Text-to-speech technology provides access to written material for people with sight, motion and learning disabilities by removing the need to read and interpret text. With the convenience of digital technology and access available through the Internet, most text to speech technology is computer-based. Solutions include free software, commercial software and hardware/software combinations.
Windows includes a basic screen reader called Narrator, which converts text and describes desktop conditions for you. Enable Narrator by pressing "Windows-Enter." The program will open and start reading information in the Narrator window. You can learn commands, set up options or proceed to other pages with text to speech support from the Narrator home screen.
Freeware screen readers include the downloadable NVDA and the Web-based System Access to Go, while popular commercial titles include JAWS, Window-Eyes and SuperNova. Screen readers describe almost everything on the screen, and operation is keyboard-based, eliminating the need to use a mouse. Text-to-speech readers target those with learning disabilities or anyone who benefits from simultaneous presentation of text and speech. Freeware options include Natural Reader and ReadPlease. Commercial text-to-speech programs have a wider feature set. Kurzweil 3000, WYNN and Read and Write are three titles available for purchase.
The ReadingPen line from Wizcomtech scans written text and converts it to speech. Targeted at those with learning disabilities, the ReadingPen is used by passing the device over the text for speech conversion.
The Intel Reader is a pocketbook-sized device that scans text to digital text, then converts text to speech. It aids those with reading disabilities, low vision and blindness. The Intel Reader can interface with a computer through a USB connection.
For those depending on text-to-speech technology to understand content, operating a computer is often simplified with voice commands. Windows includes speech recognition through its Ease of Access options on the Control Panel. A computer with a microphone takes speech input and converts it to text and keyboard commands. Dragon Naturally Speaking is a commercial program providing voice control. Other voice-to-text programs are available, but place an emphasis on captioning and language translation.
A full-time content creation freelancer for over 12 years, Scott Shpak is a writer, photographer and musician, with a past career in business with Kodak.