About the project
you have reached a web site about the accessibility of written language. the main target group is journalists, educational publishers, librarians and teachers – people who influence others through written language. this site is part of a project run by the swedish association for people with reading and writing disabilities/dyslexia called ”accessing the printed word” (språka loss).
the long-term goal of the project is to encourage professionals who deal with written language to make it more accessible – without losing the quality and beauty of the language – and to make them aware of the needs of people with reading difficulties. those whose reading problems are due to visual impairment, hearing loss or mental retardation are not primarily considered here. these groups are, of course, just as important, but we feel their needs differ considerably.
we would be delighted to get in touch with anyone abroad who is in the same field. ideas, suggestions or comments concerning this area are more than welcome. please contact bodil andersson, one of the project managers, at email@example.com
from an international point of view, literacy skills are quite high in sweden. nevertheless, 25% of the population does not reach the expected literacy level for ninth grade (the last year of compulsory school in sweden), but only for the third or fourth. the 5% who are believed to be dyslexic are not all found in this group, though.
literacy skills have become increasingly important in western society and in the new labour market. we are all expected to gain knowledge and participate in democracy through reading and writing, but where does this leave the big group of people who struggle with reading? what can we do to make reading easier, without losing the beauty, variety and rich vocabulary of the language? how can technology help and what compensations can be made for reading disabilities?
for some time now, the issues of dyslexia and reading and writing instruction have received a considerable amount of well-deserved attention. the time has come to turn the matter around and, rather than focusing on dyslexia, highlight matters regarding accessibility and reading as a means of actively participating in society. one hypothesis is that the needs of people with dyslexia in this regard may differ considerably from those of the mentally retarded. so far, language adaptations made have been aimed at the latter group and many dyslexics have felt offended by this.
this is what ”accessing the printed word” is all about. our goal is to gather and disseminate information about written language, divided into six major fields:
the nature of written language
from a historical point of view, reading is a relatively recent phenomenon. humans have only been reading for 5000 years and of all the spoken languages in the world, only 15% have a written form. this implies that learning to read is not a genetically pre-programmed ability, like learning to walk. this is something we probably don’t even think of in western society, where the written word has such an impact and where literacy tends to be taken for granted.
when confronted with the printed word, people with reading difficulties encounter a variety of problems in accessing information – facts in books, newspapers, letters from authorities, as well as text presented on the web.
what are the characteristics of written language that make reading easy or difficult? are some languages by nature easier to read than others? is english really ”a dyslexic language”, as one researcher put it?
reading research has been carried out in many different fields over the last decades: pedagogy, linguistics, speech pathology, psychology, philosophy, genetics and neurology. the results demonstrate that reading is a complex activity and that reading difficulties cannot be dismissed with a simplified explanation. today, knowledge about the biological basis of reading is substantial, thanks to, among other things, the techniques that have made it possible to measure brain activity while reading. researchers have also proposed an array of linguistic, psychological and social prerequisites for reading. reading is a social, cultural activity which can reinforce a sense of togetherness as well as exclusion. we use various strategies when we read – and when we try to avoid reading. ”accessing the printed word” will deal with these issues and also present studies in which efforts have been made to measure literacy. this is not an easy task, since, as someone put it, ”literacy is a moving target”.
second language learning
in an increasingly globalised world, how can those who are experiencing reading difficulties in their mother tongue keep pace? english is the dominant language on the internet, and in swedish society it is definitely the second-most important one. how can we help people speaking a minority language, such as swedish, hungarian or dutch, to learn foreign languages? how do we identify and help dyslexic immigrants master the dominant language of their new country?
people with reading problems often find it trying to deal with their private finances, to fill in forms and interpret tables. what is the relationship, if any, between reading and mathematical difficulties? are there better ways of presenting this type of material for people with reading problems?
in print vs. on screen
people have been reading books for a long time, whereas reading on the screen is a new phenomenon. are these two types of reading comparable? what aspects should be considered when publishing material to be read on a computer screen? does the brain ”read differently” on the screen? do people with dyslexia follow the same pattern as normal readers in this regard? the impact of layout and graphic information also needs to be considered.
we all cope by compensating. we use glasses to compensate for poor vision and a compass in the forest to make up for a poor sense of direction. people with reading difficulties benefit from compensation too. this can be in the form of computer software and technology, as well as by learning individual coping strategies. it also involves changing the attitudes of others in the immediate environment and society in general.
popular and formal scientific reports will be presented, as well as short summaries of books and more personal articles on the topic. a database is currently being constructed in which this material will be stored and made accessible for those interested.
”accessing the printed word” is the name of a three year project, funded by the swedish state inheritance fund and under the direction of fmls, the swedish association for people with reading and writing disabilities/dyslexia. the project managers are torbjörn lundgren, an author and debater who is himself a dyslexic, and bodil andersson, a speech-language pathologist, with extensive experience in working with language-delayed children, adults with dyslexia and in software development for this group. the project has a board of editors and a group of representatives from a variety of organisations, including
firstname.lastname@example.org, the it association of swedish disability organizations
osamhall ab, offering employment opportunities for people with disabilities
othe centre for easy-to-read – ll foundation
othe plain swedish group, set up by the swedish government
othe swedish association of educational publishers (fsl)
othe swedish association of local authorities
othe swedish association of parents of children with dyslexia (fdb)
othe swedish dyslexia association
othe swedish dyslexia foundation
othe swedish dyslexia fund foundation
othe swedish handicap institute (hi)
othe swedish institute for special needs education (sit)
othe swedish national agency for education
o the swedish newspaper publishers’ association
othe swedish trade union confederation (lo)
othe swedish workers’ educational association (abf)
othe talking books and braille library (tpb)
othe swedish newspaper publishers’ association
mathematics and dyslexia in an article written for the project ”accessing the printed word”, dr steve chinn, principal of mark’s college, somerset, england, describes the relationship between reading ability and mathematical skills. dr chinn emphasizes the importance of solid basic skills for being able to develop one’s mathematical aptitude and makes it clear that the language of mathematics may not be as logical as many people think. for example, when we write the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, the numbers get higher as we go from left to right – but when we write 12, 13, 14, the unit which represents the bigger number is found on the left. teachers of mathematics should all be aware of basic facts like this. in the article, dr chinn describes several factors which affect a student’s ability to learn mathematics. he also discusses how different learning styles may come into play.
”dyslexia” has become more widely recognized in recent years as a special biological and educational problem in reading development. nevertheless, i often hear educators express doubts that difficulty in learning to read is due to anything more than poor environmental support for reading. of course environmental factors are responsible for many failures in learning to read, but the concept of dyslexia suggests that there are unique biological causes and special educational needs for many children with reading problems. in this article, professor richard olson, university of colorado at boulder, usa discusses some of the evidence on the biological side for genetic contributions to dyslexia, and for the special instructional needs of children with dyslexia. in a related article on this web site titled dyslexia and computer technology, i focus on the important role that computer technology and the web can play in diagnosing and meeting the special needs of children with dyslexia in their schools and homes.
”the editing had to be done with subtlety. this was to be literature not just prose. the rhythm of the language must be maintained, the stories must not lose pace, and the authentic voice and style of the individual author must remain clearly apparent. my job was to bear all this in mind whilst editing the text to make it easily accessible to the under-confident reader.” this quote comes from patience thomson, co-founder of the successful british publishing company barrington stoke, specializing in books for ”reluctant readers”. in this article, patience tells us about the special editorial process at the company, which commissions original stories from the famous authors who are popular with the competent readers too . she also engages the target group by having them actively participate in the editorial process – frequently providing invaluable feedback. sharing her own experiences, patience thomson goes through several aspects that need to be considered: the structure of language, aspects of reading comprehension, the use of illustrations etc. indeed, the barrington stoke publishing company has even produced their own type-face on the readers’ recommendation !