2003 Conference Proceedings

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Kenneth Elkind
Product Manager, Kurzweil 3000
Kurzweil Educational Systems, Inc.
14 Crosby Drive
Bedford, MA 01730
Phone: 781-276-0609
Fax: 781-276-0650
Email: ken@kurzweiledu.com

This session will provide an overview of a study, to be printed in the December 2002 Annals of Dyslexia, on an investigation of how assistive reading software affected the reading performance of a group of 20 post-secondary students who had a primary diagnosis of attention disorder.

These students used assistive reading software for most of a semester to read assignments for an English class and in testing sessions in which comparisons were made between normal, unassisted reading and reading assisted by the software. This software provides a synchronized visual and auditory presentation of text and incorporates study skills tools for highlighting and note taking. Attention measures, reading speed, comprehension scores, and attitude questionnaire responses were obtained during these sessions. The principal findings were that the assistive software allowed the students to attend better to their reading, to reduce their distractibility, to read with less stress and fatigue, and to read for longer periods of time. It helped them to read faster and thereby to complete reading assignments in less time. It did not have a significant effect on comprehension, but it helped some students whose comprehension was very poor. The study results indicate that assistive reading software should be considered as a significant intervention to assist students who have attention disorders and as an accommodation to help them compensate for their disabilities.

Over the last several years software that helps people with reading disabilities compensate for their poor reading skills has become widely available. This software scans printed documents, recognizes the characters on the page, speaks the text to the user through a loudspeaker or earphones using a speech synthesizer, and simultaneously displays the printed page on the computer monitor. As the computer speaks a word, it is highlighted on the computer monitor, thereby providing a synchronized auditory and visual presentation of the text. The phrase, sentence, or paragraph containing the spoken word is also highlighted, but in a different color, to call attention to the context in which the word is used. The characteristics of the speech synthesizer (male or female voice and pitch, for example), speed of speech, and magnification of the text on the monitor is controlled by the user. The user can also decide to have the reading pause after each phrase, sentence, or paragraph, which is often useful when difficult material is being read. In addition, the software integrates electronic dictionaries and study skills tools that facilitate active reading strategies such as: previewing section headings; highlighting main ideas, supporting details, and other important segments of text in distinctive colors; taking notes by typing, dictating, or copying; automatically creating study and writing outlines; and building glossaries of important terms. This software also works with electronic documents from word processors, web pages, and other sources. In this paper, we use the term "assistive reading software" to refer to software with these capabilities; other terms used in the field include "reading machines" and "literacy software." Assistive reading software is available from several companies.

This paper reports on an exploratory study of the effect of assistive reading software on students who have a primary diagnosis of attention disorder2 rather than a reading disability. This study was carried out at Landmark College in Putney, Vermont, a small (enrollment is 360 students), private college in a rural setting that offers a two-year Associates Degree in Liberal Studies. It is a fully accredited post-secondary institution exclusively serving students with learning disabilities and attention disorders.

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