Volume V Number 1-2, June 1998

Audio-Assisted Reading Access For Students With Print Disabilities

Carol Evans
Graduate Student in School Psychology
University of Utah


Recorded books have been used for many years by individuals with visual impairments as an efficient way to read quantities of material when Braille was not available. They have also been used by people whose reading skills were not well-developed for a variety of reasons. It was often considered a poor substitute for "real reading." In recent years, the use of recorded books has expanded to additional populations: those with reading disabilities, as well as those with traumatic brain injury, (loosely defined to include survivors of strokes). Clear evidence of this expansion is found in the recent change of the organizational name of "Recording for the Blind" to "Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic." (See "Hitting the Books: Accessible Textbooks for K-12 Math and Science Education in this issue.)

There are many individuals whose reading deficits can not be explained by vision loss alone. Some of the have traumatic brain injury and some have a variety of learning disabilities.

Audio-Assisted Reading is a method of using recorded books along with the corresponding book in regular print, large print, video-magnified print, or Braille. This method allows the reader to use all multiple sensory inputs simultaneously to acquire and process information. It has some distinct advantages over using either print, Braille, or recorded books alone:

  1. Simultaneous use helps those with attention problems screen out competing stimuli. Some people who use recordings alone are distracted by visual stimuli in the environment. Some who use print or Braille alone are distracted by extraneous sound. Use of headphones can boost attention.
  2. If print or Braille decoding is slow and labored, it consumes all the energy needed for comprehension. By the time one gets to the end of the sentence, one may have forgotten what the beginning was about. Paragraph comprehension may require repeated re-reading. The pace and inflection of narration provides efficient decoding and comprehension.
  3. When reading textbooks, references to visual materials (illustrations, charts, graphs, maps, etc.) are made by the narrator. If the reader is following along in the print book, he or she is able to get much valuable information from examination of the illustrations. When the verbal description ends, the reader is cued by the narrator to "return to text."
  4. Young children who are having difficulty learning the relationship between sounds and symbols, but who nevertheless enjoy listening to stories, can be encouraged to discover these relationships by using recorded storybooks (available in packages along with the corresponding print books at any public library). Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic is producing early reading series materials for this purpose.
  5. Intermediate grade children who have reading deficits and are served by resources for attempted remediation may be included in regular classrooms for reading by use of recorded novels available from the State Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled. The State Libraries are divisions of the Library of Congress, and virtually all of classical and modern literature, is available free to qualifying individuals from this resource.
  6. Compensatory use of recorded books has sometimes resulted in remedial effects when all other efforts at remediation have failed. One mother told me that her son was four years below grade level in reading when he started using tapes along with books. After two years of using this method, and no other attempts at remediation, he was retested and found to be only two years below grade level. By the time he graduated from high school he was able to read on grade level. Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic has received a number of letters attesting to similar personal experiences.
Evans, C. (1998). Audio-assisted reading access for students with print disabilities. Information Technology and Disabilities E-Journal, 5(1-2).