The Buddy System

Pikesville mom creates software for kids with reading difficulties.

Amy Mulvihill - January 2016

The Buddy System

Pikesville mom creates software for kids with reading difficulties.

Amy Mulvihill - January 2016

-Photography by Christopher Myers

When Ari Fertel’s oldest son, Zachariah, was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 5, she did what any other concerned parent would do: She tried to help. She read to her son daily, sent him to tutoring, and ordered the latest and greatest in reading software programs. But each had drawbacks: Tutoring was expensive and inconvenient, the software didn’t provide the right kind of instruction, and parent-child reading time would often just create more tension and stress, especially since Fertel was raising 2-year-old triplets, as well.

So, about nine years ago, Fertel, decided to design her own therapy. The end result is the just-released Reading Buddy software program. Using the same voice-recognition technology found in Apple’s Siri, Reading Buddy listens while children read aloud, then provides feedback, correcting them when words are skipped or mispronounced, and doling out kudos for jobs well done. A built-in, customizable reward program—where parents can offer treats for achieving benchmarks—incentivizes use.

“I wanted it to have everything,” says Fertel, 47, who lives in Pikesville with her husband, Mort Fertel, an author and famed marriage expert, and their five kids. “If I could take this perfect parent that I want to be and stick it in this software, what would it look like? I’d be encouraging, I’d be supportive, I’d be non-judgmental, I’d be consistent, I would always be there, available. The software takes on that role, hence the name, Reading Buddy.”

The software is compatible with both PCs and Macs and is available through And Fertel already has at least one satisfied customer.

Two years ago, Baltimore City resident Irina Diamond procured a beta version of Reading Buddy for her then-9-year-old daughter, Miri, who “would cry with frustration when made to read.” After just a short time, Miri’s fluency increased, as did her confidence. Now, Miri even reads for fun.

“I found this program better than tutoring because it was on our timetable [and] she was reading to a computer without any judgment,” Diamond says. “I am grateful to Reading Buddy for giving my daughter the confidence she needed to grow as a reader.”

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