Smartphone Apps Helping Students With Dyslexia

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Smartphone technology is being put to work to help those with dyslexia and other reading disabilities achieve their full potential in the classroom.

DyslexiaKey, developed by two Babson college students who have made other apps, is a custom keyboard for people with reading disorders. It can be used within any iPhone app, reports Rebecca Strong of BostInno.

DyslexiaKey allows people to type in an open-source font called OpenDyslexic, in which letters have heavier bottoms to combat the common problems of letters flipping and switching. The app is available in the iTunes store, but doesn’t yet have autocorrect or other features that the team is planning on including in updates.

Another app called Voxdox takes a different route, and uses text-to-speech technology to aid disabled users. It was released in March 2013 and has become immensely popular, says Dennis Mitzner of Information Week. The app combines e-readers and text-to-speech apps so that users only need to use a single app to have documents read out loud to them.

Some grade school students are also taking matters into their own hands. A group of Texas middle schoolers developed a winning app concept to make reading easier for people with dyslexia.

Last year, 14-year-old Rishi Shridharan’s science project focused on a survey of 150 people who were asked whether they thought changing the way text appeared would help them read better. Almost all of them said yes.

According to Eva-Marie Ayala of the Dallas News, Shridharan learned of the Verizon Innovative App Challenge less than a month before the deadline, so he and some fellow eighth graders from Rice Middle School worked around the clock to finish their project.

Their app, called Mind Glass, would allow smartphone and computer users to change the background colors, fonts, and text sizes on web pages to fit the individual’s comfort. Ideally, it would be capable of using OCR (optical character recognition) so that users could snap a photo from a book and adjust the text on their smartphones. David Yue says of his team’s project:

Dyslexia is a really big problem in the world. It doesn’t mean that someone is not smart. They just have a disability or a neurological misfiring that doesn’t allow them to read as well as other people. We wanted to give every dyslexic a chance to be able to excel in school and all the activities they do.”

Their team was one of eight national finalists earning $20,000 for their school and the chance to work with MIT professionals to build the app and to learn about coding and programming. Once the app is developed, they will present it at the National Technology Student Association conference, this summer.

For the students, one of the most important lessons they learned over the course of the project was on the nature of disabilities. Lauren Bramlett, another team member, discovered that many of her relatives were dyslexic. According to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, 20% of students have some sort of reading disability, and 20% of those people end up dropping out of high school.