As part of my work as the Microsoft Content Specialist for AIM-VA and as a Microsoft Certified Educator, I had the opportunity to present a short talk as part of the AT Lab at the I’m Determined Summit, a virtual conference for students with disabilities who are preparing to transition to higher education. When I was asked to talk about my favorite ways to access materials as a student with low vision, I decided to focus on how to use the free Microsoft Immersive Reader tool to access a variety of different file types, and how it can be used by students of all ages. Today, I will be sharing the recording of my session, along with a Sway take-away document that can be freely shared with others.
Take-away document for Crash Course in Immersive Reader
Hello and welcome to my session for the I’m Determined Summit: Crash Course in Immersive Reader. My name is Veronica Lewis and I’m the Microsoft Content Specialist for AIM-VA and a Microsoft Certified Educator. I’m also a student at George Mason University and I run the website Veronica with four eyes (Veroniiiica) where I have hundreds of posts about using assistive technology both inside and outside of the classroom. Today, I’m going to be talking about one of my favorite free tools for reading accessible materials that transformed how I read PDFs and access content. The Microsoft Immersive Reader!
For those not familiar with it. Immersive Reader is a super cool feature built into several Microsoft products that can help users read text more easily within their favorite applications. It displays text in a full-screen view and allows users to customize settings; such as the color scheme, font size, text spacing and the amount of lines displayed at a time. Plus, it can also read text out loud without having to activate an external screen reader. How awesome is that?
Immersive Reader is a fantastic tool for students of all ages that have dyslexia, low vision, visual processing disorders and other print disabilities; as well as for students who just want to make text easier to read. It does not require any specialized assistive technology skills or fancy devices or even any extra downloads; which is great for students who are new to the world of assistive technology or students, like me, who don’t want to carry around a backpack full of different technology tools all the time.
So what can you read with Immersive Reader? Well, my answer is a little bit of everything! Immersive Reader supports several different file formats; including doc, docx, OneNote, OneNote Notebooks or One files, PDF and HTML. This means that I can read content from AIM-VA; such as textbooks, worksheets and other educational materials, that are ordered in these file formats. And by the way, DRMs can order materials in multiple file formats so that students can use different assistive technology tools. I’m a fan of the PDF and audio combo. Besides reading text in English, I can also read text an Immersive Reader in several other languages; including Spanish, Chinese, French, German, Vietnamese and more – as well as math equations that are inserted as text. Which, is super helpful for my calculus classes.
One of my favorite things about Immersive Reader though, is that I can use it across all of my favorite programs and devices – not just one program on my Windows computer. I can use it in Word, OneNote, Edge and even on my phone or iPad, with Office Lens. Here are my tips for how to open Immersive Reader across popular applications and devices.
To access Immersive Reader and Microsoft Word, first click the View tab at the top of the screen, then from the Immersive section, select Immersive Reader. Immersive reader will open from wherever the cursor is in the document.
To access Immersive Reader in OneNote, select the View tab at the top of the screen and then select either Learning Tools or Immersive Reader; depending on your version of OneNote. To open Immersive Reader, please note that for OneNote, desktop users will need to download the free Immersive Reader Addin, which can be found on the Microsoft web site and is linked in the takeaway document for this presentation.
My favorite way to read PDF documents with Immersive Reader is to open the document in Microsoft Word; which can be done by opening a blank Word document and then going to the file tab to open a new file. Users can then locate the PDF that they want to open and double-click on it to open it. It might take a couple of minutes for it to convert to the Word format so I did this offline to save time. Even if the file is in a protective view, users can still click the View tab and open Immersive Reader to read the document.
Users can access Immersive Reader inside Microsoft Edge by opening a website or HTML file in Microsoft Edge and clicking on the book icon in the web address field to open Immersive Reader. It’s worth noting that this doesn’t work for all web sites or HTML files but works great for reading large amounts of plain text. Users can navigate through Immersive Reader by using the scroll wheel on mouse.
Users can access Immersive Reader inside Microsoft Office Lens on iOS and Android, by taking a picture of the document or uploading it as a file from Onedrive. Once the file is open, users can go to the Share To section and select Immersive Reader to read the document using Immersive Reader.
Now that we’ve opened Immersive Reader, it’s time to make it our own and create personalized settings. While immersive reader settings are automatically saved from program to program, they are not synchronized. So that means that I’ll have to configure Immersive Reader in OneNote – then again in Word – and so on. However, my settings will be saved the next time I log into
the program. Here are some of the fun customization options available.
Users can change the background color of Immersive Reader by selecting the Page Color option with an Immersive Reader in Microsoft Word. For Microsoft Edge and OneNote, users can select the Text Preferences option or use a keyboard shortcut Ctrl-Shift-o. In Immersive Reader, I use the dark inverted theme most often as a student with low vision.
To adjust the font size and font type in Immersive Reader, use the same Text Preferences menu to adjust the slider and increase the size of the text. Users can also choose a display font from Calibri, Sitka or Comic Sans. In addition, users can zoom in on the document itself using the Zoom Slider or the Ctrl+ shortcut.
For users that prefer to read one to five lines at a time, they can go into the Reading Preferences, in Word or OneNote, and enable Line Focus. From there, users can decide how many lines they want to display at a time. This is helpful for people who only want to focus on a few lines at a time while reading.
For users that benefit from having text read out loud, the Read Aloud feature acts as a built-in screen reader so that users can have text read out loud without having additional navigation items read out loud, as well. This can be done by selecting the Read Aloud button in Microsoft Word – which looks like a capital A with a speaker coming out of it – or by clicking the Play button within Microsoft OneNote, at the bottom of the screen.
If users do not want to use Immersive but still want to have text read out loud, they can use the keyboard shortcut Alt+control+space in Word or Control+ shift+G in Edge. This works for PDF and HTML documents that are opened in Microsoft edge, as well. Instead of using a keyboard shortcut, users can also go to the options setting in Microsoft Edge and then click the Read Aloud button.
For users that wish to identify different parts of speech within text, Immersive Reader can highlight different parts of speech and customizable colors. Underneath the grammar options menu, users can trigger different sliders on and off to determine which parts of speech they want to have highlighted and change the colors using this drop-down box next to the words. In addition to showing different parts of speech, users can also choose to separate the syllables in a word by enabling the Syllables option.
Users who want to know the definition of a word can use the Picture Dictionary function; which can be enabled within the Reading Preferences menu. Users can enable the Picture Dictionary by selecting a word or by clicking or tapping on it and a picture illustrating the word will pop-up as well as an option to hear the word read out loud. This service is powered by Boardmaker, so frequent users of assistive technology may recognize a lot of the illustrations. It’s worth noting that the picture dictionary is not available across all platforms yet, though it is available in languages other than English. Users can visit the Office Support website to learn more about what features are available for individual languages.
Overall I think my favorite thing about using Immersive Reader is that I can use it independently access content from AIM-VA, Bookshare, George Mason’s Assistive Technology Initiative and similar organizations that specialize in the creation of accessible materials – as well as for accessing materials in my online and physical classes, that may not have been accessible from the start. Immersive Reader helps me tremendously with being able to access digital content that I might not otherwise be able to read and for making already accessible content even more awesome by allowing me to customize settings without worrying about accidentally editing or even worse, deleting the content that I’m working on or reading.
Before we wrap up, I’m linking a Microsoft Sway document below that can be opened in any web browser; as well as a PDF copy of the same Sway, that has copies of the screen recordings and text-based instructions for setting up Immersive Reader. I’ll also be adding a recording of this session when it becomes available to the Sway document as well. If you have any more questions about using Immersive Reader with accessing AIM-VA materials or any other AIM-VA related questions ,please feel free to send us an email or go to our website at aimva.org and we’ll be able to help you from there. If you want to contact me directly, you can send me an email at veron4ica at gmail dot com or follow me on Twitter at VERON4ICA.
Thank you for coming to our session for the I’m Determined Summit and I hope that you love Immersive Reader as much as I do!
Related links on Veronica With Four Eyes
- Microsoft Immersive Reader Review
- All About AIM-VA
- Common File Types For Vision Impairment and Print Disabilities
- Seven Accessibility Features You Didn’t Know Existed In Microsoft Office
- Why Every Student Needs Microsoft Office Lens
- How To Request Accessible Textbooks In College
- My Eight Favorite Free Fonts For Print Disabilities
- Ways To Read Webpages Without A Traditional Screen Reader