AT for Reading: Ear Reading for Individuals with Print Disabilities

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By David C. Winters

March 2016

I thought I heard you coming down the hall! I’m so glad to see you again for another visit. Let me put down these earphones. I was just spending a few minutes catching up on some of my ear reading while waiting for you to arrive.

Do you remember your last visit when we started talking about ear reading, which Foss (2013) states is one of three ways individuals can approach reading? You might recall that the other two ways are eye reading, which is how most people approach reading, and finger reading, which is especially helpful for people withDr. Dave's Assistive Technology Lab Logo significant visual impairment.

Last time I focused on an ear reading option—available to everyone whether they have dyslexia or not. Today, I want to tell you about two ear reading options available to people with documented print disabilities, including those with dyslexia.

Print Disability

I’m wondering if you’ve heard the term print disability before. According to the Higher Education Opportunity Act (2008), a person with a print disability “experiences barriers to accessing instructional material in non-specialized formats.” I like to use the term print disability to describe people who have difficulty accessing print because they have significant visual impairment, difficulty holding the printed materials, or a learning disability such as dyslexia.

While not using the specific term print disabilities, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004) does require publishers to provide educational materials in alternative formats, known as accessible educational materials (AEM), for the students covered by this law. In addition, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990) extend availability of AEM materials to people covered by those laws.

If you want to learn more about AEM after you leave today, be sure to visit

One AEM format utilizes ear reading, similar to the books on that we discussed at your last visit. While offers only a few textbooks, I want to talk to you today about two organizations that offer textbook and other educational materials suitable for ear readers: Learning Ally and Bookshare.

Learning Ally

For over 65 years, Learning Ally ( has provided audio versions of textbooks and other educational materials for people with print disabilities. Using trained volunteer readers, all of the Learning Ally materials are audiobooks with human-narration. Currently, over 80,000 titles are available to individuals with documented print disabilities. To become a Learning Ally member, you must submit appropriate documentation of a print disability. If you qualify for Learning Ally membership, the current annual membership fee is $119. The organization also offers a fee waiver assistance program for people and families with significant financial need.  

Ear readers using Learning Ally materials can download the books on specialized apps on many devices, including Windows, Mac, Chromebook, Apple, and Android. While all titles are in an audiobook format, some include VOICEtext, which displays the text and highlights it as it is being read. The apps also allow ear readers to adjust the speed of the narration. Because the original focus of Learning Ally was on individuals with visual impairment, the narrators provide detailed descriptions of pictures, charts, and graphs that appear on a page.

In addition to the audiobooks available to people with print disabilities, Learning Ally has numerous resources to support the user’s teachers and family. For example, teachers can use Teacher Ally to manage their students’ use of the Learning Ally materials. Learning Ally also provides webinars and events for members.


Another organization that provides AEM for people with documented print disabilities is Bookshare ( Bookshare has over 390,000 titles, including several magazines and newspapers, which are available in several AEM formats.

In the U.S., membership in Bookshare is free for students with a documented print disability. Those who do not have a documented print disability can join Bookshare for an annual fee, which is currently $50. Agencies that serve qualified individuals (e.g., schools, hospitals, agencies, etc.) may join as organizational members, which is also free for organizations in the U.S.

Unlike the human narration provided by and Learning Ally, Bookshare’s audiobooks use digitized speech. Members can download additional high-quality digitized voices at no cost. Bookshare also offers AEM materials in other formats for both eye readers and finger readers.

Members ear read books using the Bookshare Web Reader or other apps such as VoiceDream Reader (, Read2Go (, or the Windows-based Open LORE Reader ( Features such as highlighting, speed adjustment, and font formatting depend on which app the ear reader is using.

Bookshare also provides training resources for members, their teachers, and their families. These resources include webinars, video tutorials, and print materials.

Well, once again, I see that our time together is almost gone. I hope you get to try out some of the options for ear reading that we’ve talked about during these last two visits. I’ll see you in a few months. Now, where did I put those earphones?



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

More of Dr. Winter’s AT Labs:

June 2016
AT for Reading: Ear Reading for Everyone

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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