Text-to-Speech (Read Aloud) options

Do you or someone you know has difficulty in reading? If so, a text-to-speech feature may be helpful for reading. Text-to-speech options have helped persons who are blind, have low-vision or suffer from Dyslexia.

Scanning/Reading devices such as DaVinci HD/OCR All-in-one desktop or SARA Scanning Reading appliance offers the feature of converting printed text to human-like speech from printed documents. Jaws and Kurzweil 1000 software have been around for many years helping the blind or have low-vision. However, most people cannot purchase such scanning equipment or software because of the cost.

One might ask, “Are there any other inexpensive products?” Guess what. If you are a Windows PC user, you can use one of the accessibility features, Narrator, on your PC or laptop (The text-to-speech feature (VoiceOver) is also available for the Mac/Apple systems, but I will try to provide the information in another blog).

In Narrator, I found the Windows 8 system has a better voice than the previous version of Narrator. If you would like to preview the voice, you can select the voice from the Ease of Access Center/Use the computer without a display, and find the Set up Text to Speech link to preview Voice. On my Windows 8.1 system, I found Female/Male with US and Female Britain voice selections.

A few of keyboard shortcuts are:

On desktop:
Use the Windows Logo key and Enter key to start or stop Narrator. If you cannot start the narrator, you can enable it from the PC settings, Ease of Access, and turn on Narrator or Windows logo key + U will bring up the Ease of Access window (See below).

Ease of Access Windows

Image: Ease of Access Windows

You can access the Narrator default settings by clicking the minimized Narrator icon on the taskbar.

Narrator default settings

Image: Click the minimized narrator on the taskbar will open the default settings pop-up window.

MS Office Word by using Narrator:
Go to the beginning of a document and press Ctrl + Home or if you want to go the top of the window, you can use ALT+CTRL+PAGE UP. You can also use arrow keys to navigate.

To read continuously, press Cap + M keys. To stop temporally, press ctrl key. Disable Narrator, press Windows logo key and Enter. To find out more about accessibility features, click the following links.

About Narrator: Hear text read aloud with Narrator
About Ease of Access: Microsoft Accessibility

Speak quick access button:

If you are only looking for a text-to-speech feature within MS Office application, then adding the Speak button on the Quick Access Tool bar may be helpful. You can use the Speak command to enable text-to-speech on the selected text of your (i.e. MS Office 2010) by a mouse. Click File/Options/Quick Access Tool bar, select All Commands, and look for Speak, add and save. You should see the Speak button within your MS Word at the upper left. You can add the Speak command in other MS Office software such as Excel to read.

Speak button

Image: Add the Speak button in the Quick Access Tool bar.

Narrator worked fine by using shortcut keys as long as you are able to navigate to the section while reading online. However, it is still difficult to navigate on a complex website.  I also found that many PDF files are not readable due to the original format of older PDF files. Using the Speak button may be challenging for the persons who has difficulty in using a mouse.

Window-Eyes (Free offer for Office 2010 or later):

Microsoft is offering customers who have a licensed** version of Office 2010 or later the ability to download Window-Eyes, a screen reader for Windows PCs, free of charge. http://www.windoweyesforoffice.com/

Natural Readers: 

You can read text online or electronic format documents (i.e. word document) on your PC with their free version. However, you have to purchase the retail version for the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) feature. Click here for more information.

I will post Speech to Text (dictating or writing) options next time.

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This entry was posted in Accessibility Features, Assistive Technology, AT_Software, Employment, Technology in Education and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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