Myles Pilling looks at some of the software and apps to help older dyslexics record their thoughts and ideas
Last year I wrote an article for Special World about apps for dyslexia. From some of the feedback I received it seems that some readers thought the apps I recommended were more suited to school-age children than students or those at work. It therefore seems timely to follow-up with an article looking at what’s available to support older users’ ‘recording’ needs. I use the term ‘recording’ as opposed to ‘handwriting’ as it better reflects the choice of tools now available to help those with dyslexia in college, university or their place of work.
Recording now reaches way beyond simple note-taking to encompass line drawings, lists, calendars, clippings, audio, photographs, video and more. So here are my top ten recommendations to get you started. They are a mixed bag in terms of the devices they will work on and pricing structure so be sure to follow the links to learn more. And if you think others should be on the list do let me know. You’ll find my email address at the end of the article.
(1) Audio Notetaker
Audio Notetaker from Sonocent empowers users to become more active listeners and make engaged judgements about the content of their recordings. The full list of features depends on which version of the software – PC or Mac – you use (there is an extensive feature comparison table on the website) but both versions enable you to record audio; chunk and colour-code it; add notes, images, presentation slides or PDFs; edit the final product; and export it. There is a companion app – Sonocent Recorder – which allows you to make high-quality recordings on your mobile device, to highlight key information, add photos and transfer via wifi to Audio Notetaker for those finishing touches. As you may have guessed I’m a real fan of this software as it’s simple and effective and a powerful aid that supports lots of skills.
iReadWrite from TextHelp provides text-to-speech with customisable background, foreground and highlight colour when reading back text. A standout feature is its dictionary. When using it to read or write is you can long-hold on a word to bring up a definition. This is a great feature for those with dyslexia who are uncertain about a word’s meaning or are confused by which word to choose from a list of suggestions when two or more of them sound the same (to, too, two). iReadWrite exports to cloud storage apps such as Dropbox as well as directly to a printer (if you have a printer with wifi that is Apple AirPrint or Google Cloud Print compatible).
This version of Read&Write consists of an extension to Chrome – Google’s freeware browser for use with PCs, Macs and Chromebooks – that works with Google Docs and web pages, and an app that works with ePubs, PDFs and Kes (Kurzwell 3000) files. The trial version gives you access to all features for 30 days after which you continue to have access to text-to-speech and translator for Google Docs and the web, but need to purchase a subscription if you want to continue to access other features. The good news, however, is that teachers can get a FREE Premium subscription by registering here. Once you have installed Read&Write for Google Chrome there are a number of helpful YouTube videos (19 at last count) describing the support tools available and how to access them. You will find the first of them here.
(4) ClaroRead Cloud
TextHelp is not the only company providing new and interesting tools for those with dyslexia. Claro Software’s latest offering is ClaroRead Cloud, which combines its ClaroRead Cloud OCR web service with its ClaroSpeak Web text-to-speech app. The OCR service, which works with any web browser, allows any document or image to be converted to accessible, searchable text. Output options include Text, Word and Claro PDF, a proprietary accessible version of the original PDF. You can sign up for free and try out ClaroRead Cloud with the ability to OCR five documents a month, beyond which there’s a range of subscription choices tailored to organisations and individuals. You also have access to ClaroSpeak Web, which offers speech with highlighting, word prediction, background and font and foreground colour choice, and a speaking dictionary.
(5) Claro ScanPen
Another useful tool from Claro Software is ScanPen, which gives access to printed text materials and documents in a wide range of languages. Using your iPhone or iPad you can take a photo of your printed text document, letter, or test paper; highlight which section you want to hear spoken; and ScanPen will read it back to you using a human quality voice in a language of your choice. An additional boon for users with dyslexia is that you can see where the section of text you’ve chosen fits into the original book or document. One tip: to get the most accurate read back make sure the font size of your text is 16 or larger, that it is well lit and that you use a mobile with a high-quality camera. Also ensure that the camera is focused on the text. On an iPad you do this by tapping on the on-screen image to activate the yellow focusing square.
This is a useful app for reading aloud files in PDF format. You can see the words highlighted and spoken and you can change the speed of the read back for clarity. A good example of a simple app that does its job well. It will open PDF files directly from Mail, Dropbox, Google Drive, Safari and iTunes and there is a choice of 16 languages, each available as in-app purchases and priced at £3.99.
(7) Apple Notes
You can download or purchase apps that support speech input or voice recognition but I prefer the inbuilt solution on a wifi-connected iPad, which is the microphone found to the left of the space-bar on your on-screen keyboard. The main tools you are likely to use this with at first are native apps, such as Apple Notes. This app recently had a major overhaul and now supports drawing and photos as well as writing. One tip: if you use Exchange ActiveSync ensure that don’t let notes be drawn from there or else you will not see the two icons of a camera and scribbly line in the bottom right-hand corner of Notes!
(8) Dragon Dictation
Dragon Dictation from Nuance Communications is another way to record your voice and see it converted into text. When you download it, however, you should be aware that it will ask for access to your Location Services, which allow the app to work out your approximate location, and your Contacts. Nuance says that, ‘localisation data is used to improve recognition abilities over time by learning to recognise regional accents based on location’ while access to your Contacts means it can more accurately transcribe the names you are most likely to use when dictating emails etc. If these privacy features bother you then you can decline these requests or turn them off in Settings→General→Privacy. Text can be shared via email, Facebook, Twitter or copied for pasting into another application. Dragon Dictation is also good for messaging although with iMessage you can now send a range of emoticons and audio to support your texting.
It’s a pain that voice input requires wifi to work on all the apps. If someone comes up with one that doesn’t please let me know!
OneNote by Microsoft is a digital notebook in which the user can write notes, clip web pages, capture photos, record audio and more. Content is synced to the cloud (OneDrive, OneDrive for Business and SharePoint), which means it is readily available across all your devices and can be shared withy other users. Annotation tools that work with Microsoft Edge (if using a PC) and Safari (if using a Mac) enable the user to cut and write directly onto the page to explain or link an idea. You can also now add audio, images, drawings, links, equations, calendars and tables into your work. It’s a tool that is a well-hidden secret for most people who don’t know what it does. Yet it is bundled with the Teacher and Student editions of Office 365.
We have touched on storage and the clear trend amongst suppliers is to move from selling software as physical media to selling cloud-based services where software can be accessed on any device and any platform – Apple, Chrome, Windows, etc. From the perspective of users with dyslexia in higher education and the workplace this means they can work without being labelled ‘special’. Cloud-based storage from Dropbox to Google Drive means all your work can now be accessed wherever you can connect to the internet.
Evernote is a good example of this ease of use. You can add text, images, drawings, audio, reminders and lists. Organisation is what this app provides and if that is what you would find useful then it’s there for you.There is also a chat feature so that you Instant Message (IM) people as well. What I like about this is that it keeps a history of your work and therefore you can track back through stuff you did a while ago. It is also cross-platform, which means it’s an ‘any time, any place, any device’ type of app.
Well that is just a few apps and ideas to get you on your way. Not child-focused in anyway. If you need further help and information or have suggestions of your own then please feel free to contact me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org