Reading and Listening Digitally

A friend of mine, Iron Lesbian #2, emailed me with a request and I thought one of you smart folks might have a better solution that I did:

I got a message from a HS classmate and I’m hoping you can help (she emailed me because she knows I’m a big reader and I have paper books plus iPad and Kindle).  Her daughter has dyslexia and needs to both see and hear words.  Deb downloads audio books on the iPad but the daughter needs to both see and hear the words.  Do you know of any iPad apps that would allow her to see the words and listen to the audio book at the same time? I tried to search the app store but came up empty.

Now, I know that audio and digital rights are separate, obviously, and not every book in the Amazon library has text-to-speech enabled, but do you know of an app that would allow a reader to see and hear the words as they are being read? Any suggestions, even if they are software and not apps, welcome, though obviously this is an app-based request. I’m very curious how different readers use software, particularly to overcome learning obstacles.



Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Elisabeth says:

    There are several solutions, many of which depend on whether the girl has an official diagnosis/documentation in order to comply with the copyright law exemption (the Chaffee ammendment) that allows these organizations to operate. My answer assumes that the family lives in the U.S.

    The non-profit organization Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic produces specialized audiobooks in a format called DAISY that has recorded audio synced up with digital text. A dyslexic person can listen to these audiobooks while viewing the text on a stand-alone device such as the ClassMate Reader from HumanWare, or a PC program (there are several). RFB&D specializes in textbook materials., another non-profit organization, also has DAISY books, but they are text-only so you will need to make sure that the hardware or software you purchase has text-to-speech to “read” the books in sync with the text. They have a much bigger library than RFB&D with a wider range of materials available. sent out a survey to its members a few months ago (I’m blind, not dyslexic) to feel out possible interest in an iPad/iPhone app that’s compatible with their books.

  2. 2
    Ana says:

    There is a free (at least when I got it it was free) program that you can download: Microsoft Reader. It works with .lit documents and it is for the computer (don’t know if it works on kindle, but i suppose on the ipad it should). This program reads the words and it’s not very fast-paced. And you can disconnect the “voice” function and just read, plus it saves the last page you were on for next time.
    hope it helps

  3. 3
    Elisabeth says:


    Unfortunately, Microsoft Reader and the .lit format have many drawbacks for people with print disabilities. Most of the books that are legally available in that format have DRM that prevents them from being read aloud using text-to-speech. They can’t be read on a Kindle without breaking the DRM (the Kindle uses a form of .mobi, not .lit) and converting to another format. There is no app for the iPad that supports DRM-restricted .lit files.

  4. 4
    Ana says:

    Oh, sorry to hear that, Elizabeth. I’m not really computer-savvy so I didn’t know :(
    I’m sure they’ll be fine with the ones you gave anyway ;)

  5. 5
    tesh says:

    The only way I know of doing it is converting the files to text and then back to a kindle file >:P

    If you have firefox on your computer you can download the foxvox add-on. You highlight the text you want to read on any webpage, then right click and use the foxvox option to either read the text for you, or create an MP3 for you.

  6. 6
    jessica says:

    Reading and listening at the same time is a great solution for struggling readers but syncing everything up can be a bit of a pain. 

    School librarian and audiobook expert Mary Burkey has this post, which gives specific directions on how to load and then sync classic audiobooks and texts. 

    Another option is to purchase both the ebook version and a digital audio version.  I think the new ipad can or will allow multitasking.  When it does it should be fairly easy to pull up the book, and then start the audio file and the reader can turn the pages manually in sync with the audio.  Until this happens, a cheap mp3 player can play the audio file while the reader follows along on the ipad.

  7. 7
    Diva says:

    Not to be too old-school about this, but in my classroom I use a listening station (cd player with headphones) and pop in the audio CD and hand the kiddo the book as well. Low tech, I know, but I also find it helps to read aloud with the kid when she has the book in front of her and use a bookmark to track the print.

    I hope you find an app that will help!

  8. 8
    Ken Houghton says:

    If she can get files in Adobe Acrobat format, everything from 6.0 forward (at least) has text-to-speech.

    I would assume—don’t know for certain—that the Adobe Digital Editions (which can, for instance, be downloaded from the NYPL for free) would also include that functionality.

  9. 9
    Pharaby says:

    It’s a little pricey (about $130) but the LiveScribe pen lets you record as you write, on these special notepads, and then when you click on the word or phrase, it reads it back to you. You can do a TON of fabulous things with it.

    It would be fabulous for dyslexic students or ESL students. I want one to USE in my classroom so i can model different things and then upload the transcribed notes and a pencast.

    Check it out:

  10. 10
    Isobel Carr says:

    OT: Anyone know why my gravatar stopped working on SB?

  11. 11
    Raine says:

    I don’t know of much for e-readers and the computer, but there is a reading pen
    The pen scans the words then reads them back. It can also provide definitions.
    There is also a really good text-to-speech software called Natural Reader. It has an option to change the voice. But I think it only works with documents. I’m not sure.
    I would check with the special ed teacher at school to see if they know of any other resources. Special ed teachers generally are very up-to-date on the technology available for struggling readers. (or atleast have contacts)
    I really hope you find something to help.

  12. 12
    Stephanie says:

    There’s no text to speech in Adobe Digital Editions, at least not that I’ve ever found.

  13. 13
    Rebecca says:

    I’ve had colleagues who’ve had success with Diva’s solution also: physical book + audio book on either cd or i-pod, with headphones.  It has the advantage the fully produced audio books are not computer generated voices, and also allows kids to work on things like timing page turns.  (This sounds trivial but it isn’t.)  Low-tech, but effective.

  14. 14
    Dee says:


    Depending on age, the Tumblebooks web site ( is good. It’s got full texts of picture books and short novels that are formatted so that they are read aloud while the text is highlighted. I access it for free through my local public library’s subscription. It’s not an app, and requires internet access, but it’s good and I use it with students at school.

  15. 15
    Ridley says:

    My understanding is that it’s legal to strip DRM to enable text-to-speech to accommodate a disability.

    I’d suggest just googling how to circumvent the DRM – there are even how-to videos on YouTube – and then turning TTS on. HTH.

  16. 16
    Elaine says:

    She may be interested in Kurzweil. I used this software program to scan texts for students with learning disabilities in a college study center. The program created audio files of the text that could be uploaded on the students’ iPods. Takes some work—lots of scanning—but you don’t have to pay for multiple formats or worry about DRM. The software may not be cost effective, but chances are a local school or library has access for a trial run.

  17. 17
    CrookedGoose says:

    I’m not sure how old the girl is but if she’s younger, a TAG by leap frog may be helpful. It’s a pen that reads each of the words a loud and the user controls the pen, so she determines the speed without any hassle.

    Also if she’s young the Popout Apps for the iPad are amazing.  The Peter Rabbit app is wonderful.  It reads a loud, while highlighting the words.  The pictures are interactive without being distracting.  My kids love, love, love it.

  18. 18
    Orli says:

    The newest kindle has this ability on most of its books, depending on the publishers.

  19. 19
    Kristi says:

    This may sound like a dumb question, but I assume the iPad can play audio files while doing something else (like using a reading app), yes?

    Am I missing something or is the simple solution not adequate here?

    I guess you’d have to buy/check-out two copies of every book—one in ePrint format and one in audiobook format. Then just start them both up at once. I know our library has a bunch of eBooks and audio books to check out through Overdrive.

    My kids (little ones but no dislexia) check out book & cd combos from the library all the time. I pop in the CD and they turn the pages and follow along with the story. The 3-year old can’t always sync up the picture with words if he doesn’t have the CD track that has a chime to turn the page, but my 6-year old has no trouble (she also reads short chapter books). Again, no dislexia so I don’t know what all is necessary to work with a child with that issue. And I don’t know the age of the child in question or their reading level.

    For little kids who are still in the picture book stage, there are lots of kids book/reading app and programs on line that both read the words and show them onscreen (Disney comes to mind, for some sort of monthly fee to see interactive “ebooks” through a web browser). Older kids or teenagers might need to go with the ebook + audio book combo?

  20. 20
    Owen Kennedy says:

    There is text to speech in Adobe. I downloaded Adobe Reader 9 for free online. Open up the PDF file and go to the top tool bar where it says ‘View’. The last selection under View is ‘Read Out Loud’. I opened up a document a minute ago and turned it on to make sure it reads out loud. It works.

    Email me if you need help or need me to send you the download link from online and I’ll track it down.

  21. 21
    kkw says:

    I am hideously un-tech savvy, so I don’t have any answers, but I volunteer at Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I would be to read some romance novels.  I always wondered why textbooks were so poorly written, but reading them out loud is a whole new world of wonder.  No flow.  And strangely lacking in sex scenes.

  22. 22
    Emily says:

    One of the problems is that we don’t know how old the child is.
    My own mother, who always worked outside the house, (point being not a stay-at home mom with lots of time on her hands) read to me as a child (Mom and I read together until I was twelve). If the girl is young I recommend that the mother either find two of the books and or just let her daughter look on the text while the mother reads.
    Talk about very low tech solutions, but I do think it could work and many of my happiest memories of both childhood and spending time with my mom involve us reading together. It still makes me happy thinking about it/ (It also helped turn into a lifelong reader.)
    (I guess I owe my mother a lot. Thanks mom!)
    Anyway I don’t know about high tech solutions, but I would think that you should be able to both print and audio copies.
    Best wishes to the girl, dislexia can be tough, but LDs are conquerable and I wish all kinds of success.

  23. 23
    Emily says:

    (It also helped turn me into a lifelong reader.)

  24. 24
    Daniela says:

    You know, I don’t know about any thing that could be done about ebooks with both, but I want to let it be know that I have dyslexia, and was diagnosed when I was in 3rd grade, after that my mom used to lay in bed with me for an hour every night and she would hold the book out so that I could see the words and she would read to me. And she would help me read as well every few pages following with her finger and helping me when I got mixed up.
    Now I also went to tutoring for 3 years, 2 of which were to the Masonic Learning Center in Milwaukee. And for those 2 years I went 2 times a week an hour away from home. I worked my ass off to be able to read as well as I do, and now, I read more than anyone else I know and I love to write as well.
    I think that from personal experience that even if you don’t find anything that reads out loud as well as shows text, that maybe the mom and dad could read with her sometimes. Or another thing that I would suggest would be to get a book on tap and then the actual book and I used to use them a lot; there are bookmarks that have a line width colored see-through area so that she doesn’t skip lines on the page.
    Or for some ebooks I think that they have apps where lines can be highlighted and she can read that way.
    I hope that everything works out well! I know it might be hard now, but it will get better!
    For school, if you haven’t already, I would look into getting her an IEP.

  25. 25
    Aimee says:

    If she’s younger and just learning to read than Leap Frog has a good TAG program that involves moving a pen over the words in the book and says it out loud – even sounds it outloud. If she’s older, than I don’t know. Good Luck!

  26. 26
    Deborah says:

    I am the mother of the dyslexic, 9 yo daughter.  I wanted to thank each of you for you valuable information.  I plan on exploring/investigating each suggestion.  This helped me tremedously!!!!!

  27. 27
    Maria Rosita Apaza Marchaqa says:

    This is just a suggestion. I am a blind user of apple technologies, namely an iPod Touch. I use VoiceOver and iBooks. This works well for reading PDFs and other file formats. As of yet I have had no problems using VoiceOver for this.  Daisy format is brilliant although Daisy Books from the RFB&D have DRM restrictions which can make playback awkward. I would love to play my RFB&D Daisy Books on my iPod but I cannot afford thier application. I like the RFB&D and cannot afford access to Bookshare, However I do wish that there books would play in any Daisy Book reader. They seem to assume that we are all pirates, all the DRM does is make honest people lives difficult. It would be wonderful If I could use RFB&D’s books on other portable devices. All the DRM does is turn honest people into pirates through necessity (I have not done this). Sorry turning into a DRM rant :) .

    I hope that you find a solution that works. I know of several others but will have to check my facts before posting here.

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