AT for Reading: Ear Reading for Everyone

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January 2016

By David C. Winters

Dr. Dave's Assistive Technology Lab LogoWelcome back! I can’t tell you how much I enjoy your visits, especially how you enjoy learning new ways to use AT for literacy.

You might remember that last time we talked about some additional ways to use text-to-speech apps to read e-text. I hope you got a chance to try one or two of them. Today I thought we’d chat about a different strategy to use when approaching learning from textual information.

Ear Reading

If you’re like most people, including me, when you hear the word reading you immediately think of looking at letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs in order to gain meaning. Ben Foss, an entrepreneur, inventor, and author, calls this type of reading eye reading (Foss, 2013). Even though eye-reading is what most people think of when they think of reading, Foss discusses two other types of reading: finger reading—using Braille to access text, and ear reading—using text-to-speech apps such as those we’ve been talking about during your past few visits to my lab.

Foss (2013) has pointed out that an individual can learn textual information through any of these three types of reading. Although one of the types of reading will emerge generally as the most efficient for the learner, the type that works best may vary depending on the purpose of reading. For the majority of readers, the most efficient type of reading is eye reading. However, for a person with a severe visual impairment, both finger reading and ear reading would probably be more efficient than eye reading. For a person with dyslexia, ear reading might be the most efficient approach to learning, even when that person’s eye reading has improved. More importantly, the person’s ear reading may be significantly better for learning new content and concepts—which, of course, remains a vital instructional priority (see, IDA’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading).

Many of the AT strategies for reading that we’ve discussed so far have focused on using ear reading to supplement eye reading through text-to-speech apps. While these apps speak the text, they also show the text and even highlight each word while it is being spoken. Today, let’s begin discussing some ways to access textual information solely through ear reading. During this visit, we’ll talk about an option available to everyone—people with and without dyslexia—and at our next visit we’ll discuss some options available to people with documented difficulty with reading.


I don’t know about you, but I’ve always enjoyed listening to good stories. I remember going to my local public library just down the street as I was growing up and borrowing recorded versions of books to play on my cassette player.

Today, ( is an excellent source for audio versions of thousands of books, periodicals, and audio presentations such as radio plays/programs and speeches. With over 180,000 audiobooks currently available, ear readers can choose from almost 200 categories, with many of the audiobooks in both abridged and unabridged editions. I should note that the selection includes very few textbooks.

The recorded audiobooks use professional actors—and sometimes even the authors themselves—as the narrators. For example, Ben Foss is the reader for his book, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child’s Confidence and Love of Learning (2013). He even includes a short audio demonstration highlighting how he accommodates for his own dyslexia as he does the recording.

The free app is available on many devices, including Windows and Mac (requires iTunes) computers; smartphones and tablets using iOS, Android, or Windows Phone operating systems; and devices with Kindle or iTunes apps.

While the playback apps are free, users purchase individual audiobooks at varying prices. The ear reader can then download the audiobook to up to four computers and three Audible-ready devices. The apps can synchronize among all of these devices so that the listener can stop listening to the book on one device and then start at the exact spot on a different device. An option also exists to purchase the Kindle e-book version and keep the two versions synched should a user ear read some of the book and then want to eye read from that spot.

Besides purchasing each title individually, offers several membership plans in which the member purchases a set number of credits to use to buy audiobooks, with most audiobooks available for a single credit.

Current plans range from a $14.95 monthly plan (1 credit/month) to a $229.50 annual plan (24 credits @ $9.56/credit). Members can also purchase additional audiobooks at a discount instead of using credits. To help ear readers get started, offers a 30-day trial membership that allows the download of a single audiobook.

The apps provide some flexibility for the ear reader. One nice feature for the experienced ear reader is the ability to adjust the playback speed up to three times faster than the original playback speed. This option can be very helpful to people who use ear reading as their primary reading mode because the typical oral reading rate is slower than the typical silent reading rate. If you want to increase the playback speed, you’ll need to train your brain how to do it, so do it gradually over time to be sure that you maintain full comprehension of the material.

In addition to adjusting the playback speed, ear readers can select specific chapters for listening. The apps also allow the ear reader to insert bookmarks while listening in order to revisit that spot later. Some of the apps also skip forward or backward by 30 seconds, which is very helpful for someone who realizes that she didn’t quite understand what she just heard or that she already heard that part. For those who like to fall asleep while ear reading, the apps even provide a sleep timer.

Oh! My! Where has the time gone?! I see that our time together is over and you need to leave. Well, I guess we’ll leave some other options for ear reading until we meet again. See you soon!


Foss, B. (2013). The dyslexia empowerment plan: A blueprint for renewing your child’s confidence and love of learning. New York: Ballatine Books.

More of Dr. Winter’s AT Labs:

September 2015

June 2015
Reading E-Text: Alternative Strategies Using AT

February 2015
AT for Reading: Alternative Strategies using AT

October 2014
AT for Reading: Young Children

May 2014

Did You Catch All That? Note-Taking and AT

February 2014
Welcome to Dr. Dave’s AT Lab!

David C. Winters, Ph.D., Fellow/AOGPE, is an associate professor in the Department of Special Education at Eastern Michigan University. He has been a classroom teacher, tutor, diagnostician, administrator, and tutor/teacher trainer for over 30 years and is a member of the International Dyslexia Association Orton Oaks. He currently teaches courses introducing preservice teachers to special education as well as instructional and assistive technology, writing, and assessment in special education for preservice special educators and speech language pathologists.

David Winters has no relevant financial or non-financial relationships to disclose with any of the resources discussed in this article. Opinions expressed in Examiner articles and/or via links do not necessarily reflect those of IDA.

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