The e-future looks bright
It’s no big surprise that (according to a US report) the iPad was number one on children’s wish lists for Christmas. 44% of 6-12-year-olds were asking for one. The iPod Touch came in second at 30% and the iPhone a close third.
With offspring spending the festive period happily glued to the screens of their new electronic toys, there were undoubtedly a few wistful parents wishing there had been a few more ‘paper’ books on Santa’s shopping list, alongside smartphones and tablets.
However, as we continue to worry about whether our children are losing interest in physical books, we can surely take heart at the rise of the ebook’s popularity – and particularly its accessibility to a wide reading audience.
Ebooks and children’s book apps are rapidly proving that they have the potential to actually enhance the reading experience - for all children.
Some of the best ebooks and apps offer exciting new ways to engage children (including those with additional needs) in books and stories. They can open up new opportunities for children who have difficulty accessing physical books. Indeed e-books can be invaluable for children who are blind or partially sighted and may otherwise wait months or even years for books in audio, large print or braille. They can offer powerful possibilities for supporting learning and communication. They can support the development of speech and language, social skills, decision-making and fine motor skills.
The wealth of apps providing new, fun, interactive and accessible means of enjoying stories is growing by the day. As well as the many children’s book apps (which can often offer great benefits for children with additional needs) an increasing number of new apps are being designed specifically with children with particular needs in mind.
At the touch of a finger, you can find apps to help your child to learn sign language and apps aimed at helping you to identify potential reading difficulties. Children who are learning disabled can be helped to understand everyday activities with projects like Off We Go! – a series of ebooks about things like going to the dentist.
Autism organisations have worked with Hewlett-Packard to create apps to help people on the autistic spectrum with communication skills, time management strategies and ways of tackling bullying. An iPhone app called ‘iComm’ offers a wonderful picture communication system into which you can insert a whole library of your own photos of familiar objects and places.
Teachers talk regularly of how iPads have transformed classroom activity, particularly for children with additional needs. Every Mac now comes equipped with different assistive technologies, and with the development of universal access features for iPhone, iPad, and iPod, these technologies are reaching a new level.
There have been many powerful accounts of the influence of the iPhone on people’s reading. I remember a fascinating article in the Guardian in which a 50-something man with Dyslexia described the impact of his new iPhone. Having struggled with reading and spelling for his entire life, he suddenly found himself able to race through various classics in a matter of days. His story is not unusual - many dyslexics report that the shorter pages, generous ‘spacing’ and background lighting has transformed the reading experience for them.
There is still a long way to go, however. Disabled audiences should be being taken into consideration in the earliest possible development stages of any product, to ensure that its physical size, shape, keys, text, images and functions endeavour to suit all users. E-readers should surely all have a text-to-speech facility as the norm. Plus synthesised speech needs to be able to be speeded up or slowed down, and the voices need to sound real and engaging. And we need many many more ebooks and stories with BSL signing as an option. And all that is just scratching the surface.
So here’s to enjoying stories in all their formats – and to a 2012, which sees the digital revolution continue to help all audiences access and enjoy books.