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Accessing the news with assistive technology

How to read and listen to the news in accessible formats including large print, screen readers and simplified reading to stay up-to-date on current events.

Here are my tips for how to access media information and the news with assistive technology, with a special highlight on low vision assistive technology. Please note that I am not advocating for people to access the news from a specific source or outlet, rather sharing ways that people can read news from the source of their choice.

Amazon Alexa flash briefing

For Amazon Echo owners,  Amazon Alexa can create a flash briefing for users that can read top news stories from popular news sources which are chosen by the user. Other Amazon Alexa skills can be added to the flash briefing as well such as the weather, local news, or other information. This is a great option for people who are sensitive to flashing lights, as there’s no need to worry about surprise strobe lights or a shot of several police cars with their lights and sirens on.

To set up Flash Briefings for Amazon Alexa:

  1. Open the Alexa app
  2. Open the More menu and select Settings
  3. From Settings, select Flash Briefing
  4. Select the toggle next to each news service you want to add to your Flash Briefing.
  5. To change the order of your selected news programs, select Edit.

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Apple News for iPad/iPhone

Apple News displays ad-free articles from many national and international news sources, allowing users to read articles from several sources without having to navigate to a web browser. With location services enabled, users can also view local and regional news, and add additional sources if desired. The Apple News app comes built-in to Apple devices starting in iOS 11 and supports Dynamic Text so users with large print enabled will have access to articles with a large, bold font that is easy to read.  VoiceOver also works well with reading content, though some images are not detected because the original source did not add have alt text- this isn’t typically an issue because the image captions often contain sufficient descriptive information, although I wish there was more alt text and image descriptions for graphs and data visualizations.

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Digital subscription to the local newspaper

Many local newspapers have a digital subscription option, which is a great choice for people who are unable to read standard print. The local newspaper in my town in Virginia has an  “accessibility mode”  that is optimized for reading the news with a screen-reader and strips the additional formatting of the page so that people can read the text in a single column layout in the font of their choice. Other local newspapers send a series of links directing readers to exclusive articles on their website, and I recommend using a simplified reading view for these as well- more on simplified reading views in a later section.

Flipboard with large print and a screen reader

Flipboard allows users to curate their own digital magazines from hundreds of online sources, as well as follow other magazines curated by companies or users. Articles are read from within the app and displayed on their original publishing source. There are magazines on almost any topic one can think of, as well as magazines that are curated from a single news source.  This app has been recognized by the Apple App Store for its accessibility with VoiceOver and support of accessibility features such as large print, and the page flip animation can be turned off by enabling Reduce Motion in device settings. Flipboard also works well with Android assistive technology including large print, Select-to-speak, and TalkBack.

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Newsela app for students

Newsela is a news app that is designed for students of all reading levels. It has articles about many different topics including science, technology, arts, government, and current events. One of the unique features of this app is that each article is available at five different Lexile levels so that readers of all grade levels and reading comprehension levels can access articles, though available comprehension levels vary depending on the article, and many articles are available in Spanish as well. Newsela also has full support for large print/Dynamic Text and built-in screen reader tools.

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Reading online articles with a simplified reading display

My favorite way to read news articles with low vision is using a simplified reading display that strips the page formatting and allows me to customize visual elements such as the font size, font type, and background color, as well as have text read out loud. There are several options for using a simplified reading view,  including Microsoft Immersive Reader, the Pocket app, Reading View on iOS, and others.

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Requesting headlines from Google Assistant or Siri

Similar to the Amazon Alexa flash briefing, Google Assistant and Siri can read headlines and news information on demand when the user asks what is in the news or what the headlines are for today. News outlets can be customized in the device’s News app settings menu, and the news briefing typically lasts around five minutes.

NFB Newsline

NFB Newsline is a free service provided by the National Federation of the Blind, open to anyone who has a documented print disability, which can include visual impairment, dyslexia, deafblindness, and other conditions that make it difficult or impossible to read standard print. NFB Newsline offers multiple local, state, and national publications in a variety of formats. Participants do not need to be a member of NFB to receive services.

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Other options for accessing the news with assistive technology

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com

Updated April 2024; original post published January 2018.

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