Veronica With Four Eyes

How I Read Research Sources With Assistive Technology

Over the years, I have had several awesome teachers and professors who have helped me learn how to write essays and research papers for my classes quickly and efficiently. Because of them, I have earned consistently high scores on all of my writing assignments and papers in all of my classes, including my college classes, and frequently get asked for writing advice from my friends and other students in my classes. As part of my Writing Success series, here is how I read research sources with assistive technology as a student with low vision, and options for getting accessible copies of research papers. This post assumes that the user already has found a research source that they want to use.

First, why do I need to read research sources with assistive technology?

There are many reasons as to why someone would need to read research sources with assistive technology, and everyone has their own access preferences. In my case, I have low vision and prefer to read information in large print whenever possible and configure additional settings such as the background color and font style. When large print is not available or I am dealing with eye strain, I will use text-to-speech/screen readers to have text read out loud.

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Displaying text in a simplified reading view

For a lot of the sources that I find from my college library database, I can use web browser extensions that change the display of the webpage so that the page is well-formatted and the font size can be adjusted. This is my preferred method for reading research sources with assistive technology, as they are easy to activate and often include built-in text-to-speech. I’ve linked several free options below for using a simplified reading view across different devices.

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Downloading PDF copies of papers

A majority of the papers that I find on Google Scholar are available for PDF download. After downloading the files, I have a few different options for how to read PDFs that I use frequently:

  • Open the document in Microsoft Word so that I can adjust the font size and other information
  • Use screen magnification, pinch-to-zoom gestures, or ctrl-+ to zoom in on a page
  • Open the document in Microsoft Edge and have it read text out loud
  • Export the PDF to my eReader so that I can read without dealing with a bright screen

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Paper to HTML converter

As much as I love PDFs, my preferred file format for reading research is actually HTML, because I can use web extensions and adjust text styles more easily. Paper to HTML is a free AI-powered web application that can convert scientific and academic papers to a HTML format, with support for PDFs, LaTex sources, and JATS XML. It takes a few minutes to convert each paper, but this was super helpful when I was working on my capstone project.

There are a few websites that provide similar tools for their own databases- I’ve had great success using the arXiv Vanity tool for sources that are posted on arXiv’s website.

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Using a scanner/scanning pen

For physical copies of documents, I tend to use some form of scanning tool so that I can digitize the text and adjust the formatting on my computer or tablet. Some ways that I have done this include:

  • Using a scanning pen (I have the Scanmarker Air) to scan text on the page into my device or have it read out loud in real-time
  • Taking a picture of a document with Microsoft Office Lens and either saving the document or reading it with Immersive Reader
  • Scanning the app using a standalone or portable scanner- I have a scanner built-in to my desktop computer and printer
  • Having a visual interpreter app such as Seeing AI, Google Lens/Google Lookout, or similar read text out loud, or copy the text for later use

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Copy and pasting text into another document/app

Okay, so this doesn’t really require any advanced technology skills, but sometimes reading research sources with assistive technology is as easy as doing the following:

  1. Open the research source
  2. Select all text (ctrl-A)
  3. Copy text (ctrl-C)
  4. Open a document or app that allows me to read text in large print- this can be as simple as Notepad or Google Docs or as complex as a dedicated reading app
  5. Paste text- if possible, without additional formatting (ctrl-V/ctrl-shift-V)
  6. Edit formatting as needed

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Requesting an accessible copy of text

Students who are in college/university can request accessible copies of research sources that they need for graded assignments at no additional cost from their disability services, assistive technology, and/or accessibility departments. This is especially helpful for longer sources that are out of print or otherwise hard to find in accessible formats or otherwise.

Another option for searching for books or longer text is to see if the source is available on Bookshare, which is an online library for people who have documented print disabilities. Users can access content in multiple formats, making it a great choice for people who have several different access needs.

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Contacting the author

While this isn’t a particularly common occurrence, I ended up contacting the author of a paper I wanted to use for one of my classes and asked if they could send me the full text of their paper, because I couldn’t find the full version in an accessible format. Within a few days, the author sent me the full text of the paper in Word and PDF documents, and enthusiastically offered to answer any questions I had on the topic. Of course, this option may not always be available if the author does not have any publicly listed contact information, but it has worked out well for me when I really want to read a paper and can’t find it anywhere else.

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Other options for reading research sources with assistive technology

  • Physical copies of books and research sources can be magnified with a desktop or handheld video magnifier/CCTV- many colleges and universities have an assistive technology lab with magnifiers available for students
  • Want to learn more about finding papers in an accessible format? Check out How I Find Research Sources In Accessible Formats

How I Read Research Sources With Assistive Technology. How I use various types of assistive technology to read research sources for college papers with low vision, part of my Writing Success series