Most curriculum subjects flow through text and pupils with visual and learning (intellectual) disabilities can find themselves ‘locked out’ of learning. Microsoft has announced that more than a million young people in the UK will be taught how to use free computer tools that improve reading and writing, as part of a new plan to ensure no child is left behind in the classroom.
Around 30,000 teachers across the country will receive training on accessibility and inclusion, including how to use live captioning and Translate, as well as the Immersive Reader function that’s embedded in Microsoft Edge, Word, OneNote, Teams, Outlook and Flipgrid.
They will then use these skills in their classes to help their pupils in primary, secondary and tertiary education follow and understand lessons.
Immersive Reader is a free Microsoft tool that reads out text, breaks words into syllables and increases spacing between lines and letters. While it has proven effective at helping students with dyslexia to learn, it can assist anyone who finds it difficult to understand text.
Microsoft also announced that the tool will be made available as an Azure Cognitive Service, allowing third-party apps and partners to add Immersive Reader into their products to help the students and parents who use them.
Director of Education at Microsoft UK, Chris Rothwell, said: “Dyslexia International estimates there are 700 million people around the world with dyslexia, including one-in-five students. When teachers are trained in early dyslexia identification and intervention, 90% of children with dyslexia can be educated in a regular classroom.”
The software tools are easily configured to individual learning styles and strategies, as Rothwell adds: “Today’s announcement by Microsoft ensures that teachers across the UK can use powerful and easy-to-use tools that will support all children in the classroom, regardless of their reading and writing ability. As these tools are already embedded in some of the most popular programs used in schools today, pupils can start using them on any document or website with just a couple of clicks.”
Immersive Reader will read paragraphs aloud, allowing students to follow the words – which will be automatically broken up into syllables – as they are highlighted. Pupils can also make the on-screen text larger, change the font and background colour and narrow the field of view to one, three or five lines to make it easier to focus. The tool can also use pictures to depict what a word means, so readers can easily understand what a piece of text is referring to. It can be used alongside Microsoft’s Translate tool, so any website can be translated into another language before being read aloud.
Microsoft also revealed today that Immersive Reader will be integrated into Minecraft: Education Edition, while Presenter Coach in PowerPoint will give teachers and students on-screen guidance about pacing, inclusive language conciseness and more so they can improve their public speaking skills.
In October last year, Microsoft become the first company to sign a global pledge to help people with dyslexia. By signing the Made by Dyslexia pledge, the business promised to tackle a lack of resources and training in schools and homes that can hold back children who find it difficult to read, write and do maths.
Accessibility Lead for Microsoft UK, Hector Minto told Able Magazine that the broad aims of the software tools were for disabled people “to be able to access life, actually” and that they were part of an ambition in “democratising accessible technology” whereby it could be used by a wide range of people with different needs.
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