Adapting Books for Computer Access

To become readers, children need to read. According to Dr. Karen Erickson, one of the nation’s leading experts on literacy for people with disabilities, children need access to 1500 books to develop literacy. In order to qualify, these books must be accessible to the child.  

But kids with severe motor or reading challenges may not be able to access traditional books. We have talked about adapting books to make them more physically accessible. But even these adaptations don’t allow independent reading for every child. What if a child cannot hold a book at all or turn its pages? What if he has not figured out how to decode writing and needs to have the book read aloud so he can stay engaged?

For kids with these issues, the computer opens up wonderful possibilities for access to books. It can remove some of the physical and cognitive barriers that make traditional books inaccessible. They can hit a switch to turn the page, or even have the pages turn automatically. You – or the computer, if yours is equipped with a pleasant voice – can read the text out loud.

Through the computer, kids can have access to the same books used by their classmates, just in a different format. They can have opportunity for pleasure reading.

And there’s more good news – it is easy to adapt books to read on the computer! Once you get into a rhythm, it even goes pretty quickly.

There are plenty of commercial software programs commonly used with students in special ed classrooms that can display books on the computer:  Classroom Suite, Clicker, BoardMaker, My Own Bookshelf…the list goes on.

The good news for families – or for school districts affected by the current economy – is that books can also be easily created in PowerPoint, a program commonly found on the average computer. I’ve never used OpenOffice’s Impress myself, because my computers have always had PowerPoint, but my understanding is that it can be used similarly – for free!

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of creating an adapted book, let’s take a minute to talk about copyrights and Fair Use. Copyright law prohibits the willy-nilly copying and dispersing of materials to protect the interests (and livelihood) of those who created them. The Fair Use Act says that materials can be adapted for access by people with disabilities, provided we follow certain guidelines. We must own the book, for example. The adapted form is for use only by the person having disabilities (i.e.: we do not sell or otherwise circulate the adapted material).

Here’s a great way for teachers to demonstrate Fair Use as they adapt books. Save the adapted copy to a disk which is then stored inside the front cover of the book. This demonstrates ownership of the book – it’s right there in your hand, after all, and not on some library shelf! It also makes organizing a breeze, because you know where the disk should lives.

Okay, with that under our belts, let’s get started! I’ll walk you through an adaptation of Joyce Dunbar’s book Baby Bird (Scholastic, 1997).

1) Create a new folder on your computer desktop and name it for the book. Important: you will drop EVERYTHING related to this book in this folder. It will save you time not to have to fiddle with a finding the file each time you need to open it. Trust me.

2) Take a “picture” of the front cover and all the pages of the book. You might like to scan them on a flatbed scanner, which allows you to fold lots of laundry at the same time. It also tends to result in less “doctoring” later. Save the scans to your Folder.

You might prefer to snap a picture of the pages with a digital camera, which is a very fast way to accomplish the capture. It also works well for oversized books that don’t fit on a scanner. Just be sure your camera is steadied at the same exact distance for every shot. And use high resolution. Import them to your Folder.

This is how I set up for a “book shoot.”  
A Velco strap on the tripod anchors the camera to a chair.
The tape on the floor keeps everything lined up j-u-s-t right.

3) Correct the pictures in a photo program (I use – it’s free and easy to use).
            -- Crop out anything around the edges of the page.
            -- Adjust for brightness if needed (the pages may need some corrections along the spine, too).
            -- Adjust any tilting (sorry, doesn’t do this…better to shoot straight)
            -- Name the pages (00, 01, 02, etc.) and save to the Folder.

4) Set up your PowerPoint template. For a VERY complete discussion on this, check out Create Talking Books: PowerPoint from the Assistive Technology Training Online Project. It gives you links to Richard Walter’s ever-so-complete guide to building a template from scratch, How to Create Talking Books in PowerPoint ’97 and 2000As well, you will find an 8-page quick start guide. And a template

If you want to build your own template, whether in PowerPoint or one of the assistive software programs, it’s basically a blank page with next page/previous page buttons. You may wish to have pages “turn” automatically or to enter a delay feature to prevent rapid-fire switch hitting.

            -- Open PowerPoint and set the slide for a blank layout. I’ll use PowerPoint 2007 in the  screenshots. I like to activate the gridlines (“View” tab) so I can line things up nicely.

            -- Add page navigation buttons. Place a Previous Page action button to the lower left corner and a Next Page button to the lower right (Insert > Shapes > Action Buttons). Size them equally, making them large for fledgling mouse users or small for switch hitters, using the gridlines as a guide.

            --If you want a clickable button to speak the text, add an optional Play Sound button. We’ll come back later to adding speech, but for now, if you want human narration, slip that button into the template.
            --If you need to set a delay to prevent repetitive hits (or just slow the kids down so they are more likely to engage with the text), cover the whole page with a Magic Invisible Box (Insert > Shape > rectangle). Temporarily, it will block out the page; that’s okay. You want the rectangle to block access to the buttons and then “disappear” so the buttons become available to act. Select Animations (1) > Custom Animation (2) > Add Effect (3) > Exit (4) > Disappear (5). Decide how much time you need the navigation buttons to remain unavailable and enter this in the timings.

Now doubleclick “disappear” setting to call up the Disappear Effects box (1). In the Timing tab (2), select “after previous” (3) and set the number of seconds to delay (4). This can vary according to your student’s needs. NOW format the rectangle shape to “100% transparency” and “no line” to make it invisible. "No Fill" will not substitute here; you need 100% transparency to make the magic happen!

            -- To make the pages forward automatically instead, set the slide transition (Animations (1) > Advance Slide (2)) to advance automatically after a set number of seconds. You can adjust this up or down to accommodate different lengths of text once you start filling in the template.

            --Save the template to your Folder.

5) Import pictures to the template. Be sure to line them up with the gridlines so every picture has the same dimensions. This makes for a much smoother read!

6) Adapt text if needed. Your student may need the text to be rewritten in a larger or simpler font or reduced in amount. Also, if you plan to use text-to-speech with this book, there must be “written” text for it to recognize rather than a photograph of text. I like to cover the existing text with a rectangle, set the rectangle shape to “no line,” and then color-match it as close as possible using the Custom Colors dialog box. If you move it so the bottom-right corner is close to your text box, you can eyeball a pretty decent match.

An interesting utility for perfectionists might be OB Utilities’ Color Picker (whose trial offer freaked out my Norton antivirus, so I couldn’t test it to give an opinion).

This is the same page as the last picture, only with a text box
added on top of the original writing.
Isn't that so much easier to read

7) Add narration if desired. There are several ways to go about this.

To narrate individual slides with a human voice, you can Insert (1) > Sound (2) > Record Sound (3). Click the red dot on the Record Sound pop-up and save it the Folder. It creates its own little sound icon, which you can enlarge to cover the sound button at the bottom of the page.

If you record outside of PowerPoint using something like Audacity (free, wahoo!, gives you lots of control). PowerPoint uses .wav files, so it’s easy to export these from Audacity to your Folder. Hyperlink this sound (faithfully saved to your Folder, right?) to the button at the bottom of the page.

You could also have the narration play automatically with a delay if you attach it to the exit action of the Magic Invisible Box (see Item #4, setting up your template). Look under the “effects” tab for sound settings; here is where you attach the sound file from your Folder.

Another option is simply to narrate the whole book, rather than individual pages. To do this, click the View tab (1) > Record Narration (2) > OK to the pop-up box (3). Choose where you want to start (the front cover is a good place!) and walk through the book, reading aloud as you go. The narration will record BOTH your voice AND the timing for each slide.

One last option is to have the computer read the narration. For this, you will need a free Add-On called PowerTalk. It will read the text you have typed onto the page. To use, launch PowerTalk first, then the PowerPoint presentation or show you have saved.

8) Save the PowerPoint to the Folder. Burn the Folder and all it’s contents to disk. Keeping everything in one folder insures that the sound files will copy with the PowerPoint. You can certainly save a PowerPoint package, but I like the freedom to access the original creation and make adjustments for future students – or your own child as she progresses – with different skills. I like to also save a PowerPoint Show (.pps) copy that cannot be altered. This avoids, er, accidental changes. If you include the student’s name in the filename, you will know you are opening a copy that is accessible to that student.

 9) …and store inside the front of the book. Here are a couple tricks make this storage system work especially well.
1)      Print labels for each disk from a picture of the book jacket. This makes it easy for students to match the pair before putting them away. I personally use Avery Dennison’s “CD Stomper” and labels.

2)      Fix a paper computer sleeve or an envelope to the inside of the jacket with clear packing tape or clear Contact paper to make it strong.

3)      If the books will be carried by students (let’s say you have a wonderful helper who does cleanup for you), I recommend facing the opening of the enveloped towards the spine. This keeps the disk from sliding out.
The envelope on the right keeps the disk from slipping out
when the front cover is closed.
There! It sounds more complicated than it really is. Once you make a book or two, you’ll be able to crank them out in little time. Also, for teachers, this is a great job to assign to parent or high school volunteers, especially those who can only help out from home.

Let’s get reading!

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You might also like:

Adapting Books for Physical Access
Adapting Picture Books for Lap Reading

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