyslexic people, preferred methods of technological assistance will vary wildly. Below, we investigate the myriad assistive technologies available to dyslexic people, a substantial resource pool that’s growing by the day.
First up, there’s an abundance of hardware that serves to streamline everyday tasks for dyslexic users. Desktop computers, laptops, tablets and eReaders all provide assistance to people who find it difficult to read and write. These devices help insofar as they provide a patient, multisensory environment in which dyslexic learners can work at their own pace in an accessible and unthreatening context.
Many of these technologies, for example, permit people to enlarge text, change its colour, and to insert double spacing to make for clearer reading. In addition, being able to toy around with fonts is an asset, as plain, accessible fonts like Arial or Comic Sans can make a real difference for dyslexic people.
My Computer, My Way provides step by step instructions on how to change computer settings to suit your needs.
There’s a roster of apps available to help people with dyslexia, in addition to parents of dyslexic people and professionals who work with them. Many of these apps are designed to aid the cognitive processes of reading, writing, and spelling – the main areas in which dyslexic people struggle.
Ghotit Real Writer is a brilliant app designed to assist dyslexic people with writing and text correction. The app features phonetic and context-sensitive spell checker, acts as an effective proofreader, and offers word prediction with grammar and phonetics awareness. At £99.99 it’s certainly an investment, but there’s an extensive array of features which serve to streamline the oft-frustrating writing process. Definitely one to consider if you live in a household with multiple dyslexics.
If the above is a little too multifaceted for you, and you’re looking for quickfire help, look no further than the Easy Spelling Aid app. This software is designed with lucidity in mind; simply touch the microphone button, say a word or phrase that you find problematic, and the correct spelling will appear, displayed in your chosen font. The app won the Academics’ Choice Smart Media Award for Mind-Building Excellence – and it’s not hard to see why. The software is sensitive to a variety of accents and has the capacity to recognise children’s voices.
And from voice-to-text apps to text-to-voice ones; invert Easy Spelling Aid and you’ve got Voice Dream Reader, an app that lets you “read with your ears”. The software reads out articles, documents and books alike, with an advanced text-to-speech capacity alongside multiple visual and auditory options that make the reading experience eminently customisable. Voice Dream Reader can be synced with Bookshare, Dropbox, and Google Drive, and even sports its own web browser that can cull particular passages of text from web pages and read them aloud.
With lots of learning nowadays going digital, it can be difficult to implement optical character recognition (OCR) on a PDF, which is essentially an image of a document. Apps like ClaroPDF recognise image text and read it aloud, making the text-to-speech process eminently somple. What’s more, it preserves the format of the original document – a handy feature which most OCR apps lack. There’s synchronised highlighting, ability to add audio and video notes, annotation tools, and Dropbox integration to boot. Just £6.99 on the App Store.
For those whose dyslexia means they want to focus on visual learning, Inspiration Maps is a fantastic app for both iPhone and iPad that allows users to build diagrams and learning graphics with ease. It’s great for dyslexics who tend to visualise their thoughts but who have trouble writing them down, as its brainstorming tool RapidFire(R) allows users to capture and record their ideas quickly, ensuring great ideas aren’t lost.
This is an unconventional one, and it certainly won’t be for everyone. But the internet is heaving with people ready to share their stories, issues, and coping mechanisms with others, and this can constitute a well of comfort for many. YouTube is a fantastic resource if you’re seeking out mentors or kindred spirits who have struggled with dyslexia, like reading enthusiast abookutopia, who shares her dyslexia story in the below video:
If those sorts of ‘storytime’ videos are too mawkish for you, then TEDx talks has a number of engaging alternatives. From Dean Bragonier’s ‘The True Gifts of a Dyslexic’ to 17-year-old Jessica Collins’ ‘Dyslexia – Dispelling Myths’, there’s an array of empathetic, empowering and illuminating video content that will provide useful for dyslexic people, their friends, families, and teachers, who are getting to grips with the pervasive learning difficulty.