In this post we wanted to take the time to critically look at a piece of assistive technology that really has had a profound impact on many people who struggle to read due to learning disabilities relating to reading. Colored filter line readers are a combination of two low-tech assistive technologies.
1) Line reading helpers which assist readers in their ability to stay focused on one or a few lines at a time.
2) Color filters which decrease the eye strain often caused by the black on white text on paper and thereby can increase comprehension, reading rate and reading accuracy by those who use them.
By combining the two technologies, readers who may have compounded difficulties with reading can minimize the number of tools needed for them to be successful readers.
A Brief History:
While colored reading helpers are a newer technology (mid to late 1990’s) the adapted from a technology 10+ years their senior. The benefits of colored filters were first discovered in the early 1980’s by Helen Irlen. She spent much of the early 80’s interviewing 1,500 adults with reading problems and for her 1 group stuck out. A group of adults who could read, but found it unpleasant even painful and who “avoided it at all costs” (Irlen, 19). This caused Irlen to question why reading was unpleasant. She interviewed adults who were normal readers and found that the problem was in what the paged looked like to readers. A normal reader will tell you they see words on a page, where as, a struggling reader may say that all of the “words [run together into] a black line and I don’t see them anymore” (20). Through much trial and error Irlen discovered that if struggling readers, read a page with a colored gel over it that they were less likely to feel like it hurt to read. While it took awhile for a reader to find the gel or filter that worked best when they did they found that reading was “much improved” (23). Since this discovery that colored filters or gels could improve reading abilities of people the filters or gels have been added to glasses and contact lenses to improve vision.
Who are they not made for:
As wonderful as they can be for the students who find benefit in using them, colored filters and line readers may not benefit all students. Students who may not benefit for the colored line helpers include:
- Students who need more assistance in identification of specific words or who are only reading 1 word at a time may be distracted by seeing all of the words in a line or on multiple lines.
- Students who’s work is done on a computer may benefit from a full filter in front of their screen but will likely find the colored line helper useless.
- Students who are greatly visually impaired or blind will not find the level of assistance of a line reader useful.
Who are they made for:
Color filter reading helpers are designed primarily for the reader who has already gained independence in reading, but who needs additional tools to be truly successful. For example the reading helpers can be helpful to the student who had early success with reading when there were fewer words on the page, but struggled to maintain single line focus as reading level increases. Ex. the transition from story books to chapter books may be a time when the color filtered reading helpers could be used to transition a reader who is struggling.
Even those who do not have learning disabilities have found that colored filters, or Reading Helpers, made it significantly easier to read basic black and white text. I know this because I, [Mike S.] have recently started using a yellow colored filter to help me track and read printed text easier. It is something I have started to use because I found one lying around in my resource room and tried it out. There have even been studies regarding the use of colored filters as a reading intervention showing that approximately 80 percent of specifically reading disabled children have an easier time reading while using a colored filter (Williams et al, 1992). The effects have been seen from grad students to special education professionals alike, some because they use them, some because they have seen the effects, and some for both reasons.
Our very own Claire Drawe has this to say about this assistive technology:
“My name is Claire Drawe I am a graduate student at Syracuse University and were it not for colored reading helpers and colored filters I probably would not be here. I am dyslexic and have a difficult time focusing on one line of words at a time. Most of the time when I read without reading guides I blend words and letters from multiple lines together making it impossible for me to comprehend what I am reading. I also suffer from chronic acute migraines which make it difficult to constantly stare at the black on white of regular texts. For these reasons colored filters and colored reading guides are crucial to me being successful academically. The reading guide on its own helps me to focus on one line at a time while the color tint *I like working with blue and greenish Yellow* allow my eyes some rest while I get my work done. Line readers also allow me independence from needing a computer to read all of my texts making them an extremely practical solution.”
Other professionals in the field also have seen the effects of colored filters in the classroom:
“I am a Resource Specialist, and I have a student who could not read, no matter what program or method I tried. He has serious visual motor, visual discrimination, and visual processing difficulties. I told him that I had a magic wand, your sample strip, and it was going to help him read. He believed it, just like Dumbo’s feather, and he read to me for the very first time. The yellow made the words stand out visually, and it helped his tracking. When I showed and told his mom she cried. Actually we both did because we had tried so many different things. I thought you should know that your invention changed the life of a child, mom, and Resource Specialist. Thank you so much! I can’t wait to give him his very own ‘magic wand’.” S.B., Resource Specialist, Antioch, CA
It is very important to know that these filters come in a variety of colors, which is an important factor when considering using these with a student. Know that some people will only respond to one or a select few colors and may respond adversely to the use of colors that make it more difficult for the user to read a text (O’connor et al, 1990) . For this reason, when considering using this as a reading intervention, make sure you have an array of colors available for your student. A company called reading helper (http://www.thereadinghelper.com) produces a kit with 9 different colored filters to help with this process. This company also makes helpers in a variety of sizes to help with different sized text.
The reading helper sells individual standard strips for $2.00 and the entire 9 piece set for $17.00 which is on the higher end of what they can be found for online ($0.75- $2.50), though they do have all of the most commonly found colors available: red, green, blue, yellow, pink, orange, purple, aqua and clear for students who may need line focusing help but who may not suffer from scotopic sensitivity syndrome*. They also sell wide and long helpers for $2.00 each however they only come in blue and yellow.
What are they REALLY doing?
It is well documented that this helps students with reading, but what exactly does it effect. Robinson and Conway (1994) found that colored filters and line readers help students with their reading rate and comprehension, but not necessarily their accuracy of the words they are reading. in other words, students are able to understand what they are reading better (which is sort of the entire point) but are not necessarily reading all the words correctly. As a result of this, it has also been found that students perception of themselves in school has drastically increased. Students are now perceiving themselves as better performers in school and more capable of completing grade level work. Moreover, students who were part of the Robinson and Conway study decreased the amount of pauses while they were reading throughout the course of the study. Just again, be sure that the colored filter you are using works for the student (or you) who is using it.
*Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome is the name that Helen Irlen came up with to discuss what she was seeing in the individuals who benefited from colored filters.
Irlen, H. (2005). Reading by the colors, overcoming dyslexia and other reading disabilities through the irlen method. Perigee Trade
O’Connor, P. D., Sofo, F., Kendall, L., & Olsen, G. (1990). Reading disabilities and the effects of colored filters.Journal of learning disabilities, 23(10), 597-603. doi: 10.1177/002221949002301006
Robinson, G. L., & Conway, R. N. (1994). Irlen filters and reading strategies: effect of colored filters on reading achievement, specific reading strategies, and perception of ability . Perceptual and motor skills,79(1), 467-483. doi: 10.2466/pms.1918.104.22.1687
Williams, M. C., LeCluyse, K., & Rock-Faucheux, A. (1992). Effective interventions for reading disabilites. Journal of the american optometric association, 63(6), 411-417. Retrieved from http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1993-02410-001
*Note: This blog post was completed by Michael Scharvella, and Claire Drawe. This post can also be found on Claire’s blog.