Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Back-to-School Guide for Dyslexic Students: Apps and More (Repost)

Credit: Apple

Note: this post originally appeared last year and with back-to-school season in full swing these apps and tools can still provide a huge benefits for dyslexic students. Some updates have been made.

With the school year fast approaching (or already in full swing) here are my favorite apps and products for accessibility. Hopefully these apps and products will help make the school year successful for those needing assistive technology to support their reading and writing. This list is geared toward students with dyslexia but many of the apps and products can also benefit other students. To learn more about any of these products or apps click on the accompanying link.

Kurzweil 3000

Kurzweil 3000 is a versatile reading and writing program for Mac and PC. With Kurzweil students can read scanned and digital documents with high quality text-to-speech and synchronized highlighting. This gives students with reading difficulty the ability to listen to text and improve comprehension. Kurzweil also allows students to annotate documents using text notes, audio notes, highlighting, and circling. Test taking is also a breeze with Kurzweil thanks to its “fill in the blanks” function which allows students to answer test question directly on the digital document. Kurzweil 3000 is not only for reading help but also includes a number of helpful writing features such as mind mapping and word prediction. Click here to learn more about Kurzweil 3000.


Bookshare is an essential service for people with print disabilities. provides accessible e-books for qualified students. Members can choose from over 200,000 downloadable titles including many textbooks. Bookshare books can be downloaded in a DAISY format for use with text-to-speech software or in a Braille format. Similar to Kurzweil, the combination of text-to-speech and highlighted text can greatly speed up and reading and increase comprehension for qualifying students. Thanks to a grant from the United States Department of Education Bookshare is free to U.S. students.  Click here to learn more about Bookshare.

Learning Ally

Learning Ally is another provider of accessible books for the blind and dyslexic. Learning Ally mostly provides human narrated audio books for their members. Learning Ally is also expanding to provide “VOICEtext” books which include human narration and highlighted text. The highlighting of “VOICEtext” books is not word by word like in Bookshare and Kurzweil, but rather is paragraph by paragraph. Learning Ally books can be read on iOS and Android devices using the Learning Ally Audio app. Click here to learn more about Learning Ally.

Click read more below for more great apps and products.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Indoor Navigation System Will Soon Guide Blind Passengers at SFO

Imagine how difficult it would be to navigate a bustling airport terminal as a person with a visual impairment. Navigating security, finding baggage check, and finding the correct gate all while trying to make a last minute flight is daunting for even the most seasoned travelers. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) will soon implement a system to help guide blind and visually impaired travelers from curb to gate. Starting with Terminal 2 this fall, the airport will install some 500 iBeacons for a trial. Current solutions such as GPS do not work well indoors because they are unable to provide precise location information, but beacons allow more precise locationa. When a user with the indoor navigation app walks by a beacon it communicates with the user's smartphone and transmits the location. With the location information sent from the beacon, the app can then guide users to restrooms, restaurants, boarding gates, baggage claims, and even charging stations. Initially the app will only run on iOS devices, but Android devices will likely follow. The system runs off Bluetooth technology which should have minimal impact on battery life. For blind users, points of interest and navigation instructions are read aloud using VoiceOver.

If the trial in Terminal 2 is successful, it is likely that the program will expand to more terminals and more airports. This system, powered by a company called, is a promising development for indoor navigation. In the near future, it is conceivable that similar systems will help people with visual impairments navigate shopping malls, schools, or hospitals. The technology will also benefit sighted users who have trouble finding locations in the vast terminal. If your traveling through SFO Terminal 2 this fall give it a try.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Redbox to Make Some Kiosks Accessible to the Blind

Popular video rental service Redbox agreed in a settlement to make 4,000 of their 35,900 kiosks located in California accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. The service, which is commonly found in supermarkets and other public areas, is inaccessible to blind or visually impaired users. As part of the agreement, Redbox agreed to add headphone jacks, text-to-speech output, and tactile keyboards to kiosks. The roll-out of accessible video rental boxes will be gradual and is planed to take longer than two years. In the interim, Redbox has also agreed to provide phone support to help blind customers navigate the rental process. It is not clear if Redbox plans to add more DVDs with audio descriptions to benefit its new larger customer base of visually impaired users, but such a plan would seem to make sense. The settlement deal will inevitably increase Redbox's potential customer base by providing access to more people with disabilities. Unfortunately, the settlement seems to only cover a small fraction of Redbox kiosk in California. Hopefully, other kiosk companies will make their services accessible as well.