The Gadgets: Hardware & Software

Assistive Technology Systems that Make Writing by Speaking and Reading by Listening What It is Today


The first Aural Reading system was one person reading print for another person (user) who could not decode print visually for themselves, but because of the efforts of a few visionaries, the opportunities for persons with print disabilities were to go far beyond one person reading to another. In 1948, Anne T. Macdonald, a member of a women's Auxiliary, responded to World War II combat vets who had lost their sight and could not go to college under the GI Bill because they could not read the books visually. Her efforts started with recording text onto primitive devices (wax cylinders) that would only hold a few minutes of reading and led to "Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic" (now Learning Ally) where now virtually all textbooks are available in downloadable audio format. Todays audio book players will hold 15 to 20+ books plus podcasts, songs, personal recordings, and text files that use text-to-speech for Aural Reading. We now have an explosion of devices and audio content for those special devices and for regular devices that let us download and play books and other content aurally.

In 1974, Ray Kurzweil started working on assistive technology devices that resulted in the CCD flatbed scanner and text-to-speech technology. His first reading machine covered the top of a desk. It was large and slow, but it took print from paper and turned it into spoken text. Today, scanners are everywhere, and that reading machine now fits on a cell phone and scans, saves, and speaks print from text by snapping a picture. After 20 to 30 seconds, voila, a full page of text is ready for Aural Reading from the palm of your hand. And now the hottest devices can perform this same reading with a built in screen reader plus a free download of an OCR app, like Mobile OCR, so you can snap a picture of text wait about a minute and see this text displayed on the screen ready to be read with VoiceOver. Many of our other modern devices come with voice output (GPSs, voting booths, Kindles etc.).

For writing, we have voice recognition like Apple's Dictation that is built into all iOS devices and all Mac computers, letting us speak and have our sentences typed instantly. We have the screen readers to give audio feedback for spelling attempts, for reading, and for proof reading what we have written.

While "a rising tide raises all ships," the tide of technology can dramatically change the fate of persons with dyslexia, pulling them from the darkness of slow inadequate visual reading and sweeping them to the top of a wave alongside their peers. These new technologies that make Aural Reading and Writing possible mean that anyone who can understand spoken language can independently "read" that same language when it is in print. Anyone who can speak to tell a story, to answer a question, or to explain how to do a job or how to solve a problem can also produce a written document giving that same information. With our current technology, persons who in the past were limited by a print disability can now be empowered to rapidly and effortlessly make full use of print for working, playing, reading, and writing.

However, to take advantage of these opportunities students and others need to learn how to use the specific tools that let them throw off the chains caused by slow labored visual reading and do rapid effortless Aural Reading. This section of Aural Reading and Dyslexia will tell about those assistive technology tools (gadgets) that let persons read at 250 to 350+ words per minute with good comprehension and write using audio feedback from a screen reader or by using a voice recognition program that lets users speak fast (100 to170+ words per minute) and see their sentences typed.