Tech-enabled inclusive reading: bridging gaps in educational accessibility

Reading for learning is undeniably an essential element of academic success (e.g., Miller and Merdian, 2020). However, it is equally important to recognise the challenges some learners face when engaging with text.

Ensuring inclusivity in reading means providing all students, regardless of disabilities, language proficiency, or learning styles, with the means to access, engage with, and understand the learning material.

Contemporary technology offers a range of solutions to meet diverse reading needs and it is important that educators familiarise themselves with these technologies and promote their use among students. Adopting such a proactive and positive stance, as highlighted by Lin and Yu (2023), is essential for encouraging students to explore and use various reading solutions. This approach contributes to creating a more inclusive learning environment that benefits all students.

Our recent Light Lunch session delved into this topic, featuring guest speakers Dr. Andrew MacFarlane,
Dr. Tracey Booth, Jessica Wykes, and Sumayyah Islam. They shared their experiences with various reading tools and formats, offering valuable insights on how these technologies enhance learning and accommodate diverse needs.

The discussion revolved around the following topics:

  1. The diversity of reading tools and their impact.
  2. Challenges and limitations of existing reading technologies.
  3. Strategies to encourage students to use reading tools.

Below is a summary of the discussion:

1)    The diversity of reading tools and their impact

Dr Andrew Macfarlane spoke about his use of Read and Write, a standalone application that aids in proofreading by reading text aloud. He highlighted the importance of having a larger font size for easier reading and the benefits of multimodal access, where text is read and displayed simultaneously. This approach particularly helps in catching grammatical errors or awkward sentences.

Dr Tracey Booth shared a different perspective. Despite trying various tools, she has not found one that fits all situations or addresses her specific reading difficulties. The ability to control text presentation, like changing font type, size, and line spacing, has been crucial for her. She finds reading on an e-reader more comfortable but noted its limitations with academic papers or textbooks.

Jessica Wykes discussed her familiarity with tools like Immersive Reader and shared her experience in supporting students who use specialist assistive technologies. These tools, including magnifier readers like ZoomText and screen readers like JAWS and NVDA, are integral for students with visual impairments. She also mentioned other eBook readers like Thorium and Dolphin Easy Reader that offer a more natural reading experience.

Sumayyah Islam shared her use of an iPad for reading ePub files and the significant impact of the Ally tool – available to students via Moodle – in annotating and changing the colour of pages. As a computer science student, she found that using colour schemes in coding to highlight similar parts of the code was particularly helpful.

She emphasised the importance of introducing tools like Ally in induction workshops, as they benefit all students, not just those with disabilities.

2)    Challenges and limitations of existing reading technologies

The speakers did not shy away from discussing the challenges they face. One common theme was the recognition that one size does not fit all. Personalising the reading experience to cater to individual needs is crucial. The cost of experimenting with different tools and technologies, specifically, the required time and effort to try the tools and features, was also highlighted as a significant barrier.

Another challenge is the compatibility and interoperability of these tools with various formats. Educators like Tracey Booth pointed out the need for awareness among students about the availability of these tools and the importance of screening for learning difficulties like dyslexia.

3)    Strategies to encourage students to use reading tools

The speakers discussed the importance of encouraging students to experiment with different formats, raising awareness, and universally promoting tools. As for the future, integrating the ePub format into library platforms, as emphasised by Jessica Wykes, can enhance the accessibility and inclusivity of reading. She also proposed the concept of a “reading lab”, where students could test various hardware and software to determine what best suits their reading needs.

The discussion concluded with personal stories, emphasising the need for early diagnosis and support for learning difficulties. The speakers’ experiences highlighted the importance of not just having the right tools but also ensuring that students are aware of and comfortable using them.

The insights from this discussion highlight the dynamic nature of reading in the digital era. The range of tools available can significantly enhance the reading experience, catering to diverse needs and learning styles. However, awareness, accessibility, and personalisation remain key challenges that educators and students must navigate. As technology continues to evolve, so must our approach to reading and learning, ensuring that everyone has the tools they need to succeed.

Dr Sylwia Frankowska-Takhari, Digital Accessibility, LEaD


Lin, Y. and Yu, Z. (2023) Extending Technology Acceptance Model to higher-education students’ use of digital academic reading tools on computers. Int J Educ Technol High Educ 20, 34.

Miller, K. and Merdian, H. (2020) “It’s not a waste of time!” Academics’ views on the role and function of academic reading: A thematic analysis. Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice, 17(2), pp. 20-35.

Image source: iStock (licensed: 2094680071)

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