Technology is making independent reading easier than ever for children and adults with special educational needs. Joan Tanenhaus looks at what’s availableIt’s a well-established fact that reading to young children is an excellent way to improve and enhance language development. For older children and young adults, reading is a source of information, independent learning and vocabulary development. As we get older, the benefits of reading continue to be powerful factors in our lives and include continued cognitive development, increased vocabulary and knowledge, stronger analytical thinking, improved focus and concentration, and enhanced writing and memory skills.
Cognitive, visual, motor and related disabilities sometimes make it difficult for children and adults with special needs to independently read. However, with current technology and educational resources, it is possible to read books in many new and different ways. Assisted reading and adapted books bring new literacy skills to many. The following are some ways to bring literacy to all through assisted reading and adapted books.
This clever and well-designed book reader can be used to read aloud any picture book. It is based on camera technology – place the back cover of a picture book under the clip. When you press the start button, the built-in camera scans the picture and then records the voice reading the page. While recording, you can even personalise the book by talking to the child, asking questions, making comments, etc. When the child returns to hear the book later, it will be read back in the reader ’s voice, and will read each page as the pages are turned.
If the child skips pages, so will Sparkup. For children with special needs, Sparkup is an easy to use device that provides accessibility to books that cannot be read independently. Good for both home and at school, the auditory-verbal stimulation encourages attention and focus. Sparkup contains up to four hours of audio and runs on three AA type batteries with up to 30 hours of playback. Stories can be backed up to your computer, using the included USB cable and pre-recorded books can be purchased. See the website for more information and video tutorials.
This can be used with a switch to read a book aloud. Any picture book can be used – just clip the back page to the back of Bookworm, place the stickers and record each page. For those with motor control, the story can be read back by manually turning the page and then pressing the touch pad.
For a child with motor difficulties, a switch can be used and each switch press will read aloud the next page, but the child will need a helper or peer to turn the pages. Bookworm uses SD memory cards, which lets you create a library of adapted books. These adapted books can be used in the home or classroom to encourage cooperative play and turn taking as well as literacy. See the Ablenet website for more details and a video tutorial.
The Attainment Company has created and published a large collection of adapted books that can be used on computers, interactive whiteboards and on iPads. These books are read aloud, and users can enlarge text, change speech rate and can use mouse, touch, or single-switch and two-switch step scanning.
Attainment’s Mini Mystery Readers, available as regular books as well as for Windows and Macintosh computers and for iPad tablets, contains 24 (eight-page) high-interest (grade 3-8), easy-to-read detective story books: The Sam Sherlock books (reading level 2–3) and the Bree Cody Books (reading level 3–4).
Students can listen to the stories read aloud, with words being highlighted. After the story, they are guided to solve the mystery with questions and answers that are also read aloud. What’s Cool About Music? is a new adapted book/literacy training programme from Attainment. The book contains 36 stories in six thematic units, all related to music. The software versions work on computers, whiteboards and iPads.
In addition to the book and software, there is a PDF CD which allows teachers to print copies of the book and stories for the students. The software brings the books to life with musical effects, hundreds of sound clips that illustrate musical concepts (as well as sounds of instruments and musical styles), narration with text highlighting, and comprehension activities. In both of these programs, as well as others by Attainment, narrated speech is in a conversational rate but can also be played at a slower, word-by-word tempo.
Students can click on individual words to hear them spoken and can repeat the narration on individual pages. Highlighting by word, sentence or line is an option, depending on individual needs. There are scanning options for single- or two-switch access. These are excellent story books for struggling older readers, and for those needing adapted access, supported reading and help with listening and comprehension skills. Attainment has many other software programs and apps that are based on books and provide assisted reading. Visit the website to see Life Skills Readers, Sound Out Chapter Books, Read to Learn and others.
This is one of the collections in the Start-to-Finish series of adapted books by Don Johnston. Finding appropriately levelled reading materials and books, especially tied to curriculum, for special students is often difficult. This series, designed primarily for older students with multiple disabilities who are at the beginning reading levels, helps address this need. Each of the 18 sets contain three books of three different types of text:
(1) Enrichment Text to be read to beginning readers for enjoyment; (2) Transition Text to be read with beginning readers, to provide opportunities for them to be active participants, and (3) Conventional Text to be read by beginning readers, with simple pages with clear graphics and phonetically regular words. These books are presented in two formats: computer books and paperback books. Computer book supports include high quality narration, word highlighting, sound effects and animation.
Additional options are available for scanning and switch use. Other Start-to-Finish sets are available as Start-to-Finish Online, Start-to-Finish Core Curriculum, Start-to-Finish Core Content and Start-to-Finish Library. If you go online, you can see video demonstrations of samples from each of the different sets.
The world’s largest accessible online digital library for people with print disabilities. It is supported by the U.S. Department of Education and has over 300,000 books, serving more than 300,000 members. Digital books are added to the library by volunteers who scan and upload the books to the site and by publishers who send digital versions of their books to the collection.
Books can be read on tablets, smartphones, computers, and other hardware devices, such as braille readers, MP3 players, etc. Readers can adjust font size, have words highlighted and use voice options, including high quality text-to-speech with adjustable speed and choice of voices. Readers can also create physical braille or large print output. Bookshare International offers accessible eBooks to people with qualified print disabilities anywhere in the world.
For our youngest special needs readers, these four adapted Play Books for the iPad are interactive , switch accessible and touch sensitive. They each present a picture story book with engaging stories, predictable lines, music, text and literacy experiences that are fun, errorless, and motivating. Most of all, the books can be read/played independently with touch or switch access. Each of the stories has four activities.
In the Read activity, the programme reads the story aloud to the child, page by page. In Learn, one page appears and child finds the matching item to hear the page read aloud. In Match, the child sees all the pages (pictures) and picks any one to hear it. In Sing, the child selects a picture to hear that verse of the song. Scanning options include single switch with scanning, step scanning, and auditory preview for visually impaired students or as an extra assist for beginning scanners.
Tap Scanning is also available – in this mode, a single tap on the screen will act the same as a switch input when scanning is on. In step scanning mode, a single tap on the screen will move from item to item and a double tap will select the item. The four fun stories in the series include Pati King-DeBaun’s wonderfully imaginative stories: Dirty Duds, Peanut Butter, EIEIO! and Hurry! Hurry!
Based on the original Living Book series published in the 1990s by Broderbund, these amazing digital storybooks for your iPad, Android devices and Mac OS X are colourful, interactive and come to life with classic stories that are read aloud, with great music, graphics and animation. They will inspire and motivate young readers of all ages with their humour, interactive hot spots, narration and stories.
As the story is read aloud, words are highlighted. Just touch any individual word and it will be spoken aloud. As in the original Living Books, when something in the picture is tapped, it doesn’t just move – it comes to life. The books are being released in new languages and language combinations, including UK English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Brazilian and Portuguese. Available books include Arthur ’s Birthday, Ruff ’s Bone, Harry and the Haunted House, Arthur ’s Teacher Trouble, Little Monster at School, Tortoise & The Hare, New Kid on the Block, and Berenstain Bears (Get in a Fight, In The Dark).
You can download the Wanderful Storybooks Sampler which presents fully interactive and animated pages from seven of the books so you can see and try them. Tablets of all kinds offer a large range of childhood classics – just think of your favourites and look them up on the Apple App Store, Google Play and Amazon.
Also, try sites like Oceanhouse Media, which has the most amazing collection of classic children’s books.
Creating your own
As with other articles, space and time does not permit me to write a comprehensive and complete guide to adapted and accessible books so remember to search online to find other adapted books and for information on creating your own, using Boardmaker, SMART Notebook, Clicker, Pictello, SwitchIt! Maker 2 and others.