5 Free Ways To Make Reading Easier

Magnifier on an iDevice

Use your iDevice to help read small labels on medicine bottles or a menu in a dark restaurant.

Text to Speech Feature

Use your phone to read words aloud.

Google Docs Read Aloud

Read aloud text in a Google Document from a computer.

Microsoft Read Aloud

Enable a feature to use your computer to read aloud a Microsoft Word document.

BookShare

Access free digital books if you are a US Student with a documented print disability.

1) Magnifier on an iDevice

Do you find it frustrating to try to read a medicine label or a menu in a dark restaurant? I sure do! I was so pleased a while back when I discovered that I could use my iPhone or iPad as a magnifier.

When enabled, this feature allows us to magnify items in the environment. It uses the device’s camera. Just triple click the home button or select the magnification icon in the control center if you set it up that way. Hold your phone so that the camera is pointed toward the item you need to make larger. Tap the freeze frame button in the bottom center of the screen which is the same button you’d use to take a picture with the camera. Finally, drag the magnification slider back and forth to zoom in and out on the image.

This feature is often confused with the “zoom” feature which increases the size of text or an image that is already on the screen of the device. We may use the zoom feature when looking at pictures in a photo album or on the screen. The magnification features makes it easier for us to see items in the environment that are not already in our device.

To enable the feature using the iOS 13 operating system, go to Settings > Accessibility > Magnifier. I suggest turning on (enabling) both the magnifier as well as the auto-adjust exposure features.

If you are using an Android phone, there are a few magnifier apps available for download. 

 

2) Text to Speech Feature

If you have a Smartphone such as an iPhone that uses the iOS operating system or a Samsung Galaxy phone that runs on an Android operating system, chances are that you can make it read aloud for you! Your particular phone may look a bit different, depending on the operating system you are using.

If you have an iPhone, you have two options for setting up the text to speech feature: Speak Selection or Speak Screen. You can find those choices under the settings of the phone. Settings > Accessibility > Spoken Content. Once you have enabled them go ahead and listen to the rate and voice to make sure you can comfortably understand the words that are read aloud.

  • With Speak Selection, select the text with the blue selectors then tap to speak.
  • For Speak Screen, swipe down from the top of the screen with two fingers to hear everything read aloud that is on the screen.

If you have an Android phone, make sure that you have the “Google text-to-speech” app installed. Go to Settings > Accessibility and look for “select to speak.” This selection may be in a different location depending on your phone. Tap the speech bubble icon on the screen and drag your finger to select text or tap an item to hear it read out loud.

 3) Google Docs Read Aloud

Are you familiar with the Google Docs App?  If you haven’t looked at it in a while, it’s worth another try. The features that it offers are amazing! It is free and is compatible with all operating systems.

Have you ever worked on typing up a document for hours then lost all the hard work because you neglected to save it? That doesn’t happen anymore when you use a product like Google Docs that automatically saves every few seconds. The document can also be accessed from any device that is online when you sign in to your account. Think of all the documents you can have instant access to just when you need it! A Google document can also be shared with others for real-time collaboration. 

There are several ways to have Google docs read aloud. One of my favorite tools is the Read and Write for Google Chrome extension. A “Chrome extension” is a mini-program that will run while in Chrome when you are on a computer. The voices used are less robotic sounding than they used to be. I often suggest to the families that I help that they try using a Google Chrome extensions to highlight the words as the reader listens to the computer read the the words out loud. It’s a real game-changer for individuals with dyslexia and visual challenges. The voice is very natural sounding and the speed can dual highlighting can be configured to meet a person’s need and preferences. The premium version offers helpful study tools and additional features and is free for 30 days to anyone. Teachers are able to obtain a premium version at no cost. I appreciate the good quality voices as well as the dual highlighting. More information about this product can be found at https://www.texthelp.com/en-us/products/read-write/.

4) Microsoft Read Aloud 

Would you like to learn how to use your computer to read aloud text on a Microsoft Word document? If so, I’m glad you are here. Microsoft has made fantastic improvements when it comes to accessibility for neurodiverse learners. Immersive reader is a free tool that can be used to improve comprehension and encourage independence with reading.

Whether you are on a PC or a Mac, you can benefit from Immersive reader when using Microsoft OneNote, Microsoft Word, and Outlook. To view a video tutorial about how to get started with Immersive Reader, click here. If you’d like to learn more about using the new Microsoft Edge browser to read PDFs aloud, click here

5) BookShare

Do you know of a student or adult who struggles to read books with a documented print disability such as dyslexia, low vision, cerebral palsy, or another condition that may present a qualifying barrier to reading? There is a fantastic free resource available for families as well as schools to provide hundreds of thousands of digital books called Bookshare. Teachers, tutors, therapists and families work hard  to help students learn to read better, but in the meantime, they need to be provided with a way to read to learn – with their ears if not exclusively their eyes. We need to help students from falling further and further behind in school, especially as they enter 4th and 5th grade when reading demands significantly increase. Unfortunately, many educators and parents are unaware of this incredible resource or haven’t taken the time to register for an account. 

Adults with print disabilities can also access this resource for an annual fee of $50.00

Research has shown that if readers view the words as they are read aloud and highlighted, reading skills can improve. Readers can customize the view, select a preferred voice, read in braille, add boomarks and notes, take advantage of 3rd party apps and study tools and follow along with word-level highlighting. There may be some textbooks that only schools can access using an organization account. 

To access Bookshare, you don’t need any special equipment. Just a computer or mobile device. There are some fantastic apps that will read the books aloud, but they aren’t free. My top pick for most of the individuals I help is Voice Dream Reader. It works on many types of mobile devices and offers a variety of fantastic features. 

In order to listen to Bookshare books read aloud while seeing the print, users can use the Chrome or Safari browser on a computer. Once the user logs in and selects the book, rather than downloading the book, he or she selects “read now” to read the book aloud in the Bookshare Web Reader. Word and sentence level highlighting is synchronized with built-in audio. Font and text size and background themes can be customized for the reader. Learn more here.

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