Tag Archives: free

Read and Write


We are excited to announce that SUNY Cortland has purchased a site license for Read & Write, a suite of reading, writing, and study tools for PC and Mac. The suite can be installed on any college computer and students may install it on their own computers.

Read & Write opens as a toolbar that hovers over everything else open on your computer or can be locked to the top or side of the screen, as seen below.

Screenshot of Read & Write toolbar locked to the top of a screen.

The toolbar allows the user to access the 30 or so features of the suite. It can be customized to allow users to focus on the handful of features they find most helpful. These features includes the following apps:

  • A text-to-speech app that highlights text while reading it aloud;
  • A scan and read app that allows the user to create searchable PDFs and other documents that can be read aloud;
  • PDF Aloud, an app that opens PDFs and reads them aloud;
  • Screenshot Reader, an app that allows the user to take a screenshot of part or all of the screen and then have it read aloud. This will be handy for students who want to have online homework read aloud and have been stymied by inaccessible Flash-based text.
  • A DAISY reader that allows students to read Bookshare and other DAISY files;
  • Speechmaker, an app that creates mp3 files out of text.
  • Study tools that can be useful for those doing reading and research with electronic documents, including several colors of highlighters and an app that inserts voice notes;
  • Writing tools, including a word predictor and an app that helps the writer sort through homophones and other confusable words;
  • An app that allows the user to graphically  organize ideas;
  • And more…

The toolbar includes drop-down menus to customize each app and view video tutorials of each feature, making them relatively easy to learn. That said, we will highlight some of the most useful features of Read & Write in future posts.

You may learn how to obtain a copy of Read and Write for your college-owned computer or your own computer at no charge by contacting Jeremy Zhe-Heimerman. In the future, we hope to publish a link that will allow any member of the SUNY Cortland community to download the software directly.


Microsoft OneNote

th When working with students in Disability Services and when teaching students of all abilities, I commonly come across students who would benefit from better organization. It’s not uncommon for students to make it through high school without having to keep good track of notes, homework, reading materials, and more. It can be a bit of a shock, then, to enter college and have to keep everything organized for five different classes taught by professors who don’t see it as their job to help you keep it together. What’s a student to do?

I started using OneNote for all of my note taking and organizing about a year ago and I haven’t looked back. It’s one great place to store everything you might need and then access it on all of your devices. For me, this has meant organizing everything from meeting notes to receipts to web articles to recipes. OneNote will also be particularly helpful for students who need help with executive functioning or just want to get organized. Here are some of the most useful features of OneNote along with some of its limitations.

Take Notes

Yes, this is the most obvious and basic feature of OneNote. Type notes into the app and save them in different notebooks and tabs within each notebook. As you’ll see, though, you can do much more than just type notes onto each page.

Web Clipper

Did you come across a great article online for a research paper? Use the OneNote Clipper to quickly and easily save the article in your OneNote.

Save Electronic Documents

Do you need a better system to keep your electronic documents organized? You can save PDFs, Word files, spreadsheets, and more in OneNote. That means you can have a tab devoted to a class you’re taking and you can save everything there–syllabus, class notes, reading assignments, PowerPoint slides, etc.

Photos of Documents

Have a paper document you’d like to save in OneNote so you can always find it wherever you are? Maybe you’d like to convert that paper document to a searchable PDF that you can also have read aloud to you in a text-to-speech app like Voice Dream. Office Lens can do both. An in-depth review of Office Lens will be coming in the future.

If you don’t want to mess around with another app like Office Lens, you can already take pictures of documents and save them in OneNote. OneNote will automatically run OCR on the document, which makes it searchable.

Audio and Video Recording

OneNote will record audio or video through your device’s microphone or camera and save it on a page in a notebook. Microsoft claims that you can type notes at the same time and sync those notes with the audio/video–a really handy tool for studying. On my iPad, though, I can’t do anything else while audio is recording. It seems the syncing feature is only available on Windows devices.


This is a tool I haven’t used, but OneNote allows you to enter and solve some pretty complicated Math problems.


If you are using a touch-screen, you can write in OneNote with a finger or stylus. This could come in handy when taking notes in a class and needing to draw a diagram. You can even convert your handwriting to text if you want it cleaned up and searchable. I haven’t used this tool much, as I don’t have a stylus and find finger-writing clumsy. It also appears that the Lasso Select tool is not available on my iPad version, meaning I had to move to my PC to convert to text. But here’s a quick demonstration. I wrote this on my iPad:

Handwriting in OneNoteAnd then OneNote converted it to text perfectly:

converted handwriting

Syncs Across Multiple Devices

You can install OneNote on your phone, tablet, and computer–or access it on the web–and your notes will sync in real time. Free apps are available for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Amazon, and Chromebook. This can be handy for taking notes in class on a tablet and then accessing them later while studying on a laptop.


Do you have a big group project coming up? You can share a notebook with everyone in your group. Everyone’s notes will be stored there so all can access at any time.


While I keep my notebooks organized by tabs, as seen in the images above, all of your notebooks are searchable. So instead of navigating to a particular notebook and then a tab to find find a page, you can simply type a keyword into the search bar. I use this most often by searching for an ingredient that I want to use in a meal. OneNote will spit back at me all of the recipes I saved that have that ingredient in it.

This can be especially useful for studying. If you want to find all of your notes that mention a particular term or concept, OneNote will find them for you. Maybe it will even show you pages from a different class that will help you make connections you would otherwise have missed.


OneNote is free to install on your devices. The data in your notebooks is stored in Microsoft’s cloud storage product, OneDrive. SUNY Cortland students have 50 GB of storage through OneDrive, a pretty good sized amount to get you through your college career. If you have a personal Microsoft account, you currently may access 15 GB of storage free. Microsoft recently announced, though, that they are cutting that back to 5 GB, after which you may pay $2 a month for up to 50 GB or $10 a month for 1 TB and Office 365.

That means that OneNote is essentially free for SUNY Cortland students and others who are light users. My personal storage is getting to the point that I may have to think about a subscription down the road–just what Microsoft wants!


Those are just a few of the features in OneNote that may be most useful. The Google will find you all kinds of more complicated things you can do with it as you grow comfortable with the basic features.


NaturalReader for PC and iOS

NaturalReader app logo

NaturalReader has been one of our most popular free apps for students with dyslexia for years. Students with PCs have found it especially useful, as Windows does not have a user-friendly text-to-speech tool built into it like that found in Mac OSX. But in recent years, NaturalReader apps have become available for Mac, iOS, and Android as well.

This post will focus on the PC and iOS apps, as those are the ones that we’ve worked with the most. I’ve found that the Mac app has not been updated as regularly as the PC app and doesn’t work quite as well. And since OSX has its own text-to-speech capabilities built into it, there’s not as much of a need for it on that platform. We don’t have access to an Android device to test that app, but student reports indicate that it is similar to the iOS app in design, strengths, and weaknesses.


NaturalReader for PC has two interfaces. One, the Floating Bar, hovers over whatever window is open on the screen. The other is a traditional app that opens up documents to be read aloud.

The traditional interface can open RTF, Text, PDF, Word, or ePub files. The files are displayed as text only, so all images are stripped out and much of the formatting is lost. Users may then click the play button to begin reading wherever they wish.

reg interface

The free version picks up whatever voices are already on your computer. The user may easily adjust the speed without leaving the main interface. One may buy additional voices separately, or spring for one of the paid versions with other additional features.

As seen in the image above, the speech output syncs with highlighting on the screen.

When a user clicks on the “Floating Bar” button seen in the bottom right of the above image, the app shrinks down to a bar that hovers over whatever window is open on the screen.

Floating Bar

The user then must select text to be read aloud by dragging the cursor over it. When one clicks on the play button, NaturalReader will read the selected text aloud. There is no synchronized highlighting here unless the user clicks on the little arrows on the bottom right of the bar. That opens up a box that displays the selected text and highlights the words as they are being read aloud, as seen above. Clicking on the settings wheel allows the user to change the voice and the speed.

Students use NaturalReader differently based on personal preference. Some stick with the Floating Bar for all of their readings. It works for everything, whether a searchable PDF with lots of images, an HTML article, or a Word document. Others like the highlighting in the traditional interface and will open text-heavy documents there. When a document has lots of images, though, these students will typically rely on the floating bar so as not to lose all of the formatting that’s lost in the traditional interface.


NaturalReader for iOS currently is free for 100 minutes, at which point it becomes all but inoperable. If one wants to keep using it, NaturalReader Pro is $9.99 as of publication. Just make sure you don’t buy the old NaturalReader with the teal logo which, for some reason, is still available on the app store even though it is quite buggy.

It’s relatively easy to open files in NaturalReader, as one may link a OneDrive or Dropbox account or open a webpage. If a file is open elsewhere on your device, a user may also tap the button to open it in another app, one of which will be NaturalReader.

ios open

Files then display and are read aloud as the text changes color.


The below images demonstrate how a web page article can be found in NaturalReader and converted to text for reading aloud.

ios web article

After tapping on the “Listen Now” button, the article is converted to text as such:

ios read web article

There are three major shortcomings to this app that make me unable to recommend it over our favorite mobile text-to-speech app, Voice Dream Reader, which also costs $9.99 and is now available in Android in addition to iOS.

First, it’s not easy to navigate through a file to a particular spot. Voice Dream users can double tap on any word and text-to-speech immediately begins at that tap. With NaturalReader, one either taps the play button and listens to the file from the beginning or one taps the arrow at the bottom right of the screen to bring up a menu to scroll to a place in the document. It’s not always easy to find the exact spot, though. The image below demonstrates how I’ve moved the switch horizontally to navigate to page 5 out of 9.


Second, Voice Dream syncs with more cloud services. Besides Dropbox and OneDrive, users may sync their Google Drive, iCloud, Bookshare, Evernote, Box, Pocket, and Instapaper accounts. This makes it easier to open files in Voice Dream than in NaturalReader.

Finally, Voice Dream is more rich with features for customized reading and note taking. I’ll be writing another review of Voice Dream Reader in the near future that spends more time on these features and the improvements made on the app since my first review.

The Takeaway

NaturalReader for PC is an excellent choice for those looking for a free text-to-speech app for windows. NaturalReader for iOS is worth trying out and keeping an eye on, but it’s not at the level of Voice Dream Reader, which is available at the same price.

Please let us know your own experiences with NaturalReader and other text-to-speech apps.

Siri and Dragon Dictation for College Students

Many of us know about how Siri can allow a user to give your iOS device voice commands. People with visual disabilities and limited mobility rely on Siri quite a bit, as they can’t interact with their devices as readily in other ways. But Siri and dictation apps like Dragon Dictation are also quite valuable for college students who want to write notes or papers on their devices.

dragon      siri

Many students think better while speaking than while writing or typing. Students with dyslexia or dysgraphia might find it especially difficult to concentrate on content, style, or structure when it can be a chore just to get the words out properly by hand. If you are such a person, you may wish to take notes or write papers by dictating.

Dragon Naturally Speaking, by Nuance, is an application that has been available for PCs and Macs for years. It’s voice recognition capabilities have allowed busy people like doctors and lawyers as well as people with disabilities to dictate their writing to their computers. In the past, Dragon Naturally Speaking required a lengthy training process for the software to learn the voice of the user. High quality microphones needed to be used in consistently the same way for accurate results. Voice recognition has come such a long way, however, that recent versions of Dragon Naturally Speaking and similar apps on mobile devices are highly accurate (although not perfect) upon first use.

Dragon Dictation is Nuance’s iOS app. It’s essentially a bare-bones note-taking app. When starting a new note, one taps the red button and dictates the note. It’s best to speak relatively close to the microphone.

Commonly used voice commands are found by tapping the “i” icon at the bottom right.


One may bring the keyboard up to edit the note within the app.


When finished, one may email, cut or copy, Tweet, or Facebook the note, allowing one to export the note into other apps for further editing or publication.


While Dragon can only be used within its own app, Siri allows one to dictate seamlessly into most any app that allows text input. When the keyboard comes up, just tap the microphone button next to the space bar and dictate away. Tap done when finished and edit using the keyboard if you wish. Here it is in Microsoft Word.


While accuracy wasn’t perfect for me with either Siri or Dragon, it was good enough to give me a first draft to work with.

Since Dragon Dictation is free, Siri comes built into iOS, and both are easy to use and learn, it’s worth trying these out to see if they work for you.

Have you dictated notes or papers? Do you have any tips for others to do the same?


Dyslexie is a new typeface that was designed to make reading easier for people with dyslexia. It was created by a Dutch designer named Christian Boer, who has dyslexia. He understood that he had trouble discriminating between letters because most fonts are uniform; Boer designed a font with letters that are distinctive and, therefore, easier to tell apart.


Recently, Dyslexie became available for free download. Once downloaded, the font can be used for typing and reading on your computer, as well as for printing. Once you request your free download, you’re emailed a manual that tells you how to download the font to your particular system.

So is this new font really helpful? SUNY Cortland student Andy Hoffman thinks so:

Reading had always been a challenge for me.  I often don’t read anything for long lengths of time just because I’m deciphering between words and often have to go back to reread something in order to understand its true meaning.  I would often think that it is a disadvantage because it would take me twice as long to do homework as compared to someone else.  The typeface on many fonts may look different but all have the same texture to them.  They often don’t have differences between how they are written and, for someone who has dyslexia, it often creates problems.

I recently came around to this new font and started testing it out in various ways.  I couldn’t believe the differences in text faces.  It may be subtle but the texture of each word is framed in a way that makes it easier to make out each letter in a word.  The subtle different between an I and J in a different font might be hard to come by but in this font, words that look similar now have a difference that is easier to make out.  I highly recommend trying this font just for fun and see if it’s making a difference in your reading speed and understanding of the text.

Interested?  Download Dyslexie for free here: http://www.dyslexiefont.com/en/order/home-use/

Mac OSX Text-to-Speech

Many don’t realize that OSX includes a very useful text-to-speech tool. This one minute video nicely demonstrates how to use it.

This is a great tool to keep focus on reading a PDF when it’s hard to pay attention to the text. Or maybe you are writing a paper and need to hear your words read back to you while editing. There’s no need to seek out and purchase an app when this is built right into your operating system.

This feature is limited in that one must repeatedly select text and hit the keyboard shortcuts to listen. Additionally, each word is not highlighted while being read aloud. But it’s a perfectly adequate text-to-speech function that many of my students have been satisfied with over the years.