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How can technology help people with dyslexia

How can technology help people with dyslexia

How can technology help people with dyslexia

There are four areas that technology can help someone with dyslexia:

Technology that you use every day to help you achieve your literacy tasks is called assistive technology. Some assistive technologies can be expensive. This article gives you five tips on how to get started today for no money at all. There’s also a bonus tip on how you can get the most out of assistive technology for under £100.

You can find a more comprehensive overview in our Assistive Technology section.

Tip 1: Make the font bigger for easier reading

The single most useful thing to improve your reading is make the font bigger! Make it much bigger than you think your need. This is not about being able to make out the letters. It’s about being comfortable when reading. The default in Word is 11pt. Your minimum should be 14pt but don’t be afraid to go to 16pt or even higher. The other side benefit is that you will see less text at once and increase the line spacing a little. Research has shown that all of this makes reading easier for people with dyslexia. And it’s completely free. Don’t forget to tell your teachers, friends and colleagues.

Tip 2: Listen to text with text-to-speech

If you can’t read listen. The voices in which computers can now speak are so good, you can even listen to a whole book with them. And even the ones you get for free on your machine (with Windows 8 and 10 and on Mac). All you then need is a free programme like Natural Reader and you can hear the text. If you have a tablet or a smartphone, you can do the same. See the bonus tip for details.

Tip 3: Use outlines and mind maps to organise your thoughts

People with dyslexia can often benefit from doing things in smaller chunks. That’s why outlines make writing so much easier. Did you know you can create an outline in Microsoft Word as you type? Simply use the built in Heading Styles to mark headings and then under View, enable the Navigation Pane or Document Map. Makes dealing with larger documents really easy. If you’d like to have your outline a bit more visual, create a mind map. You can use the free XMind to do it.

Tip 4: Talk to your phone or computer instead of writing

If you struggle with spelling and writing, you should see if talking to your computer works for you. All of the newer versions of Windows (from 7 to 10) include free speech recognition. But, if your computer, phone or tablet is connected to the internet, you can get speech recognition for free from Google. And it is really good.

Tip 5: Use online tools to help you with basic calculations

Don’t do sums in your head. Or don’t buy a calculator. Just Google (or Bing) it! Simply type in something like 5*10 or 13 inches in centimetres and you’ll get the result. If you struggle with typing, you can just speak your question. This will work on most smartphones but now also on your desktop with Windows 10 or the Chrome browser. Watch this quick video to see how it works.

Bonus tip: Buy a tablet and use it to have books read to you

A simple 7 or 8 inch tablet can now cost under £100 pounds. And they all come with decent free voices and you can get free apps to read books for you. But we recommend you spend another £7 and buy the VoiceDream reader which is very dyslexia friendly (or try a free alternative). Of course, you will make the most out of the two if your school has a free subscription to Load2Learn.  Or you can get a personal subscription to Bookshare.

So you see, technology to help people with dyslexia has never been so powerful or so cheap. So why wait!

Don’t forget to check the Dyslexia Action website every other Thursday for more technology tips from Dominik Lukeš. You can also find more about technology to help you in our Assistive Technology section.

You can listen to an interview about these tips from Future Radio.

Word Document version of this article


We have had an exciting Dyslexia Awareness Week. So far we have talked about:

  • What dyslexia is;
  • How it affects you;
  • Dyslexia at school;
  • And today we are talking about dyslexia in the workplace.

Why not share a useful tip on how you cope with dyslexia in the workplace?

Dyslexia Action spoke to one of its Ambassadors and one of its supporters who both have dyslexia and dyspraxia, to hear what challenges they face in the work place and the strategies they put in place to help.

Rosie Edmondson, who works as a Learning Support Assistant at a college (and is a regular blogger), says that for her the most important thing is the “opportunity to be honest about any day-to-day struggles as they happen.” She continues: “Employees may be worried about disclosing their difficulties but in doing so may be able to put in place accommodations to enable them to perform to their potential.”

For Rosie, some areas of concern in the workplace are:

  • Struggling with tasks that involve a lot of paperwork
  • Needing more time to carry out tasks or needing the option to carry them out in her own way

She has found ways around some of the challenges at work, for example: having access to software like text-to-speech and dictation software help with working speed and paperwork.

She concludes: “I feel that when I get the opportunity to carry out tasks in my own way I can come up with different solutions to problems and be able to think outside of the box.”

Simon Lydiard, Senior Civil Servant at the Department for Transport and Ambassador of Dyslexia Action agrees with this point of view: “People with dyslexia have a great deal to offer – but they need to work differently. Good employers increasingly see the value in having a diverse workforce, valuing difference and enabling staff to realise their potential.”

His top pointers for managing in the workplace are:

  • Use technology – computers/laptops and tablets help with managing information and assistive technology (such as speech-to-text) is really useful.
  • Understand your strengths and weaknesses – exploit what you are good at.
  • Recognise that some things are too difficult – develop strategies where possible but if you really can’t do something, be honest about it.
  • Recognise that you may need to work differently to other people

He concludes: “I work in a very different way to my colleagues. But it doesn’t matter. My dyslexia enables me to see things differently and to make a very distinctive contribution.”

What can employers do?

It is important for employers to offer support to employees with dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties. They should also be able to demonstrate that they are making reasonable adjustments to meet the requirements of disability legislation (Equality Act 2010) for employees affected by dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties.

Employers can play an active role in identifying strengths and the supportive management of weaknesses for each employee affected and help develop coping strategies and adjustments or awareness training for staff.

Often, simple adjustments and strategies can make all the difference to an employee’s performance and confidence.

You can find out more about supporting employees with dyslexia in the work place here.

Share a useful tip on how you cope with dyslexia in the workplace via Facebook or Twitter,  #DyslexiaAware2015.


Today is the third day of Dyslexia Awareness Week in the UK, but it is also ‘No Pens Day’ today (Wednesday) in schools, so we are focussing on dyslexia at school. If you are taking part in ‘No Pens Day’ or teaching a Dyslexia Friendly Lesson, we would love to hear from you …was it fun and what happened?

Reading, interpreting, discussing and telling stories is a key part of the National Curriculum, from the Early Years through to GCSE.  Usually, lessons involving story-telling which could be in any subject, have a focus on the written word.  For pupils who have dyslexia or who are facing challenges with literacy, this can mean that they find these activities more challenging than their peers They might only be able to take part with additional adult support, otherwise they may feel excluded from the activity.

During Dyslexia Awareness week, we would like to encourage schools to experiment with reading and telling stories without using the written word in the classroom. By removing the written word, barriers are removed for students with dyslexia, for those who face challenges with literacy, and also for students who are not yet fluent in English.

Communicating stories without the written word

Here are some ideas of how this might be achieved practically in the classroom:

The spoken word

The tradition of telling stories using the spoken word dates back hundreds of years.  Encourage students to bring their stories to life using props, actions, facial expressions and noises.


Create a story using a sequence of photographs to progress the story.


Students could create drawings which describe the different events in the story.  A careful selection of media and colours will ensure the appropriate tone is set for the scene of the story.


Lights, camera, action!  Acting out the story and capturing it on film offers opportunities for a range of roles and responsibilities for students. Using drama in this way can also help build confidence.

Stop frame animation

There are many software packages and apps available which will enable students to tell their story through stop frame animation. Music or a voiceover can be added to help tell the story.

Remember, putting pens down does not mean that literacy skills are forgotten, quite the opposite in fact. A focus on speaking and listening offers a different approach and perspective which can help to energise, motivate, re-engage and build confidence in pupils generally, and especially those who have literacy difficulties.

Click here for some tips on how to make the classroom more dyslexia-friendly.

Want to share your classroom experiences of dyslexia-friendly lessons at school or your favourite teacher tips? Join us online on Facebook or twitter @dyslexiaaction #DyslexiaAware2015.

For more information on No Pens Day Wednesday visit


Some 10% of the UK population are affected by dyslexia. But many people don’t actually understand what it is and how people can be affected by it. This week is Dyslexia Awareness Week in the UK and the theme is ‘Making Sense of Dyslexia’, so today we would like to help you to understand what dyslexia is.


What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that primarily affects the ability to learn to read and spell. It often runs in families and stems from a difficulty in processing the sounds in words.

A formal definition of dyslexia was recommended by Sir Jim Rose in an independent report: Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties which was agreed by the Department for Education in 2009. 

It found that dyslexia:

  • affects the ability to learn to read and spell
  • involves difficulties in dealing with the sounds of words, which makes it especially hard to learn to use phonics to read words
  • can affect short-term memory and speed of recalling names
  • can sometimes co-occur with other kinds of difficulties, for example with maths or with co-ordination (but not always)


Does everyone experience dyslexia in the same way?

Dyslexia is not the same for everyone. It can be mild or severe, can vary depending on other strengths, or difficulties, and on the kind of support and encouragement that is given at school, at home and at work.

People with dyslexia often have strengths in reasoning, in visual and creative fields; dyslexia is not related to general intelligence; and is not the result of visual difficulties.

Many people learn strategies to manage the effects of dyslexia, but it does not go away and its effects may be felt in new situations or in times of stress.

People with dyslexia often, but do not always, show characteristics of other specific learning difficulties such as dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder or dyscalculia.


What causes dyslexia?

There is strong evidence that dyslexia runs in families: if someone in a family is dyslexic, then it is very likely that other members of the family are dyslexic to some degree.

However, genetics is only part of the story: many other factors make a difference to the overall picture. There are genes that will increase or decrease the risk for dyslexia, but that risk will be affected by many other things, including the effects of teaching and the effects of other genes.


What is the best approach to dyslexia?

Understanding and access to the right sources of support are key for anyone who may have dyslexia. With the right support, strategies to overcome the difficulties associated with dyslexia can be learnt and dyslexia need not be a barrier to achievement.


Is dyslexia recognised by schools?

We have come a long way since the days when people living with dyslexia were often wrongly labelled as ‘slow’, ‘thick’ or ‘lazy’, with school reports warning parents not to expect much from their child. Today, schools have a duty to provide SEN Support where a child or young person’s learning difficulty, including dyslexia, causes them to learn at a slower pace than their peers.


What are the signs of dyslexia?

Children can display signs of dyslexia from an early age - as young as 3 or 4 years old - but it is usually not formally identified until the age of 6 or 7.  Here are some of the signs for different age groups:


Signs of dyslexia in children from 7-11

  • Seems bright in some ways but unexpectedly struggles in others
  • Other members of the family have similar difficulties
  • Has problems carrying out three instructions in sequence
  • Struggles to learn sequences such as days of the week or the alphabet
  • Is a slow reader or makes unexpected errors when reading aloud
  • Often reads a word, then fails to recognise it further down the page
  • Struggles to remember what has been read
  • Puts letters and numbers the wrong way: for example, 15 for 51, b for d or “was” for “saw”
  • Has poor handwriting and/or struggles to hold the pen/pencil correctly and/or learn cursive writing
  • Spells a word several different ways
  • Appears to have poor concentration
  • Struggles with mental arithmetic or learning times tables
  • Seems to struggle with maths and/or understanding the terminology in maths: for example, knowing when to add, subtract or multiply
  • Has difficulties understanding time and tense
  • Confuses left and right
  • Can answer questions orally but has difficulties writing the answer down
  • Has trouble learning nursery rhymes or songs
  • Struggles with phonics and learning the letter-to-sound rules
  • Seems to get frustrated or suffers unduly with stress and/or low self-esteem
  • Struggles to copy information down when reading from the board
  • Needs an unexpected amount of support with homework and struggles to get it done on time
  • Is excessively tired after a day at school


Signs of dyslexia in ages 12 to adult

  • Difficulties taking notes, planning and writing essays, letters or reports
  • Struggles with reading and understanding new terminology
  • Quality of work is erratic
  • Difficulties revising for examinations
  • Struggles to communicate knowledge and understanding in exams
  • Feels that the effort put in does not reflect performance or results
  • Forgets names and factual information, even when familiar
  • Struggles to remember things such as a personal PIN or telephone number
  • Struggles to meet deadlines
  • Struggles with personal organisation (finances/household, arrives at lessons with the wrong books, forgets appointments)
  • Difficulties filling in forms or writing cheques
  • Only reads when necessary and never for pleasure
  • Develops work avoidance tactics to disguise difficulties and/or worries about being promoted/taking professional qualifications
  • Difficulties become exacerbated when under pressure of time.


What next?

Dyslexia is complex and affects people differently and in different ways but hopefully the above has given a brief insight into some of the ways that dyslexia can affect you. If you want to find out more about it or get involved then join our online community on Twitter, on Facebook or call your local Dyslexia Action Learning Centre.


The facts

Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that affects over 6 million people in the UK. Dyslexia is recognised by law and, for many, a diagnosis can be crucial in getting the right help and support.

Research, over the last 40 has years has provided a much clearer picture of dyslexia, its causes and the support which is helpful in managing its effects. A formal definition of dyslexia was agreed by the Department for Education following a review of evidence in 2009 which found: ‘Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling’. This definition is widely recognised today and accepted by Government, the teaching profession, parents and children alike.

Speaking about this, Dr John Rack, Director of Research at Dyslexia Action said: “The Rose Review definition makes it clear that reading and spelling difficulties are linked to underlying abilities in the processing of information about word sounds. It also emphasises that dyslexia is unconnected to IQ and occurs on a continuum, which means that it will vary in severity.”

Despite general consensus on this important definition, there are some challenges to the value and validity of the concept of dyslexia, as previously discussed in the book:  ‘The Dyslexia Debate’[1]. Dr Rack comments: " The issue raised in this book is whether there is value in classifying some of these problems as ‘dyslexia', and others as not'.”

In a bid to resolve this issue, a panel of leading researchers gathered together at Durham University for a two-day discussion and last night spoke of their findings. Presenting the consensus of the panel, Prof Julian Elliott, who co-wrote the ‘Dyslexia Debate’, said that the panel had agreed:

  • There’s a significant proportion of people who struggle to learn to read, up to about 20%
  • The term dyslexia is used for ‘an extremely small number of people’ who are resistant to the best forms of structured educational intervention
  • For those people to become functionally literate we need to put into place various forms of assistive technologies.

Prof Elliott added that the label dyslexia does have an ‘…absolute functional value in saying we really need to do something very special for this very, very tiny proportion of people…’ and  ‘…when we have absolutely exhausted everything we know for those people’.

In answer to a question from the audience about whether dyslexia was under or over diagnosed a member of the panel said that there’s a ‘…very serious problem with estimates of prevalence of dyslexia as they occur on a continuum and exactly where on the continuum you demarcate people is unclear so it’s hard to say whether it’s over diagnosed or under diagnosed’. He went on to say that: ‘it’s fair to say at least 20% of population is at risk of a reading problem but how many of those have dyslexia is unclear’. He added it was difficult to say what percentage of children had difficulty responding because of that continuum.

Dyslexia Action’s response

Dyslexia Action welcomes the contributions of the academic panel and the summary of their conclusions as a useful contribution to developing our knowledge and understanding of dyslexia, and considering the best ways to communicate that.

However, we take issue with the view that only a ‘tiny’ minority of those with difficulties should be viewed as dyslexic – we do not want to see a return to the view that someone can only be called dyslexic when all reasonable attempts to help them have failed!

The panel are recognising the spectrum of difficulties and the fact that some people respond to support better than others.  We agree that more research is needed to understand these differences, but we do not see why the term dyslexia would be used for only a ‘tiny minority’.  Why not, as we do today, continue to recognise that dyslexia varies in severity?

Dr Rack said: “This narrow view of dyslexia would be quite problematic in practice. If you can't be dyslexic until all else has failed, then what are you beforehand? It would not be very easy to use 'at risk of dyslexia' as a way of explaining what your problems are and the things that are helpful in overcoming them."

Whatever academics conclude, Dyslexia Action believes it is still important to consider the views of people with dyslexia and those who work to help them make sense of their differences and difficulties.

Benefits of a diagnosis

A diagnosis can help people to access disability support; ensure they receive reasonable adjustments; and help them to understand why they are struggling more than their peers, which can help to boost confidence and self-esteem.

For instance, being assessed as dyslexic really helped student Ben, 15, regain his confidence. Following specialist support from Dyslexia Action and additional support in school for his dyslexia, Ben began his GCSEs last year on the gifted and talented register in three subjects and in most of the top sets. His Mum Ruth believes he would have failed miserably at school if his dyslexia had not been identified and he had not received specialist support. “Being labelled as dyslexic, gave Ben a reason for why he was struggling, helped him to understand himself more and gave him the confidence to persevere,” said Ruth. “He would have completely switched off and failed at school otherwise.”

Dr Rack added: “We know the term dyslexia can be helpful for many, as it helps people understand their strengths and difficulties; helps them make sense of past struggles and to access the right help and support.

“If the blocks or barriers that are getting in the way of progress can be identified, then focused support can be given to improve things or to find ways around those blocks. An assessment, which can diagnose dyslexia or other specific learning difficulties, is useful therefore to provide reassurance, or to help decide between the different options of support available.”

[1] Julian G. Elliott (Durham University) Elena L. Grigorenko (Yale University), (May 2014) The Dyslexia Debate. 



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