Electronic books can be an important disability accommodation for a lot of people, including some people with normal vision. If you’re having a lot of trouble reading, or not reading as much as you’d like to, it might help to use electronic books.
There are a lot of steps involved in reading a print book. Some of these steps can be difficult or impossible for people with impaired executive function, autistic inertia, fatigue, chronic pain, or other conditions. Some difficult steps can be eliminated with electronic books.
In order to start reading a print book, you have to be able to do all of these things:
- Have the book in a place where it’s available to you when you have time to read.
- (Which can involve remembering to bring with you somewhere.)
- (And keeping track of the book and not losing it.)
- Decide to stop what you’re doing and do a different kind of task.
- Figure out where the book is.
- Go get the book.
- Avoid getting distracted by other things as you find the book or get the book.
- Figure out where you are in the book.
- (Which can involve things like remembering the place.)
- (Or using a bookmark, which comes with its own multi-step challenges like remembering that bookmarks exist and having one available.)
- Open the book to the right page.
- Avoid getting distracted by other parts of the book.
- Get into a position in which you can read, which you can also sustain long enough to read for a significant among of time.
- Actually start reading the book.
- If you want to take notes or highlight, you also have to gather all your note-taking tools.
- And not get distracted and forget what you’re doing.
- And not forget where you put the book in the process.
- That’s a lot of steps, any one of which can sometimes be difficult or impossible.
- Using electronic copies can eliminate some of these steps, or make them easier.
- This can be game-changing.
Some ways in which electronic copies can eliminate steps:
- You can store your entire electronic library on one device (or synced to multiple devices).
- If you know where your device is, then you know where all of your electronic books are.
- This can mean you don’t have to physically search for anything.
- (Electronically searching to remember where you put something can be much easier.)
- You also don’t have to remember to bring a specific book. You just have to remember to bring one device.
- (Which can be a device like your laptop, phone, or iPad which you’re in the habit of carrying with you anyway).
- If you’re already using your computer, you don’t have to get up to go get your book.
- You also don’t have to change positions.
- Being able to stay in the same position and location can make it much easier to start reading.
- It can also be easier to remember your place. A lot of software will leave the book open to the same place as when you were last reading it.
- Searching can be easier, faster, and less distracting than flipping through a print book. (This isn’t true for everyone, but it’s true for some people).
- Electronic bookmarks may also be easier to use than physical ones.
- You don’t have to look for highlighters, pens, pencils or notebooks, all of that is right there in the book-reading software.
- Eliminating these steps can make reading a lot easier.
- Making it easier can make it possible.
This isn’t the right strategy for everyone; computers, phones and other devices have their own executive dysfunction pitfalls. But for some people, it makes reading much more possible.
Short version: Some people have trouble reading print books, even if they have normal vision. Sometimes the reason for this is that executive dysfunction (or another disability) makes some of the steps involved in starting to read a print book difficult or impossible. (Eg: people with ADHD might get distracted looking for the book.) For some people, using electronic books instead of print books can make reading much more possible. Scroll up for some specific reasons that electronic books can help.
A reader asked:
I have memory issues. Things like names, dates or times, directions, and other important details often escape me. Lately, I’ve been using “external memory” in the form of a notebook or my phone.
However, people tend to get impatient or bored at best when you’re constantly consulting a notebook in order to tell them what you need.
At worst, they talk over me, try to tell me what they think I want, or walk away.
How do I get people to understand?
Or should I just work on fixing my memory instead?
A few things:
Don’t wait for better memory:
- Improving memory is possible for some people; not everyone
- Whether or not it’s possible for you, you need to communicate now
- Communication shouldn’t wait for cognitive changes
- It’s important to make strategies that work with the cognitive abilities you have now
Meanwhile, you might be able to make some of your external memory faster. Here are a few possible ways of doing that:
Write things on your hand or a wrist band:
- Looking at your hand only takes a second
- This might work well for remembering what food you want to order, or what you want to buy
- Or in general terms what you wanted to talk about
- There are also disposable paper wristbands you can buy to put notes on
- That works similarly, without having to write stuff on your hand
Put some information on your phone’s lock screen, eg:
- Write something in your notes app
- Take a screenshot
- Make that screenshot your lock screen wallpaper
- This means the information is available immediately once you get out your phone
- If there are things you consistently need to know but can’t remember, making pages with that information and putting them in particular places might help
- Eg, for remembering what a store has
- Or remembering what questions you’re likely to be asked
- Or lists of people who are likely to be in particular places
Optimizing your notebook:
- Eg: If there is information you need frequently, it might be worth putting it on dedicated pages with color-coded tabs
- It also might be worth using something like a three-ring binder so that you can put information you need soonest at the front
- Or even *on* the front, if you get a three-ring binder that has a space to put in a cover sheet on the front
Communication boards or apps:
- Using communication boards or a picture-based AAC app might help too
- Communication aids aren’t just for generating speech, they can also be for cognitive prompting reminding you what it’s possible to say
- Making pages for particular situations might help you to communicate faster
- You’d still have to open the page, but it might result in less hunting around for information once you get there
- Having a page with a few options might make it easier to remember and process things
- Associating images with things you’re trying to remember might make them easier to remember
- If you keep the symbols in a consistent place and touch them some while you communicate, muscle memory might also help you to remember things
- (Even practicing with boards in private without using an app to communicate directly might make it possible to use muscle memory to prompt yourself)
- Proloquo2Go might work well for this
- (Or maybe even something like Custom Boards, although that uses more childish symbols and that could be a problem)
It also might help to be more open about your memory difficulties:
- Sometimes being open about how bad your memory is can help
- If you don’t tell people what you’re doing, they might not be able to tell the difference between using external memory and ignoring them
- (Especially if you’re looking at a phone; they might think you are facebooking or something)
- They also might be trying to help, and might not realize that it’s being anti-helpful
- If you tell people what’s going on and what would help you, *some* people will do the right thing
- (Not all. But enough that it’s often worth it)
- That also can allow you to ask people things that you don’t remember
- “I’m sorry, my memory is bad — could you remind me who you are?”
- “Give me a second — I need to check my notebook.”
- “I don’t remember when that’s happening — I need to check my calendar on my phone.”
- “I actually get really confused when people try to tell me what they think I want — I’ll be able to find it faster if I check my phone”.
Also, if you’re approaching people and they’re walking away, it might help to change the order in which you do things to make it go faster from their perspective, eg:
- Get out your notebook
- Turn it to the right page
- Put your finger on the piece of information you need to remember
- Then go up to them and ask for help
Short version: If you have memory issues and rely on external memory aids, there may be things you can do to use them more quickly.