DATA SCIENCE Free software from the University of Copenhagen simplifies difficult texts for people with dyslexia and other reading difficulties. The system is the first of its kind worldwide and has the potential to help roughly 400,000 Danes with dyslexia and other reading difficulties.
Personalized text simplification – that’s the gist of a recently completed PhD project from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Computer Science. Postdoc Joachim Bingel’s system makes it easier for dyslexics and others with reading difficulties to read texts online.
The artificial intelligence-based software replaces difficult words in sentences with simpler alternatives, while learning which words, endings, etc. a user is having particular difficulty with.
“We live in a knowledge-based society where anyone without access to knowledge and information due to reading or language difficulties is quickly sidelined,” according to head researcher, Postdoc Joachim Bingel.
Simplifies language, learns about users
The program, Lexi, functions as a ‘plug-in’ for internet browsers. In other words, it is a piece of software that works with a web browser, like Google Chrome. While a user reads texts online, specific words, passages, or entire articles are marked. Thereafter, Lexi simplifies the language and makes the text easier to read. After every use, Lexi prompts users for feedback. In doing so, it learns from and builds upon an ongoing relationship with individual users and their specific reading challenges.
“My angle has been to develop a personalized solution, a system that can learn about the specific needs of every single user,” explains Bingel, a German who had to learn the peculiarities of Danish from scratch.
It is the first large project to focus on personalized text simplification in Danish. And, as far as Bingel knows, it is the first of its kind worldwide that can be used with a web browser. Lexi is currently available online, but only as a prototype.
Better experiences for more readers
“While the program works, the user interface still needs to be made more attractive and intuitive. I reckon that we be operating at full strength within the next few months,” says Joachim Bingel, who hopes that the software will be used by a great many people.
It is estimated that roughly seven percent of the Danish population is affected by some degree of dyslexia, or just over 400,000 Danes. With the help of Lexi, they will now find it much easier to read online. The programme will also be able to serve others with reading difficulties, including people who are new to a language or have a disability.
“The more who use it, the more knowledge about people’s reading difficulties we will get. This will allow us to improve the program and hopefully improve the reading experiences of an even greater number of people,” says the researcher, who maintains that the program will be free.
In the long run, the computer scientist hopes that the programme will grow to include languages other than Danish.