How can digital technology help people with dyslexia?
Millions of people around the world suffer from dyslexia. AbilityNet's Advice and Information Officer Alex Barker looks at how the condition affects people and some of the ways that computer technology may help people with dyslexia.
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a lifelong condition which makes reading and writing more difficult. People with the condition are able to verbalise their thoughts but not get them down on paper and their reading skills are often behind their peer group. Walt Disney had dyslexia as does Sir Steve Redgrave.
How many people in the UK have the condition?
According to the British Dyslexia Association (http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/), 10% of the population of the UK has dyslexia. That’s about 6 million people. Out of this 6 million 4% have a severe form of dyslexia.
How does dyslexia affect people?
One of the main issues with people who have dyslexia is that they can come up with great ideas but when it comes to writing them down and organising what they need to do then they are really struggle to show their full potential. This can be an issue if you need to write reports or essays for example. Reports work well when they are presented in a logical order and have a good flow. Some people with dyslexia have real issues in trying to get all of the important content down.
If you have difficulty with reading it can cause many issues. Imagine not being able to read a timetable to find out when the next bus is going to come along.
Lots of people get enormous pleasure from reading books but if you have dyslexia this is something that you might struggle with doing. If you are a student then not being able to read books is quite an issue for you.
Top tips for easier computing for people with dyslexia
As with a lot of disabilities dyslexia will affect different people in different ways, so there is not one specific computer application or adaptation that will definitely be useful in every case. However there are a few tips which are worth trying:
- Make the text bigger and change the colour of it
- Double spacing text can also be useful
- Using a sans serif font like Arial or Comic Sans is really useful too.
- Some people prefer to change the screen background too.
- Using the inbuilt voice recognition system can be really useful too (only available on Windows computers)
If you need any additional step by step instructions about changing the computer settings you might want to take a look at My Computer, My Way. (http://www.abilitynet.org.uk/mcmw/cognitive/)
There are lots of pieces of software which are easily found that can make your life easier if you’ve got dyslexia and need to use a computer
You can get some really useful text to speech add-ons for free which will help you listen to text, rather than have to read it out. Good examples are www.ivona.com and https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/text-to-voice/ or Voiceover (for the Mac).
If you have difficulty with trying to put your ideas down in a logical way you might want to consider mind mapping software. A good example is: http://www.mindmeister.com/.
If you are severely dyslexic and need support with reading and writing, one of the most commonly used packages is called Text Help Read and Write (http://www.texthelp.com/UK/readwrite-family)
Mr L writes books but he struggles to get words down on the page. We chatted to him and suggested that he might want to use voice recognition as used properly you can speak almost as fast as you can type (if not even faster). He can also use text to speech to have text read out to him.
As Mr L has discovered, he finds it easy to come up with ideas but finds it really difficult to get them down in written format. Using voice recognition takes a lot of pressure away from you as it can be mentally tiring to come up with text.
Speaking to the computer means that he can get the words down in a fairly quick way. If he is then unsure about what he has read out to the computer system, the text to speech package will read it out to him. This has changed his life because he’s now able to be more confident when writing and checking his work, which for an author is so important.
How can AbilityNet help?
There are a few ways that we can help:
Call our free Helpline. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm on 0800 269 545.
We have a range of free factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you and can be downloaded for free. They include three that may be of particular interest to people with Dyslexia:
My Computer My Way is a free online tool that shows you the accessibility options built into your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. There could be all sorts of simple adjustments you can use to make your time on the computer that bit easier and a lot more productive www.abilitynet.org.uk/myway/
Arrange a home visit. We have a network of AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone. Some will have knowledge of some of dyslexia and the software mentioned here but all have access to specialist support through AbilityNet's volunteer network.