Apple includes assistive technology in its products as standard features. iPhone, iPad, iPod, and OS X include screen magnification and VoiceOver, a screen-access technology, for the blind and visually impaired. To assist those with cognitive and learning disabilities, every Mac includes an alternative, simplified user interface that rewards exploration and learning. And, for those who find it difficult to use a mouse, every Mac computer includes Mouse Keys, Slow Keys, and Sticky Keys, which adapt the computer to the user’s needs and capabilities. Other accessibility features include:
- Cursor Magnification – magnification makes the cursor easier to see and follow.
- Picture-in-Picture Zoom – puts the zoomed areas in a separate window while keeping the rest of the screen at its native size.
- High Contrast and Reverse Video – increase and decrease contrast, remove color, reverse white and black to black and white.
- Talking Calculator and Talking Clock – set the features to speak totals or all input, set the clock to speak on the hour, half hour, or every fifteen minutes.
- Custom Keyboard Shortcuts – lets you customize existing shortcuts, create your own, or remove shortcuts you don’t use.
- Multi-Touch Trackpad Gestures – lets you use gestures on the trackpad to control the computer – pinch, swipe, or rotate gestures, and zoom.
- Many other features are available depending upon the product and platform.
Microsoft accessibility features make it easier to see, hear, and use your computer and includes ways to personalize your PC. Windows 7 and 8 features include significant accessibility improvements over previous versions of Windows. Magnifier now includes a lens mode and full-screen mode. On-Screen Keyboard can be resized to make it easier to see and includes text prediction. The Ease of Access Center includes:
- On-Screen Keyboard – displays a keyboard on the screen accessible with the mouse.
- Narrator – reads aloud on-screen text and describes some events – such as error messages.
- Speech Recognition – command your computer with your voice and dictate documents and e-mails.
- Changes to Text Size – make text and icons larger.
- Magnifier – enlarges portions of the screen – full screen mode, lens mode, and docked mode.
- Visual Notifications – replaces system sounds with visual cues.
- Captions – display text captions of spoken dialog when available in videos and animations.
- Sticky Keys – allows for pressing of multiple keys one at a time – CTRL, ALT, and Delete.
- Mouse Keys – use the arrow keys or numeric keypad to move the pointer.
Text to Speech
Text to Speech software converts text to audio. The types of text formats that may be converted and the type of audio output depends on the software used. However, the most common types of text that may be converted includes txt, rtf, pdf, doc, and docx, and the most common types of audio output includes mp3, wav, wma, aiff, and au.
Almost everyone has used Adobe Reader to share, read, search, verify, or print a document. But Adobe Reader has the ability to convert text to speech through its Read Out Loud feature. Read Out Loud can speak the contents of many PDF files and is accessed under the View tab. The voice that is used is the one available through the computer operating system. The default voice will be used but may be changed if the computer operating system has additional voices.
Natural Reader is a text-to-speech software with natural sounding voices. This easy-to-use software can read to you any text such as Microsoft Word files, webpages, PDF files, and E-mails. NaturalReader can also convert any written text into audio files such as MP3 or WAV.
NaturalReader has many other functions, such as audio editor and OCR. With audio editor, you can be your own sound editor by recording, merging and editing audio files. The OCR, optical character recognition, function works with your scanner to convert printed characters into digital text and it is up to 99% accurate. This allows you to listen to your printed file or edit it in a word-processing program.
What can NaturalReader do for you?
- Allows students to listen to class notes, text books…etc
- Facilitates education
- Avoids eyestrain from too much reading
- Make proofreading effective
- Learn English or other languages
- And so much more
* the basic account is free, but there’s a traffic limit. After you read so many words, you will be encouraged to upgrade to a paid plan.
Access Text is a program that can be used in conjunction with any text to speech software. College students with disabilities that impair their ability to read printed text go to their school’s disability service office to request accommodations. Once a student is determined to be eligible to receive textbooks in an alternate format, the school’s Disability Service Provider (DSP) uses AccessText to request electronic files from member publishers.
PowerTalk is a plugin that automatically speaks any Microsoft PowerPoint presentation or slide show, allowing you to add instant narration to presentations without the need to record speech. The advantage of PowerTalk is its ability to speak text as it appears and to speak hidden text attached to images. The voice used and speed of narration may be changed with the speech setting in the PowerTalk control panel. PowerTalk uses the synthesized voices available in Windows, however additional SAPI voices may be downloaded and install.
Much like PowerTalk, WordTalk is a plugin that speaks the text of a document, highlighting the words as it “reads”. For individuals with reading and writing difficulties, having text reinforced by hearing it read aloud is very useful. WordTalk also contains a talking dictionary to help decide which word is most appropriated. Highlight colors may be adjusted, voice and speed of speech may be adjusted, and the converted text may be saved as a .wav or .mp3 file. Other tools include the option to speak by paragraph, sentence, or word; speak a selected section of text; stop speaking; or speak from the cursor.
Speech to Text
Speech to Text software, also known as voice recognition software, converts speech to text. Speech to text software makes it easier for anyone to use a computer but is especially useful for individuals with mobility impairments, for paraplegics, and for amputees. You talk and control the computer – edit documents and emails, launch applications, open files, control your mouse, etc.
Diction Pro allows an individual to speak into a microphone and prepare letters, reports, and e-mails. Diction Pro includes command for formatting, deleting, and copying words and passages. Like all voice recognition software, Diction Pro requires a good quality headset and an initial software training session to allow Diction Pro to learn and interpret your voice and speech characteristics.
Google’s web browser, Chrome, has a speech to text feature built in that allows you to enter text into text boxes, forms, and search engines. Ask your questions out loud and get answers spoken back whether you are out and about or sitting at your desk. Just tap the mic on the Google search bar and speak up. This works on the Google Search App for iOS, Android and Chrome browsers for laptops and desktops.
ZebSpeech that support speech recognition and Text to Speech. ZebSpeech works as an add-in for Microsoft products. You can customize the vocabulary and edit the speech recognition properties.
Screen Reader software is different from Text to Speech software. While Text to Speech software converts text to audio, Screen Reader software converts everything that is being displayed on the screen – icons, hyperlinks, and image descriptions. Screen Readers are useful to people who are blind or have a visual impairment and are often used in conjunction with other assistive technology such as screen magnifiers and Braille output devices.
FireVox is an open source, freely available talking browser extension for the Firefox web browser. Think of it as a screen reader that is designed especially for Firefox. Fire Vox is especially useful for the visually impaired or for web developers who need to test their web pages for accessibility.
MathPlayer enables Microsoft Internet Explorer to display mathematical notation in web pages and allows for the mathematical expressions to be enlarged and spoken for people with reading disabilities or visual impairments. My MathPlayer works in conjunction with MathML and MathType to create math web pages.
Nonvisual Desktop Access (NVDA) is a free, open source screen reader for Microsoft Windows operating systems. NVDA provides feedback via synthetic speech and Braille enabling blind or individuals with visual impairments to access computers at no more cost than a sighted person.
Magnifiers and Reading Tools
Fatbits is a fast, compact, and easy to use screen magnifier for Windows that is useful for individuals with visual impairments and graphic artists. Fatbits is also useful as an accessibility tool. It can perform text smoothing and can modify the colors it displays to help those with color vision deficiency.
Vu-Bar provides an on-screen, slotted ruler that makes it easier for individuals with reading disabilities, like dyslexia, to read on-screen. Vu-Bar is also useful for individuals with other disabilities who have difficulty tracking while reading. Users may select the bar width and the slot height to fit the font size.