Many families and teachers will be able to relate to the quote above, and the images to the right.

Prior to the covid-19 pandemic, UNICEF had placed significant emphasis (see the Every Child Can Read program launched in Thailand in 2019) on literacy (the ability to read and write) – with good reason! In Australia, more than 43% of adults have literacy levels below that required to actively participate in all aspects of everyday life (Australian Bureau of Statistics). This was recently highlighted in the recent SBS series Lost for Words which follows a group of Australian adults with varying ranges of literacy ability progressing through an adult literacy program, highlighting the challenges they have faced and continue to face in their day to day lives. Literacy rates in many third world countries are significantly worse.

Of course, adult literacy begins with children’s literacy in schools.

Since covid-19, and the mass cessation of much of the world’s face-to-face school learning (and/or the introduction of blended models), digital literacy has been put in the spotlight (as highlighted in the article that the above quote was taken from Collectively projecting an equitable, diverse, inclusive digital and innovation revolution) with almost an implied assumption that people can read and write. As the preceding paragraphs indicate, that is not always the case.

The top stock image on the right could easily be a picture of the author of this website and her son, though it doesn’t come close to showing the tears and frustration we felt at the beginning of remote learning. We both (our family and the school) knew that he had a learning disability (severe dyslexia and poor working memory) but the reality of having to work remotely across a range of different platforms was a nightmare. It severely impacted his ability to keep up with classwork and my ability to work – everything suffered.

The bottom image is how I imagine many teachers felt initially, and continue to feel now, at times, as we start to come out of lockdown and back to face to face learning.

Students with low literacy have been severely disadvantaged during remote and blended learning where there are expectations that they can read and follow written instructions – often with limited support at home due to the parent’s ability to support the student due to their work and other family commitments and/or their own literacy challenges (see the Victoria University 2020 report Impact of learning from home for disadvantaged children). This can impact not just the remote classroom, students may also have difficulties in understanding timetables, how to access classes and which platform they should be using. This can lead to failure to keep up with set work and reduced engagement in the remote learning classroom (and the flow on effects).

Teachers can support these students by adapting their approach and encouraging students to use assistive technology.

What is assistive technology? According to the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA), assistive technology is defined as “… any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.” Assistive technology takes many forms, for this website, we are only using it in the context of computer software “… screen readers and communication programs” and “... inclusive or specialized learning materials and curriculum aids” and “… specialized curricular software.”

This site has been developed to showcase the most common assistive technology resources available to students with low literacy as of October 2021, however please be aware that there is a huge range of tools that have not been discussed here and that the number of available resources is continually increasing as new technologies become available.

Many of the assistive technology tools included in this website are useful for anyone – there is no requirement for low literacy to use these tools.

How to use this site

Use the tabs above for the device you or your students use to see what assistive technologies are available to you and how to install and use.

What is low literacy?

Low literacy is defined as per the below and is taken from the OECD Country Note (Australia) – Survey of Adult Skills First Results report. Levels 3, 4 and 5 have been excluded here, but are available in the full report.

Below Level 1: “Tasks at this level require the respondent to read brief texts on familiar topics and locate a single piece of specific information. There is seldom any competing information in the text. Only basic vocabulary knowledge is required, and the reader is not required to understand the structure of sentences or paragraphs or make use of other text features.

Level 1: “Tasks at this level require the respondent to read relatively short digital or print texts to locate a single piece of information that is identical to or synonymous with the
information given in the question or directive. Knowledge and skill in recognising basic vocabulary, determining the meaning of sentences, and reading paragraphs of text is expected.

Level 2: “Tasks at this level require the respondent to make matches between the text, either digital or printed, and information, and may require paraphrasing or low-level inferences.

The Australian Government Style Manual includes information on literacy and access and defines the following factors that affect literacy in English:

  • where people live
  • their linguistic background
  • their education
  • how old they are
  • their abilities and limitations
  • how they access information

If English is your second language, you’ll find many of the resources in this site are also very useful.

Many of the reviews online for scanning pens come across as poorly disguised commercials to encourage purchasing.

So, I’m going to write my own review as a parent of a child that has a scanning pen. These are my key things you should consider:

  1. Don’t purchase something when they are too young – I would suggest late primary to early secondary.
    If you do earlier than this you risk it being lost, not being used properly, or used as a replacement learning the required literacy skills.
  2. Make sure they treat it with the respect that it deserves, it’s a very expensive piece of equipment and a powerful tool when used correctly.
  3. Whether the use of the c-pen is supported in your child’s class – fortunately for us, my son’s schools (primary and secondary) have been very supportive. We even did a mini in-service for my son’s primary school to educate staff on how it could be used.
  4. Utilise all the functionality – it comes with an in-built dictionary and has the ability to scan printed text directly to your computer.

The scanning pen we bought is called a c-pen, 4 years later it’s still going strong.

For a comprehensive listing of current evidence based resources, please see the AUSPELD website

AUSPELD have produced a 70 page guide for parents called Understanding Learning Difficulties that we recommend every parent and teacher read and use as a guide.

See AUSPELD Learning Difficulties PARENTS
“This Guide has been designed and produced to provide parents and carers with current information about the nature of learning disabilities in children, and to offer practical guidance on the most appropriate identification, intervention and support.” – AUSPELD,

About the author

I am (Fiona Czuczman) a geologist and IT specialist with over 25 years experience across both industries. I am currently completing a Master of Education (Secondary) and have produced this website as part of my assessment for EDU5DEI – Digital Environments and Innovations as a resource for teachers to quickly find assistive technology solutions for their students and to have them consider how they communicate work and expectations to families and students.

As a parent of a secondary student with very low literacy, diagnosed with severe dyslexia and poor working memory, the remote learning program was impossible for him to navigate on his own. I found the only way for him to be able to participate in class was for me to know his timetable and the platforms each of his class teachers were using (initially there was no conformity between classroom teachers). Then I had to be with him during class to login and to listen in on classes so I could keep track of verbal instructions as well as having to read the majority of written instructions. Over time the workload was reduced, a consistency of platforms was introduced, and my son became more competent at navigating the digital technology himself. With the continued application of assistive technology, combined with ongoing literacy instruction, I’m confident he’ll have a bright future!