CSU launches free assistive technology tools in Canvas

An example of what ReadSpeaker looks like when using it within Canvas

Colorado State University continued its commitment to creating an accessible and inclusive campus by adding a new tool for all students, faculty, and staff. The beginning of the 2022-23 academic year at CSU saw the introduction of ReadSpeaker to Canvas, CSU’s web-based learning management system that supports online learning and teaching.

ReadSpeaker is a free, user-friendly, assistive technology software that encompasses three different tools, TextAid, webReader, and TextAid Extension, which make PDFs, Canvas, and web pages more accessible. All students can access and potentially benefit from using Readspeaker.

Specifically, this technology allows content to be read aloud or converted to mp3 for download. While the text is being read aloud it can also highlight words and sentences to follow along with the audio and users have the ability to change reading speed, voice, and language for a fully customizable experience. Visually, users can make adjustments such as setting different fonts and font sizes, changing font and background color and can use the annotation feature to highlight and sort highlighted information by color. Perhaps one of the most popular features of ReadSpeaker is its mobile browser compatibility, allowing for listening on the go.

Importance of ReadSpeaker

Marla Roll, director of the Assistive Technology Resource Center at CSU, and ATRC staff worked closely with ReadSpeaker and the university to ensure every student has access to these tools and can benefit from the program’s universality.

“There were 3,800 students who sought accommodations for disabilities at CSU in 2021,” Roll explained.

Additionally, a study from the National Center for Educational Statistics showed only a third of students with disabilities in America seek accommodation, meaning there are presumably thousands of students on the CSU campus who may benefit from seeking disability accommodation. One speculation for the low accommodation requests number is the stigma behind the word “disability.”

Because of this, one of the main goals surrounding ReadSpeaker is not only to provide beneficial educational tools for people with disabilities but also to make the use of accessibility tools a norm for the entire university population. “It’s added to the tools that CSU provides to make your learning opportunities richer,” said Roll.

Lynsey Fenter, accommodation specialist in the Student Disability Center, recommends these tools to all students citing time management as a prominent reason. “Students’ lives are busy as they navigate class, pages on pages of reading, outside jobs, commuting, and the general chores associated with being a human. These tools provide a way for students to engage with the material needed for class, while also keeping up with the other aspects of their life key to their success and wellbeing,” Fenter explained. “Having these tools readily available in Canvas will be a game changer for students. I believe we will see all students utilizing these tools for a multitude of reasons.”

Over the shoulder photo of a student using ReadSpeaker on their computer

The importance of ReadSpeaker to all students is clear, but there are also added benefits for faculty.

Fenter described TextAid as “opening a world of possibility for material utilized in a course.” She added, “With TextAid, faculty and students can engage with web-based material using text-to-speech, already embedded into Canvas.”

While TextAid does assist with text-to-speech compatibility, faculty are still encouraged to make all documents accessible.

Although ReadSpeaker is not well-known to faculty on campus yet, there are trailblazers who have taken notice and advocated for the use of this tool. Jeremie Korchia, clinical pathology instructor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, is an example of this and advocates for the use of ReadSpeaker for both students and faculty alike.

“The universal design forces excellent organization of slides, promoting better understanding, and some students may enjoy listening to their material as a way of learning it,” Korchia said. “It is my project to get familiar with [the Readspeaker tools] and share them within the veterinary college in Spring 2023.”

ReadSpeaker and the opportunities it provides to students reinforce the ambition of CSU to create an accessible and beneficial educational environment for all students, faculty, and staff.

Accessing and using ReadSpeaker

The ReadSpeaker suite contains three different products: ReadSpeaker webReader, TextAid, and TextAid Extension.

ReadSpeaker webReader reads content within Canvas while TextAid reads documents uploaded into Canvas, and TextAid Extension can read any other website as long as you have downloaded the extension.

The ReadSpeaker suite is available for free to all students, faculty, and staff within Canvas and can be accessed from any web page within Canvas. Conveniently, the assistive technology tool is already installed within Canvas and does not require a download for use of webReader and TextAid.

ReadSpeaker has a plethora of resources designed to make the use of these tools as easy as possible. The instructional videos included below are a great way to get started, but if you are looking for more information you can visit the ATRC ReadSpeaker website and also connect with specialists on campus.



TextAid Extension

The bottom line

The ReadSpeaker suite is in its pilot year at CSU as the University attempts to strengthen its commitment to creating and sustaining a welcoming, accessible, and inclusive campus that enhances usability for everyone and helps create an environment in which we support, protect and respect rich dimensions of diversity.

During this time, the ATRC would appreciate any feedback on your experience with the tools made available. This feedback will help determine whether to renew the software going forward. To submit feedback please contact the ATRC.

ReadSpeaker was made possible through the collaboration of the Student Disability Center, Assistive Technology Resource Center, and tremendous help from the University’s IT department.

Marla Roll summed it up by saying, “ReadSpeaker and the ability to offer ease of access tools to students is part of meeting our commitment to CSU’s Principles of Community.”

Ethan Dvorak contributed to this story.

The Assistive Technology Resource Center is in the Department of Occupational Therapy, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.