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Apps and technology

Assistive Technology and Listening

An overview of assistive technology and listening skills for students who are blind or visually impaired

Older male student sitting at a computer using headphones and a keyboard

Photo of adolescent boy wearing headphones and sitting at a computer

Are digital books, audiobooks, and e-books all the same thing?

Not all digital talking books / audiobooks are created to work the same. If a book is created with “navigation” (within the book) in mind, then the user can go from chapter to chapter, page to page, paragraph to paragraph, and so on. Examples of navigable audiobooks are those created by Learning Ally. They may not have text (except for the chapter information in the Table of Contents) but the audio is totally “navigable”. 

Generally, when a book is “digital,” one can assume that it has text and can be read using either its own embedded software or when it’s used with other text-to-speech software. Digital books often contain pictures and images, and they are labeled with alt-text or have captions associated with each picture or graphic. Also, most digital books have built-in “elements” to allow for easy navigation. 

The general public seems to interpret e-readers as a device that reads books, like a Kindle. E-readers can include an app that can be downloaded onto a computer, mobile device or a phone. In the VI world, KNFB or EasyReader can be considered as e-readers. Some e-readers have support for people with low vision. 

E-books are frequently the electronic version of a book in print. Just because a book is available in an electronic format does not always mean that the book is accessible for students with visual impairment. Some electronic books are one gigantic file with nothing built-in for navigation. 

Sources of Accessible Digital Talking Books

Accessible Digital Talking Books (DTB) are available from the following sources for students with visual impairment:  

They can be played on a variety of players, including stand-alone devices and software players.  Learn more:

Using Text-to-Speech Software and Apps

Text-to-speech provides major access to content for all kinds of people, as an ever-increasing amount of information that is in print is made accessible.  This is not an automatic panacea for students who are blind or visually impaired, however, and specific skills are required to be able to make use of text to speech programs. Listening to learn from a textbook or audio file is different from listening to a conversation.  

Software and apps change extremely often and we suggest that you discuss the specific needs of your students with an assistive technology specialist. As of this writing, some of the most commonly used apps and software are:

Screen Readers

Screenreaders are software programs that allow users who are blind or visually impaired to read the text that is displayed on the computer screen with a speech synthesizer or braille display.  Students with visual impairment will need specific instruction in how to navigate devices, in addition to instruction in listening skills.  Here are some resources to help you get started:

TSBVI Short Terms programs staff offer ideas of tools and activities to use when teaching basic computer skills.
Diane Brauner provides suggestions to help students to build listening skills with a screenreader.
Search for additional ideas on teaching students to use a screen reader.

The companies below also provide training on their devices:


Additional Resources

Auditory Access Devices
Carmen Willings offers an overview of a range of auditory access devices on her site Teaching Visually Impaired.

IEP Objectives
This is a page of links to a variety of IEP objectives from Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, including goals and objectives for digital talking books and listening skillsThese resources have been compiled from various schools and districts around the country and may not be formatted to conform to a specific state’s guidelines for IEP goals.

JAWS Keystrokes
Freedom Scientific shares a 30-page list of JAWS Keystrokes.
Read with Bookshare and Voice Dream Reader (2021)
This webinar provides an introduction on how to teach your student to use Bookshare’s accessible library alongside the customizable book-reading app, Voice Dream Reader.

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