Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Providing a Variety of Formats is an Access Issue

Yesterday I shared with you an Infographic I made about how we as librarians can better serve youth with dyslexia. One of the most important things we can do is to provide a wide variety of formats for our patrons to help them become independent readers. Dyslexia is often referred to as a spectrum, which basically means that not all people with dyslexia have the same issues. It’s also not just a matter of reversing letters. When looking at the page a person with dyslexia may reverse letters, they may reverse words, words and lines may blend together, etc. This is why it is important that libraries provide access to a wide variety of formats.

Audio Books

There is, unfortunately, still a lot of bias against audio books, which many people also refer to as ear reading. Recent research is helping to break down this bias as it reveals that listening to an audio book lights up the same parts of the brain as reading the words on a page does. But it’s really important that librarians understand that audio books are a game changer for many readers with dyslexia. Audio books gives readers a personal freedom while also helping them develop both fluency and accuracy while reading. For many people with dyslexia, audio books are a real game changer. Learning Ally is a producer of audio books specifically with learning disabilities in mind and they discuss the benefits of audio books here.

It is vitally important that libraries purchase audio books for readers of all ages. If possible, consider shelving your audio books right there with the books so that the two are together and easy for patrons to find. Playaway, for example, allows you to buy Bookpacks with the book and audio book packaged together, though they tend to be for younger readers. Audi books aren’t just for long commutes, they are an access issue for people with a wide variety of learning disabilities and reading challenges.

Digital Media

Digital media, both ebooks and eaudio books, are helpful for a lot of reasons. A lot of libraries provide this through Overdrive and it’s important that librarians know that Overdrive has accessibility features that can help readers with dyslexia. For example, when reading an ebook through Overdrive you can change the font to make reading easier and the Dyslexie font is one of the font options. There are a variety of fonts – typically san serif fonts – that many readers with dyslexia find easier to read.

Overdrive and other digital content readers often allow you to increase the font size or change the background color. Digital audio books often allow you to decrease or increase the reading speed. These are just a few of the ways that digital media allows users to personalize the reading experience and this is important because it increases the likelihood that the reader will be successful and have a positive reading experience. Again, access to digital media is an access issue when it comes to people with disabilities and other learning challenges and we owe it to our patrons to provide access.

Large Print

I have worked at many libraries that have large print collections, but only adult large print. I am at the age now where I use readers and I understand the appeal of large print for older adult readers. But large print is beneficial to other populations as well, including youth with dyslexia. Large print utilizes a larger font size and typically has more white space on the page, which means there are less words to run together. Large print, more space between words and lines, and more white space all help the reader differentiate what they see on the page. Large print can help increase reading speed for people with dyslexia. It’s time that libraries consider having large print versions of books for readers of all ages.

Hi/Lo Readers

Hi/Lo readers, also sometimes called High/Low readers, are books that are specifically designed for what are often referred to as “reluctant readers”. These are shorter books that have shorter sentences, shorter chapters, and are generally written to be quick paced and engaging. They aren’t as intimidating to readers because they are thin books and they look like quick reads. These are also of interest to readers with dyslexia because the shorter sentences and shorter paragraphs once again make it easier for readers to differentiate what they are seeing on the page. Plus, because they aren’t large tomes, a reader is more likely to finish and have a successful reading experience. That’s what we want, readers having successful reading experiences so they will keep reading and not give up. Practice really is important but each failure results in shame and discouragement and makes it that much harder for our kids to want to keep trying.

Orca is a publishing house that specializes in writing Hi/Lo readers for teens. They have several lines of interest and I’ve read a few and they’re pretty good. There are other publishers out there as well. I wouldn’t label them in any way as Hi/Lo readers because you don’t want to shame our readers. But if you want to put any type of label or category on them, I just refer to them as “Quick Reads”. Hi/Lo readers can help our kids have positive reading experiences, and I can’t begin to tell you how much that matters.

Graphic Novels

Graphic novels are one format that I have completely changed my mind about. I am here today to admit that I used to be a graphic novel snob. And while they still don’t personally work for me as a reader, I am here to tell you that they can be the difference between reading life or death for so many of our youth. I have watched my daughter read graphic novel after graphic novel and just truly come alive as someone who loves reading.

The other day we were driving in the car and she just told me out of the blue that, “the reason I like reading graphic novels is because the text isn’t in straight lines so it doesn’t blend together and I don’t skip lines.” And a lightbulb went off for me. The thing that doesn’t work for me as a reader is exactly what she needs because the straight lines of text start to blend together for her if there are too many.

There are a lot of articles out there about the benefits of reading graphic novels. Scholastic has one. Here’s one that looks at research. And here’s another. The gist is this: graphic novels allow readers to engage with the text in a way that visually reinforces the storytelling. But here’s the more important part: while reading graphic novels our youth are having positive reading experiences while practicing the fine art of reading and each one of those positive reading experiences are important because they are more likely to continue reading because they find it enjoyable.

At the end of the day, that’s what we want: positive reading experiences. We want our kids to keep reading, not to give up because of shame, frustration, boredom, or other negative experiences associated with reading. Anything we can do to help our youth have those positive reading experiences, we should be doing them. That’s why having a wide variety of formats matters. No two people are dyslexic in the same way, we need to have a variety of formats so that each of our kids can find what works best for them and then keep doing that and banking those positive reading experiences.

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