Text to speech for dyslexia: What you need to know

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Cliff Weitzman
By Cliff Weitzman Dyslexia & Accessibility Advocate, CEO/Founder of Speechify in Dyslexia on June 02, 2022
While it’s true that assistive technology has been around almost as long as computers themselves, in the last decade or so things have advanced to a truly incredible place.

    Today, with just a few quick clicks of your mouse, you can invert the colors on your computer monitor or mobile device if you’re having difficulties seeing things with the default settings. You can dictate text to your computer via a microphone so that you don’t have to use the keyboard. You can use voice assistants to open programs and control various functions of the machine. The list goes on and on.

    But perhaps the best example of this idea in action takes the form of text-to-speech technology. Also commonly referred to as TTS for short, text-to-speech is helping people all over the world with various challenges on a daily basis – and dyslexia is chief among them.

    What is dyslexia?

    Dyslexia is a specific type of learning disorder that negatively impacts someone’s ability to not only read but also spell, write and, in certain situations, speak. It could also manifest as a learning disability

    It is characterized by someone with difficulty both reading and interpreting words, letters and other types of symbols. When viewing text on a piece of paper, a person with dyslexia may reverse the order of numbers or letters, for example. They could do this without even realizing it.

    Dyslexia does not, however, impact someone’s general intelligence.

    What are the challenges of dyslexia?

    While all people with dyslexia generally experience similar signs and symptoms, the challenges they face will likely be unique to the situation they are trying to navigate.

    Challenges for children

    Children with dyslexia will likely find it hard to learn the rules to games, for example. They often take longer than others to learn how to tell time, and it is likely that they will have difficulty when trying to keep track of directions that include more than one step.

    Challenges for older children

    College students with dyslexia tend to face significant organizational problems. Time management is perhaps the biggest example of this.

    Others include having a difficult time learning new words, finding words when speaking or even with pronunciation. Many college students will also have a hard time understanding abbreviations and, of course, it will take longer than the average student to write in general.

    Challenges for parents of children with dyslexia

    One of the major challenges for parents of children with dyslexia comes by way of how difficult it is to help them with their own struggles. It’s hard to truly understand and empathize with dyslexia if you don’t have it yourself – therefore, even something as seemingly-simple as helping a child with their homework becomes an uphill battle for both of them.

    Many parents also experience a feeling of guilt – the perception being that the child’s dyslexia is somehow their fault.

    Challenges for professionals with dyslexia

    In a professional environment, those with dyslexia will likely have a hard time reading and comprehending the types of text-heavy emails and documents that are commonly sent around the office. This is particularly challenging for lawyers who deal with reams of legal briefs and other complex documents on a daily basis.

    Someone like a writer will not only take longer to generate content, but they will also be prone to spelling mistakes and will have a hard time reading and editing that which they have already written.

    Other emotional challenges of dyslexia

    Many of the other challenges of dyslexia extend beyond those that are physical in nature and move into a more emotional realm. These include but are certainly not limited to ones like:

    Independence. Oftentimes people with dyslexia need a fairly significant amount of assistance to complete certain tasks like reading or writing – both from technology and from those around them. This can lead to an impending sense of frustration as these people naturally and understandably struggle with the idea that they need some form of help to complete tasks that most people can do on their own.

    Productiveness. As stated, dyslexia can significantly hamper someone’s productivity – particularly when it comes to reading and writing. Younger children will have a hard time learning directions and, as a result, will grow bored faster. Students and professionals will require longer periods of time that someone without dyslexia can complete much faster, causing them to get fewer things done in the same amount of time.

    Empowerment. Again, it’s difficult to feel empowered when you need a constant level of assistance performing even basic tasks. This is true through the fault of nobody and is a perfectly understandable position – however, that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with on be half of the person with dyslexia.

    What is text-to-speech?

    Text-to-speech is a specific type of productivity-enabling technology that sees a computer, smartphone, tablet or other type of mobile device read the text on screen out loud. It goes by many names – including “VoiceOver” on the MacOS operating system – but the underlying concept remains the same.

    The voice that is used by text-to-speech technology is generated by technologies like artificial intelligence, which also means that it can be manipulated in a variety of ways. Some solutions let you choose between a male and a female voice, while most allow you to change the reading speed.

    Sometimes text-to-speech requires you to highlight specific passages that you want to have read out loud, while other times it will start at the beginning of the page and work its way down.

    Most of these tools are powered by optical character recognition, or OCR. This allows them to not only read plain text but also the text in images as well. It can scan web pages, docs, email, or any text and instantly convert text to speech.

    How can text-to-speech help solve challenges that come with dyslexia?

    Text-to-speech can help solve a lot of the issues outlined above in a variety of ways.

    Text-to-speech technology helps to improve word recognition, especially if someone is listening to the speech and following along with the words at the same time. This is true for people of all ages.

    These solutions also increase a person’s ability to pay attention by presenting information in a way that is easier to understand, thus relieving challenges like boredom in young kids in particular. It can help improve reading.

    Text-to-speech can also help people acknowledge and correct errors in their own writing – something that is particularly helpful for college students and professionals like lawyers and writers in particular.

    Benefits of TTS for those with dyslexia

    Text-to-speech technology brings with it a wide range of benefits that cannot be ignored.

    For kids, the biggest obstacle is the printed word itself. Classrooms are filled with printed materials like textbooks that younger children in particular have a difficult time decoding.

    Text-to-speech removes those obstacles by removing the text, giving kids an entirely new and effective way to digest this information with high quality, natural sounding voices.

    For college students and business professionals, text-to-speech helps significantly in terms of productivity. You can increase the speed at which the text is being read aloud to take in more information far faster than you could by reading.

    It’s also very easy to replay certain passages. Information also suggests that you retain more information when you hear it versus when you simply read it on the page to begin with, giving people in these situations a significant advantage over their normal situation.

    How can the parents of kids with dyslexia benefit from TTS?

    For parents of those with dyslexia, the biggest way that text-to-speech can help enormously has to do with support. Parents download various apps and technologies to help their kids and a powerful text to speech software should be a key tool in their arsenal.

    It’s very hard to “help” someone with dyslexia in a traditional sense because you can’t necessarily see the world through their eyes. Dyslexia is a unique situation and if you don’t have it yourself, you can offer all the support that you want but you won’t be able to fully understand what someone is going through.

    Text-to-speech helps bring these two extremes together. Parents can listen to the audio along with their kids and answer any questions they may have. It may give them more insight into exactly what they’re seeing and digesting in the moment.

    It’s also a bonding opportunity, as both parent and child can finally enjoy various books and stories together and have the same experience – something that wasn’t necessarily possible in the past.

    Benefits of TTS for professionals with dyslexia

    For professionals like lawyers, perhaps the most common use case of text-to-speech technology has to do with using it to wade through the massive volumes of documents that are necessary to prepare for your average case.

    Not only are you dealing with mountains of evidence, but you also have things like deposition transcripts and more. All of which are in a format that would be difficult for even the average person to understand. Now, with text-to-speech, not only can this information be taken in more easily, but it also helps with organization as well.

    Writers often use text-to-speech to go back and edit their own work, reorganizing passages in a way that makes more sense or fixing errors that they may have otherwise missed.

    Benefits of text-to-speech for students with dyslexia

    Students similarly use text-to-speech for preparation purposes – this time to get ready for things like exams that require going through textbooks and other printed materials. Like with writers, it can also be helpful to proofread any papers or other types of homework that they have to complete before it is eventually turned into a professor. It can also make researching easier, as a lot of this is done via websites in the modern era.

    Benefits of TTS for young children with dyslexia

    For young children, text-to-speech is especially helpful with education in general – particularly during the malleable early years of one’s life. It can be used to help kids understand and follow directions by eliminating the obstacle of the written word, and can help them better comprehend even complicated, multi-part instructions by presenting it in a way that allows them to naturally retain more information.

    Text-to-speech is also an ideal way to support mobile learning – something that has become critically important given everything that has been going on in the world over the last few years. If a child is taking classes from home, they don’t necessarily have an instructor nearby who can help answer questions or overcome hurdles in terms of comprehension. By removing as many of these obstacles as possible, text-to-speech makes it far easier to learn from home effectively as needed.

    The Speechify approach

    Speechify allows not just those with dyslexia and other reading challenges, but all users listen to text from the comfort of their own devices. This includes not just websites but emails, papers, PDFs and more.

    From the ground up, Speechify was built to help people get more out of reading. By helping to boost the user’s understanding and focus through text-to-speech, people naturally remember more of what they read at any given moment. It’s also a great way to maximize one’s time, as one can easily finish content 2-3x faster than it would take to read it in the first place.

    All told, the challenges of reading issues and conditions like dyslexia are well documented – but thankfully they don’t have to be nearly as big of a burden as they once were. It is entirely possible to be as independent, as productive and as empowered as you’d always hoped to be – and text-to-speech solutions like Speechify are how you do it.

    So if you’d like to find out more information about how text-to-speech technology can significantly benefit those with dyslexia, or if you just have any additional questions that you’d like to go over with someone in a bit more detail, please don’t hesitate to contact Speechify today.

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    Cliff Weitzman

    Cliff Weitzman

    Cliff Weitzman is a dyslexia advocate and the CEO and founder of Speechify, the #1 text-to-speech app in the world, totaling over 100,000 5-star reviews and ranking first place in the App Store for the News & Magazines category. In 2017, Weitzman was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list for his work making the internet more accessible to people with learning disabilities. Cliff Weitzman has been featured in EdSurge, Inc., PC Mag, Entrepreneur, Mashable, among other leading outlets.

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