Need help with reading? Try TTS.

There are many products offering Text to Speech (TTS) software which can:

 

  • reduce the effort of reading, allowing concentration on content;
  • reduce eye strain – important for those with visual difficulties;
  • develop vocabulary and imagination in younger children;
  • give access to texts which may provide instruction, knowledge or entertainment;
  • improve retention of information because it adds auditory learning to visual learning;
  • provide a proof reading service for struggling writers;
  • develop reading skills when the sentence and/or word being read is highlighted;
  • be used for GCSE and A level examinations by those dyslexics who have substantial reading impairment, and for whom using TTS software is their normal method of working. They must have either below average reading accuracy, reading comprehension or reading speed. A computer reader will even be allowed in papers testing reading as it allows the candidate to independently meet the requirements of the reading standards. (JCQ regulations 2012-2013).  Readingpens, however, are not allowed.

Text to Speech (TTS) comes in many forms. So how do you decide what you need? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • do you want TTS to work in a limited or a broad range of applications e.g. Word, PDF, e-mails, text files, e-readers and the web?
  • do you want a simple product or one that offers extra features? If the latter then you must be prepared to spend time on training if you are to get the most out of the product;
  • does the product offer a good speaking voice which is easily understood?
  • do you need your TTS software to be portable?
  • is cost an issue? Some TTS is free. Prices quoted here do not include VAT. This is because if the product has been specifically designed for use by people with a disability and is being purchased by, or on behalf of, someone who is disabled, VAT is not chargeable.
  • do you want to use TTS on a PC, Mac, tablet (Android or iPad) or mobile phone? This will affect availability and price.

It is impossible in this article to go into the specifications of each product, but all the details can be found on the Internet and many of them offer 30 day free downloads. Here are a few TTS products and prices to look at:

Balabolka (http://www.cross-plus-a.com/balabolka.htm) – free download.

 

Mini Reader (http://www.ivona.com/en/mini-reader/) – free download.

 

Microsoft Office 2010 Speak – free if you have Office – It can speak selected text in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

 

Natural Reader (http://www.naturalreaders.com/download.php) – free download.

 

iSpeech – for iPhone and iPad (itunes.apple.com) free app.

 

CapturaTalk for Android – £48 – mobile app

 

Snap&Read – £99 – simple, one button toolbar that reads selected text in any application can run it from a memory stick – just make sure that you are allowed to use USB sticks in your school or office.

 

ClaroRead – £49 to £199 – this supports writing as well as TTS. It can convert text into an audio file that can be transferred to an MP3 player, iPod or mobile phone and played back.

 

Clicker 6 – £150 – standalone application –  simpler in that it has only one toolbar to cope with – usually used by younger dyslexics – TTS but primarily for word processing.

 

Dolphin SaySo – £159 – reads out text in Word, emails and web browsers. As with Claro, you can save text as audio files to listen to on an MP3 player or smartphone.

 

Read:Outloud 6 – £186 – its study tools help students capture facts and information and improve comprehension.

 

Reading Pen TS Oxford Premium – £187 – offers TTS plus definition and pronunciation ‘on the move’ – PC compatible.

 

Texthelp Read & Write Gold – £320 – and Kurzweil 3000 – £635  – both multi-faceted pieces of reading and writing software.

 

Intel Reader – £499 – takes a picture of any printed text and reads it aloud. Very useful in schools combined with its Portable Capture Station – £99.

 

Financial help for purchasing some of this software – and the hardware on which to install it – may be available to dyslexic students in Higher Education through the Disabled Students’ Allowance (http://hantsda.org.uk/higher-education/). For those in work, there is the Government ‘Access to Work ‘ scheme which provides support to help individuals work to their full potential (http://hantsda.org.uk/adult-dyslexia/).

 

The Accessible Resources Pilot Project, funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, tested a model where curriculum material was presented in an electronic format to those pupils who found reading difficult. Forty pupils across nine schools were given laptops and software for translating and accessing electronic files. Assessment results following the trial showed that everything, from school attendance to reading, writing and confidence had risen dramatically.

There is now a way of accessing curriculum texts through Load2Learn. Because of copyright issues, the school must have texts available in school, and one teacher must sign up to the scheme granting access to pupils on a needs basis. Since January 2013 this scheme has become free. So now there are over 1500 curriculum titles in Word, audio, EPUB and PDF format. See more at www.load2learn.org.uk.

E-books were first published 20 years ago and sales have now overtaken hardbacks. The Kindle and other eBook readers do not all support TTS and TTS is not enabled on all books. Check before you buy! However, there are several good sources of free eBooks with titles for all ages and interests:

VBookzhttp://www.vbookz.com/V1/vBookz_Voice_Readers.html provides access to 30,000 free books from Project Gutenburg.

Blio – www.blio.com – provides free books, but you have to pay £7 to download your choice of voice. This site provides good colour and pictures and the text being read is highlighted.

Seeing Earhttp://www.seeingear.org – offers free membership to those who are print disabled. They offer over 2,000 books which are still in copyright thanks to the Copyright Licensing Agency Print Disability License (2010).

Internet Archive – www.archive.org – offers 2,620,497 public domain books in a range of formats – txt, PDF,DAISY, PUB and Kindle.

When I started writing this article I had intended including software to support writing. However, that will have to wait until the next issue or I will take over the whole newsletter! TTS is constantly evolving, so keep your eyes open for future developments.

Acknowledgements: In writing this article I am indebted to Jamie Munroe of Inclusive Technology (www.inclusive.co.uk) for his recent very interesting and free, training day in Southampton. I have also sought help from the BDA publication “Dyslexia and Useful Technology”, edited by E A Draffan. The BDA New Technologies website will keep you up to date (http://bdatech.org/what-technology/text-to-speech/).  Finally, there is a useful comparison of products on the Iansyst website at www.dyslexic.com.

Barbara Lowe.        May 2013.