Digital Literacy, Volunteers and IBM’s Reading Companion

Photo of IBM Reading Companion StudentsThink 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 in today’s technological time.  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.


Reading Companion is IBM’s e-book software that uses voice recognition technology in a self-guided program to improve reading literacy and increase familiarity with computers. With the use of a headset microphone, the student can hear and repeat words as an on-screen narrator detects accuracy and provides positive reinforcement.  Learning from a Reading Companion book eliminates the frustrations one might face when reading alone, and it provides low-literacy adults private instruction while improving their reading skills.


Austin Free-Net works closely with new computer users and is utilizing Reading Companion in our daily outreach.  Members of the community 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.  Modeled after Austin Free-Net’s vision of providing free internet access and computer training, Reading Companion writers learn how to teach and engage readers with limited literacy and computer skills.

During the week of June 24th 2013, volunteers locally and internationally worked together to expand the Reading Companion library.  Volunteers, staff, and members of the community penned their creative flair during Austin Free-Net’s Broadband Across Texas week, a week-long event dedicated to promoting 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 can also find volunteer information and learn more about how you can get involved in improving literacy with Reading Companion.


Related Resources:

2nd Annual Broadband Across Texas Week A Huge Success

Coming Together to Champion Digital Inclusion in Texas