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Assistive technology tools: Reading

Learn about assistive technology tools that help with reading.

By Kristin Stanberry , Marshall Raskind, Ph.D.

There is a wide range of assistive technology (AT) tools available to help individuals who struggle with reading. While each type of tool works a little differently, all of these tools help by presenting text as speech. These tools help facilitate decoding, reading fluency, and comprehension.

AT tools that assist with reading fall into several categories:

Audio books and publications

Recorded books allow users to listen to text and are available in a variety of formats, such as audiocassettes, CDs, and MP3 downloads. Special playback units allow users to and search and bookmark pages and chapters. Subscription services offer extensive electronic library collections.

What type(s) of learning difficulty do these tools address?

This type of tool may help people who struggle with: reading.

Products and services to consider

  • Bookshare
  • Kurzweil 3000™ Literacy and Reading Programs
  • Recorded Books on PlayAway
  • Learning Ally
  • Every state library acts as a distribution point for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, which has a large collection of books in audio format. Visit search the catalog. Certification of disability is required.
  • A growing number of local and university libraries are providing downloadable audio books through a service called NetLibrary. You have to have a compatible PC or MP3 player (Windows Media Player ready) in order to listen to them. Ask your library if they offer this service.
  • Unabridged is a source of digital audio books for people in CA, CO, DE, IL, MA, NH, OH, OR, or Texas who are blind or visually challenged. Certification of disability by your participating local library is required.


Optical character recognition

This technology allows a user to scan printed material into a computer or handheld unit. The scanned text is then read aloud via a speech synthesis/screen reading system. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is available as stand-alone units, computer software, and as portable, pocket-sized devices.

What type(s) of learning difficulty do these tools address?

OCR may benefit people who struggle with: reading.

Products to consider


Paper-based computer pen

This technology records and links audio to what a person writes using the pen and special paper. It enables the user to take notes while simultaneously recording someone( e.g., a teacher) speaking. The user can later listen to any section of his notes by touching the pen to his corresponding handwriting or diagrams.

What type(s) of learning difficulty do these tools address?

This type of tool may benefit people who struggle with: writing, listening, memory and reading.

Products to consider


Speech synthesizers/screen readers

These systems can display and read aloud text on a computer screen, including text that has been typed by the user, scanned in from printed pages (e.g., books, letters), or text appearing on the Internet.

What type(s) of learning difficulty do these tools address?

This type of tool may benefit people who struggle with: reading and writing.

Products to consider


Variable-speed tape recorders

Tape recorders/players allow a user to listen to pre-recorded text or to capture spoken information (e.g., a classroom lecture) and play it back later. Variable speed control (VSC) tape recorders speed up or slow down the playback rate without distorting the "speaker's" voice.

What type(s) of learning difficulty do these tools address?

This tool may help people who struggle with: reading and listening.

Products to consider

Resources to help you evaluate assistive technology for your child

The assistive technology products listed on our site have been compiled in consultation with Marshall Raskind, Ph.D. This does not represent a comprehensive list. The inclusion of any product is not intended as an endorsement. The information is provided to guide parents and educators in selecting products to meet children's specific needs.

Updated February 2010

Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness issues. Her areas of expertise include learning disabilities and AD/HD, which she wrote about extensively for Schwab Learning and GreatSchools.


Marshall H. Raskind, Ph.D., is a learning disability researcher. He is a frequent presenter at international LD conferences and is the author of numerous professional publications on learning disabilities. He is well-known for his research on assistive technology and longitudinal studies tracing LD across the life span.

Comments from readers

"I purchased the Wizcom Reading Pen 2 for my adult disabled son. It is $219.00.It is not worth it. It is extremely slow and sometimes speaks gibberish. I am looking into the Intel reader. Does anyone have any comments on this device?"
"Is there financial assistance anywhere for handheld devices with which Optical Character Recognition is used?"
"This article appears to be simple yet is very profound in its content. It brings the reader together with those that are challenged in the area of reading as well as other disciplines. This is really a welcomed article, it will provide me useful information for a paper I am about to create on students with autism. Thumbs up!!!"
"I was hoping to find some information on the use of smart boards and working with kids with disabilities."
"Have you evaluated Livescribe technology?"