A young woman and a man sat looking at a laptop together

To Read or be Read to?

To read or be read to, that is the question, at least it is when it comes to using a Screen Reader for exams that test reading.  Can a screen reader be used by a student in such a test or exam, when this is their usual, normal and established way or working?

A Screen Reader is an Assistive Technology software that reads an application’s menu items and any text being viewed on the screen. There are screen reading Apps for mobile computing devices as well as laptop / desktop computers.

While Screen Readers are used by those who require this support in the classroom, there may be uncertainty when it comes to using this for students taking assessments and exams.  Other factors may relate to concerns or issues around equipment reliability, it’s cost and availability. Using Assistive Technology also has an impact for the Centre on where a candidate takes the assessment, which may have an implication for staffing and invigilation where a candidate needs to sit in a separate room, so that other candidates do not over-hear or see the candidates screen, or become distracted.

It may be a surprise to know that an Electronic Screen Reader, is allowable for exams that test for Reading. The JCQ’s view is that a computer reader must only be available to a candidate who is defined as disabled under the meaning of the Equality Act. The JCQ current guidance, page 41 and 42 in the Permissions table for the use of readers and computer readers in GCSE, GCE and Functional Skills Qualifications, A Computer Reader would be permitted for both English Literature and Language in the aspects that test for reading, as it allows the candidate to independently access the text, hence a Human Reader not being permitted. The qualifying conditions for a candidate to have a non-interactive electronic question paper in PDF format, which is also read by computer state:

“An awarding body will accept an order for a non-interactive electronic question paper where:

  • the centre has an approved application for a computer reader; or
  • the candidate has a substantial and long term vision impairment and prefers to
    read on-screen, rather than on paper, as part of their normal way of working

JCQ AA Regs 2015-16 Section 6.7.1

For everyone to have the option to use a computer reader in assessments is a debate that has been opened by some. After all, screen readers for electronic books and on other devices are used by many people who would not be considered to have a disability or difficulty when it comes to accessing text.  BATA (British Assistive Technology Association) summary points from their Bridging the Gap in Exam Accessibility, 8th October 2015, highlights some relevant related points around Assistive Technology and exams.

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