When I was in elementary school, I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). I hated to read because of RP. I had a great deal of difficulty focusing my eyes on the print. The act of reading exhausted me very quickly and sometimes gave me headaches. I managed to limp along as a print reader through K12 and college as my vision declined. However, I avoided reading when possible and rarely read for pleasure. Luckily, math and science were my strong subjects and they did not require a lot of reading.
I started working as a Computer Scientist intern in college and continued in that career full-time after college even though my vision continued to decline. The ability to change color and font size helped tremendously, but it just delayed the inevitable. By my late twenties, my reading speed was terribly slow. I could overcome my slow reading speed when writing and reading computer code because I learned to memorize the code. I also tried to work on hard technical problems that allowed me to rely on creativity and intellectual horsepower. However, the I had a very difficult time changing programming languages or problem domains because of all the required background reading. My slow reading speed greatly reduced my productivity, limited my potential to contribute to the goals of the business, and jeopardized my employment.
Today, I read using text-to-speech technology at a rate of about 600 words per minute. That rate is typical for successful blind professionals in my field. I have excellent comprehension and I rarely fatigue. I work 10-12 hours per day Monday through Friday and either work or read for pleasure on nights and weekends.
Actually, I read almost constantly. I generally read 2-3 non-fiction books per week. When I need to learn a new skill or problem domain, I download a collection of books about that topic and skim them for authors that know the content and have the ability to explain it well. When I find a good author I’ll read everything he or she has published.
So, I have experienced both ends of the speed spectrum. In my late twenties, I was definitely the slowest reader in the company where I work. Today, I’m definitely one of the fastest. That skill, along with a lot of creativity and hard work, have paid off in that I am now a Director in a large global technology company.
In this article, I will share five reasons why it is absolutely critical for your academic students with VIB to learn how to read as fast as possible using text-to-speech audio. I beg you to help them maximize their reading speed as early as possible. If they don’t do it before college they will struggle to keep up. However, if they master this skill it will give them a tremendous advantage for the rest of their lives.
Your students with VIB should be the fastest readers in their class. They should absolutely master text-to-speech software. That software could be a screen reader such as JAWS or VoiceOver. Or, it could be built into a reading application such as Voice Dream Reader. The key point is that it should be computer-generated text-to-speech audio rather than recorded human speech. The reason is that computer-generated text-to-speech audio enables your student to independently read any electronic text at any speed they desire. Students without auditory impairments or intellectual disabilities should train their brain to effortlessly read text-to-speech at 600 words per minute which is about twice as fast as typical sighted readers. That includes all students with VIB regardless of functional vision or preferred learning medium.
Let’s assume for the moment that your student trains their brain to read twice as fast as most sighted people. What will that buy them?
Curiosity is the fundamental driver of lifelong learning. Curiosity is a state of mind. It is a habit. It is also a muscle that must be exercised or it will atrophy. A curious person asks questions and while finding the answers to those questions she discovers more questions that must be answered. The ability to read twice as fast means your student can ask twice as many questions and find twice as many answers in a given amount of time. Over time, that habit will create a tremendous advantage in knowledge.
In the 21st century knowledge economy, deep knowledge about a particular domain and a rudimentary ability to deliver a product or service using that knowledge is a marketable combination in the labor market. But, competence in one field is not good enough to keep a job because of the rapid rate of change. Your students need the skills to at least keep up with change. Better yet, your students should be able to get out in front of change. Better still, your students should be creating change. The ability to read twice as fast moves your student from struggling to keep up at the back of the pack to the front of the pack where she is clearing the path for everyone else to follow.
In order to create change, your students must be creative. Creativity is a habit that builds on the curiosity habit. It requires the ability to ask questions that don’t have good answers or the ability to imagine new answers that are better than the existing answers. The easiest strategy for creativity is to apply solutions from one domain to problems in a different domain. The ability to read twice as fast enables your student to acquire broad knowledge of many domains.
Like it or not, competition starts early. Your students must compete for a position at a good college. Upon graduation, they will most definitely compete for jobs. Then, they will compete for promotions, access to resources, assignments on the best projects/products, etc. The ability to read twice as fast gives your students a tremendous advantage when competing for opportunities throughout life.
The ability to collaborate effectively within a team provides competitive advantage for individuals in the labor market. The ability to read twice as fast makes it much easier for a professional with VIB to find a niche within teams. They can be the person that reads all the relevant regulations so they can guide the team through them. They can be the person that reads all the user documentation for the competitors’ products so they can guide the team in that regard. They can be the person that read tons of books about soft skills so they can manage team dynamics and cohesion. There’s an infinite number of opportunities to add value to a team. The ability to read twice as fast enables your student to become an asset to the team rather than a liability.
I enumerated five reasons why you should teach your academic students to read as fast as possible using text-to-speech audio. I want to share a few final thoughts in the form of Q&A.
Yes, it is. Yes, I hear every word. No, I’m not just skimming. Yes, I have excellent comprehension.
Teach your students how to use all the tools of success. The point of this post is that text-to-speech audio is a tool that can help your students succeed in the knowledge economy. That fact is completely independent of the utility of other tools.
Because standardized tests don’t matter in the “real world”. Success in the labor market and life more broadly depend on factors that are not covered by standardized tests. They include the five factors mentioned above as well as internal motivation, a willingness to work hard, empathy for other people, technical skills, a myriad of soft skills, etc.
By Ed Summers