Making Reading Accessible With the Immersive Reader

Man sitting cross legged reading a book. Text reads, the power of the immersive reader.

In August 2015, Microsoft held an internal hackathon where employees competed with other Microsoft staff from around the world to solve a problem with technology. Many of these pet projects never saw the light of day again, but the winning entry quickly grew to become an indispensable tool for a huge number of students and their teachers. It launched in January 2016 under the guise of Learning Tools for OneNote, but today you may know it better as the Immersive Reader.

The Immersive Reader was initially created to help support students with dyslexia. However, as is increasingly the way with accessibility tools today, it soon got adopted by teachers working with all kinds of students: such was it’s appeal and flexibility. The Immersive Reader was here to stay.

Features of the Immersive Reader

One of the key features of the Immersive Reader is to read text aloud. Words can be read in a male or female voice, and the speed at which the text is read can be adjusted to match the needs of the reader. Words are highlighted as they are spoken, and further options exist to adjust line spacing or font size.

Dig a little deeper and you will find the option to separate words into syllables, choose a different font, or change the background color to increase or decrease contrast. You can also highlight parts of speech, or translate text into another language and have that read aloud. There is a picture dictionary that can be accessed by double clicking on a word, and the line focus tool will help students keep track of their reading without skipping lines by mistake.

Where to Find the Immersive Reader

Today, the Immersive Reader can be found in all kinds of useful places. You will find it in Microsoft’s Office apps like OneNote, Word, Outlook and Microsoft Teams. It’s also built-in to the Edge browser, and can be found on the iPad version of many of these apps.

However, you will also find it integrated into an increasing array of edtech tools that you may already be familiar with. These include:

This week I saw Joe Marquez tweet that he found an unofficial Chrome extension for the Immersive Reader on the Chrome Web Store. Mike Thoflsen, the Product Manager on the Microsoft EDU team, later confirmed that the extension was created by the CEO of Pear Deck, who used a publicly available API from Microsoft to create the tool. I expect it’s going to be a popular extension with Chromebook classrooms, and who knows, maybe Microsoft will create an official version themselves.

So, if you haven’t tried the Immersive Reader yet, I would encourage you to jump in and give it a go. It is a great tool for educators and has the potential to make a hug impact on teaching and learning in your classroom. See it for yourself on the Immersive Reader homepage where you can try it out and experiment with all the features it has to offer.

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