As someone living with low vision, one of the biggest tasks that I have trouble with on a daily basis is reading. Things like confusing formatting, a difficult-to-read font, advertisements, or a bright neon background for text can all dramatically impact how long I am able to stare at a screen to read something, or sometimes whether I can read it at all. When I find myself overwhelmed with reading, I frequently turn to my favorite tools to make text easier to read so that I can focus more on the text and less on straining my eyes to read it. Here are five ways to simplify reading with technology tools that eliminate distractions and allow the user to focus on the content, with a focus on inexpensive and free tools that anyone can benefit from regardless of if they have low vision or not.
Microsoft Office Lens
Microsoft Office Lens is a free app on Android and iOS that allows users to scan in copies of documents, photos, whiteboards, business cards, and similar content using their device’s camera. After scanning in the content, users can further edit the image or keep it as is and export it in the format of their choice. While users will need a Microsoft account to access the app, they do not need to have an Office 365 subscription or any other paid service, and they do not need to be connected to the internet or data to use the app either. I love that the app has built-in VoiceOver compatibility and that it can help users with aligning a document so that it can be easily scanned in.
- Why Every Student Needs Microsoft Office Lens
- Office Lens for Android
- Office Lens for iOS
- Microsoft Store link
- How To Use VoiceOver For Beginners
Microsoft Immersive Reader
Immersive Reader is a free tool that is part of several Microsoft products. It strips away background images, confusing formatting, and other distractions and displays large, simple-to-read text that can be accessed with a variety of assistive technologies. If a user has any of the mobile apps installed, they can open documents and webpages in Immersive Reader, which I have used for PDF files on my iPad.
- Microsoft Immersive Reader Review
- My Talk At I’m Determined Summit: Crash Course In Immersive Reader
- Ways To Read Webpages Without A Traditional Screen Reader
Pocket is a free app that allows users to save articles, webpages, and videos from the internet for offline viewing at a later time. After saving an article, the content is sent to the user’s Pocket list which is synchronized across devices, and simplifies the visual display of articles so that they are easier to read. Users can adjust the text size and add tags to help organize their content as well. Pocket is available on web browsers, Mac, iOS, Android, Amazon Alexa, and several other popular platforms.
- Pocket App Accessibility For Visual Impairment
- Pocket for iOS on the App Store
- Pocket on the Mac App Store
- Pocket for Android on Google Play Store
- Pocket Skill for Amazon Alexa
Like the Microsoft Office Lens app, the Scanmarker Air scans in text using an OCR scanner. However, the Scanmarker Air is a physical, wireless device that can connect to a computer, phone, or tablet. Text is scanned in, and then can be copied and pasted into another app. My favorite way to use it is scanning in text from books or magazines that may be difficult to photograph. The Scanmarker Air device can be purchased for $99 on Amazon.
Unlike the other apps, Rewordify formats text and web pages and simplifies difficult English, which can then be copied into other programs. I found that only 1 of the 75 words that the program changed in a sample article I tested was incorrect- the other 74 words flowed naturally in the article and made it easier to understand. If there is no need for the comprehension function, I highly recommend copying the text into Microsoft Word and creating an accessible document.
Rewordify uses the web browser, with no downloads or accounts needed to use the basic functions of the program. I like that it is also kid-friendly and easy to navigate, making it great for use in an elementary school classroom.
Summary of five ways to simplify reading with technology
- Microsoft Office Lens is a free app for scanning items using a smartphone or tablet camera
- Microsoft Immersive Reader simplifies the display of a webpage or document and allows users to customize how text is displayed without changing the original document
- Pocket allows users to save articles, webpages, and videos from the internet for offline viewing at a later time
- The ScanMarker Air is a physical device for scanning printed materials that costs $99
- Rewordify formats text and webpages to simplify difficult English, which can then be copied into other programs