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Using Text-to-Speech to Unlock Reading Barriers

October is Learning Disabilities (LD) Awareness Month, which means it is time to recognize individuals with learning disabilities and the educators who support learning differences. Since 1985, this month is used by organizations such as the National Center for Learning Disabilities and the Learning Disabilities Association of America, to educate the public about those with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.  Students with a learning disability that affects reading abilities may benefit from using accessible books. Students in Virginia who qualify may obtain accessible books and curriculum materials through the Virginia’s Department of Education’s (VDOE) AIM-VA.

Accessible Books are books that have been legally produced in an alternate format such as digital text, audio, or large print that allows usability when print is a barrier for learning. Paired with technology, these alternate formats provide assistance with unlocking reading barriers such as decoding, comprehension, reading fluency, and vocabulary development. AIM-VA works with individual public schools and commonwealth divisions to assist with matching formats to meet students' needs. Depending on the needs and preferences, selected features that can be used with accessible books include text-to-speech, dictionary or glossary, highlighting, copying and pasting, homophone tool, and text simplification, to name a few.

Research Supports Text-to-Speech Learning Technologies: Information for Teachers, “Text-to-Speech: What the research says,” (2016) reviewed a number of studies using accessible book tools in the classroom. One of the many features that accessible books offer is text-to-speech. Text-to-speech provides bimodal presentation of both visual and aural text. Seeing and hearing the text at the same time allows students to focus on comprehension instead of sounding out words, as well as, improving word recognition. Software programs such as Don Johnston’s Read: OutLoud, highlight the words as they are being read with voice synthesized speech. Students can modify the font size, voice settings, speech rate, and style the text is presented. Read: OutLoud has the options of cutting and pasting notes and an online dictionary. Hasselbring and Bausch state in an article in Education Leadership that text to speech empowers struggling readers to read and work independently at their grade level, as well as strengthen literacy skills. Reach out to AIM-VA for training and assistance with meeting your student’s reading needs with accessible books.

 For more information about accessible instructional materials (AIM) in Virginia, visit the AIM-VA home page. In other states, contact a special education teacher or school administrator to learn about eligibility and mention the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Follow AIM-VA on Facebook ..External Link to Facebook (New Window)Pinterest ..External Link to Pinterest (New Window), and Twitter at @AIMVirginia. Subscribe to AIM-VA's new monthly newsletter. Sign up here.