Range of Virginia students benefit from text reader software

With nearly 170,000 students statewide qualifying for special education services, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has a ongoing need for technology to support literacy for students with physical and reading disabilities. Through the George Mason University Accessible Instructional Materials Center (AIM-VA), VDOE has taken an important step in that process by renewing its statewide license of the ebook software Read:OutLoud 6.

In 2009, VA educators had attended workshops to learn to use the software to open digital files and to accommodate students who have difficulties reading and manipulating standard print. “VA educators were enthusiastic and quick to take advantage of this software,” said Joyce Sharp, AIM-VA Coordinator of Training. “Based on their feedback, we extended the license so that more students would receive reading accommodations through this technology." VA Superintendents and Digital Rights Managers (DRMs) can sign up on the AIM-VA website to download the Read:OutLoud 6 at no cost.

Read:OutLoud 6 enables access to a wide range of eBook formats including DAISY, PDF, NIMAS, RTF, TXT, XML and HTML and Bookshare files and opens them without conversion. The software includes a set of reading comprehension tools and an accessible web browser. Virginia students with IEPs and those served under 504 plans can use the text reader at school - and at home - to study independently while receiving timely access to electronic textbooks and accessible instruction materials, as required by IDEA 2004 law.

"Through this statewide license, VA schools can use a quality text reader at considerable cost savings and receive in depth professional services that Don Johnston and our training team provide,"said Michael Behrmann, Ed.D., Director of AIM-VA.

It's not only students with disabilities who benefit from the software. In Fairfax Public Schools, teachers are uisng Read:OutLoud 6 throughout the district to provide accessible instruction materials for students in general and special education. Enthusiastic about their experience, a group of Fairfax teachers created a video to describe a fifth grade reading program on global awareness using the text reader.

Mike Smith, Information Technology Project Leader for Henrico Public Schools, Va, is the Digital Rights Manager for 67 schools and provides feedback to the AIM-VA committee. His team developed a 5-step process to ensure that every teacher experiences success with the AIM-VA statewide reading initiative.

"Our website makes it easy for educators to identify students who qualify to receive access to the reading software and to request digital books on their behalf," said Mr. Smith. "If an 8th grader can only read on a 3rd grade level, this software can enhance his confidence and improve his reading potential. This year, we want to provide Read:OutLoud 6 to an estimated 6800 eligible students.”