Blogger Digital Content Task Force

assistive technologies

When the word “digital” is used in the library or literary world, one automatically thinks of e-books, book apps, e-readers, etc. While I agree that all these technologies are vital and important, I am also interested in the assistive technologies that are currently available but not frequently discussed.

I recently hosted a program at the Princeton Public Library on just this topic. The presentation was led by a local high school junior, Brian M., who was diagnosed in the 3rd grade with dyslexia. Brian talked about the challenges and struggles that he and others deal with on a daily basis and how assistive technologies have made succeeding in school possible.

Several apps worth noting for those who struggle with reading are Google Voice Search, Instapaper, and VBooks PDF Voice Reader. Google Voice Search is useful for spelling unfamiliar words. It’s an extremely fast tool and unlike other smart phone apps, this one speaks the spelling back to you. A unique way to optimize this app is to ask it “How do you spell…” It makes spelling a breeze.

Instapaper was recently updated to include a dyslexia friendly font that’s available on iPhones and iPads. Instapaper allows the reader to save content from the web for later use. There is a similar application available for Android platforms. VBook Voice Reader is an app for iPhones, iPod Touch and iPads that reads PDFs aloud using a text to speech format. This app has much in common with the interface of iBook.

While many of these apps seem more sophisticated and not useful for the pre-school set, there are many that are available for younger children. Alphabet Zoo is a free app that helps teach letter and sound pairings in a leveled game situation. Bob Books is another preschool friendly application that helps to develop early literacy skills by sounding out and reviewing very simple words in a bright, colorful game format. At a cost of $1.99, it’s worth the investment.

Two other applications that are noteworthy are Bugsy Pre-K and First Word Sampler. Bugsy Pre-K teaches essential pre-k skills such as colors, shapes, letter and number recognition. It strikes a perfect balance between learning and play and is nominally priced at $2.99. It is available for iPads and IPod Touch. First Word Sampler is another educational tool that is designed for toddlers and pre-schoolers. This free program is another resource for developing early language development skills.

There is a wonderful world of apps available for little or no cost that can assist struggling readers or have special wide range appeal for the littlest users or are just being introduced to technology. For more information on assistive technologies please drop me an email at

Also, please join our ALSC Digital Content Task force group on ALA Connect. Share ideas! Add to discussions!

This month’s blog is by Allison Santos, ALSC Digital Content Task Force (virtual committee)

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