Think back to your first reading experience. Chances are you stumbled through printed books until you gained proficiency, and that learned skill gave you access to unlimited possibilities. Now imagine yourself as an adult learner or a young student today. In addition to traditional literacy, new readers are faced with the additional challenge of acquiring digital literacy in order to navigate through everyday life. The task becomes nearly impossible when computer access is unavailable, and the divide between those with computer resources and those without is growing at an alarming rate. For 18 years, Austin Free-Net has worked within the community to bridge the gap with free internet access and computer training as it applies to the real world. Partnering with IBM’s Reading Companion program has given adults and children the necessary tools that simultaneously aid them in their quest for reading and digital literacy.
IBM’s Reading Companion uses voice recognition technology in a self-guided program to improve reading literacy and increase familiarity with computers. Students can hear and repeat words as an on-screen narrator detects accuracy and provides positive reinforcement. Learning from materials via Reading Companion eliminates the frustrations one might face when reading alone, and provides private instruction to low-literacy adults to help build and improve their reading skills.
Austin Free-Net uses Reading Companion in our daily outreach to new computer users. Community members can visit one of our public computer labs to read an e-book, or even write a book to add to the Reading Companion library. Reading Companion writers also learn how to teach and engage others with limited literacy and computer skills.
We recently hosted Broadband Across Texas week, an event during which local and international volunteers together to expand the Reading Companion library. Volunteers, staff, and members of the community exercised their creative flair to promote awareness of digital literacy.
Austin Free-Net is excited about the opportunities that arise with reading literacy and digital inclusion and welcomes you to contribute to its efforts. If you know of someone who needs assistance with computer or reading literacy, visit our website where you can find a local computer lab. You also can find volunteer information and learn more about how you can get involved with improving literacy with IBM Reading Companion.
Juanita Budd is the Executive Director of Austin Free-Net.
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