The originator of Readalongreads© is Dr Suzanne Conboy-Hill, BA (Hons), PhD, MPhil, MSc, MA, a former clinical psychologist for adults with intellectual disabilities in the UK. This position gave her unique insight into the problems caused by reading difficulties; the exclusion from information everyone else takes for granted, the stigma of attending reading classes as an adult, the indignity of having things read by a third party, especially confidential and personal material such as a doctor may give them. These problems are also prevalent in the general population where reading is more difficult than it might be due to personal factors such as poor school experience, biological causes and cognitive impairments, or simply trying to grasp something in English when that’s not their birth language.
That’s me in the picture. I had no trouble with reading but maths – better not to ask! When I saw later though, how hard it was for people who struggled to read and thought about what it would mean for me to be as limited in my reading as I am at mathematics, I began to understand more about its importance to everyday life. Reading is crucial to inclusion; being a full participant in society, making decisions for yourself, or enjoying the experience of other realities created by fiction writers. Without it, we are more dependent on others, more reliant on fallible memory, more vulnerable to exploitation because we can’t check facts or write good letters.
Audio books and videos are helpful but they take the place of reading, they don’t support it or enhance capacity. Readalongreads© is designed to help achieve both those things. Making the voice available alongside the text via a Smart device lets people hear the words they find difficult and see them spelled out at the same time. This is how many of us learned as children with a parent reading stories to us while our minds soaked it all up.
Smart technology is increasingly prevalent and affordable, and internet availability more widespread than ever. These, and a free app to scan the code we put on each piece of text, are all you need to listen to your doctor’s advice, the contract for your tenancy, or the magic of an author or poet reading their own story to you.
Readalongreads© is copyrighted 2015 but the technique is free to use and I hope to see it on as much printed material as possible, from formal factual documents meant for public distribution to new fiction and poetry (there’s an anthology in production right now!*) to re-prints of old classics, making these accessible to a much wider audience than before.
I’ll be approaching scientist and health colleagues about ways of incorporating voice into their own output, and adding a little learning from my MA in Creative Writing on the way in which reading your material aloud tends to result in it being easier for everyone to read and understand. This site will host, by negotiation, appropriate voice files until it becomes redundant as publishers and organisations host their own. When you do that, people, a nod would be nice!
Dr Suzanne Conboy-Hill
*Let Me Tell You a Story – is available as of May 2016.