Text-to-speech

Telecommunication Relay Service (TRS)

Telecommunication Relay Service (background article.

">TRS) is a family of free services that lets people who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or speech impaired independently place and receive phone calls.  A communication assistant (CA) "translates" between a text or sign language user on one side and a voice telephone user on the other.

This article covers the various types of relay services and how to use them.

background article.

">TRS includes:

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Mobile Phones and Vision Loss

The main problem for blind and low vision mobile phone users is access to the screen: menus, address books, text messages, incoming call information, etc.  Just like computers, the solutions are to enlarge the text or turn it into speech.  Some phones have these features right out of the box; others require add-on software that may cost as much as $400.

This article will cover some of the options available, and point you to more information resources in this fast-moving market.

Built-in Features

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Free and Cheap Screen Readers

Screen reader software converts text on a computer screen into synthetic speech and/or braille. The software also allows the keyboard to replace the mouse in controlling the computer, and provides other help in navigating. Although the most popular screen readers cost about $1000, this article covers some that are free or at low cost. They work relatively well with the basic popular software applications and general Internet tools, but do not have the "power user" features found on the more sophisticated programs.

Windows

NVDA (non-visual desktop access) is an open-source screen reader for Windows. It works with common programs such as Microsoft Word and Internet Explorer.

Thunder is another free Windows screen reader offered by a group in the United Kingdom.

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E-books and E-reading Software

Electronic books (e-books) are an alternative to print, and may be useful to people who have difficulty reading because of vision or cognition disabilities, or who have difficulty holding a book or turning pages.  However, not all e-books are automatically accessible to blind users.  Libraries and schools should carefully consider their choices when making e-book decisions.

This article covers some of the most popular current choices.

E-book content may be available in different computer formats. Some books and magazines are available as standard text files or Microsoft Word documents. These are easily accessed by the use of screen reading software.

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Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) -- What are the options?

The 'normal' way people communicate face-to-face is through talking. However, many people can't talk clearly, or can't talk at all. These people rely on various tools to help augment their limited talking ability, or to help them communicate in an alternate way --  'Alternative and Augmentative Communication' (AAC). These tools come in all shapes, sizes, and functionalities. This article provides a basic breakdown of the general AAC tool types.

Low-tech

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Audio Information Resources

People with visual or cognitive impairments can access materials in alternate formats such as large-print, braille and audio. Audio is a popular medium because it works with so many portable devices such as mp3 players, e-book readers, smartphones, and laptops. It's really a mainstream way of distributing content that people with disabilities are using, rather than a specialized channel.

Almost all types of content are available, although publishers may restrict access to some materials.

RoboBraille is a free web-based or email service that will convert digital text documents into mp3 audio files. Your file can be a .doc, .docx, .pdf, .txt, .xml, .html, .htm, .rtf, .epub, .mobi, etc..

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Screen Readers for Blind Users

Screen readers provide an audio version of information that appears on a computer screen. They use keyboard commands to substitute for mouse use, and read almost everything on the screen, including menus, dialogue boxes, etc.

This article covers both free and third-party commercial screen readers designed for use by blind people, and will help you get started.

Programs designed for use by sighted people with learning or cognitive disabilities are covered in the article "Text-to-Speech Readers for People with Learning Disabilities."

Most screen readers are highly customizable, so that users can specify preferences such as whether punctuation is read, how fast the program speaks, or whether cues helpful for new users are spoken.

A video introduction to how blind people use screen readers is available online.

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Apple’s Mobile Products (iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch)

In many ways, Apple’s iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch are ideal accessibility tools. They’re lightweight and easy to use. The wide range of applications -- built-in, free, or generally inexpensive -- suit a variety of needs. The touchscreen interface is ideal for many people who can't use a keyboard or mouse. Finally, because they’re mainstream products, people use them without feeling self-conscious or paying a large amount of money. This article covers some of the accessibility features and ways you can use these devices.

Apple has included some powerful accessibility features in the iOS operating system used by its mobile devices:

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Accessibility Features in Computer Operating Systems

All current computer operating systems include features that make using the computer easier for people with disabilities.  For many people, these features may provide sufficient accommodations or may be the best available solution. In other cases, the features are scaled-down versions of capabilities that are available in more sophisticated versions from third-party vendors.

These features accommodate a wide range of users:

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Text-to-Speech Readers for People with Learning Disabilities

Text-to-speech readers are used by people who benefit from seeing and hearing text at the same time, including people with learning disabilities, beginning readers, and English as a Second Language students. They usually differ from screen readers for blind individuals in at least four significant ways:

  • Screen readers contain a large number of commands for emulating mouse functions; text-to-speech readers do not.
  • Text-to-speech readers generally have a visual interface, including pictures that accompany or replace text on buttons, which is likely to be useful to people with reading difficulties. Screen readers have a text-based interface that does not provide pictorial cues.
  • Text-to-speech readers usually require that users cut and paste text into a separate window or highlight text to have it read. Screen readers speak any text near the cursor.
  • Screen readers can be set to read programmatic text, such as menus and dialogue boxes; text-to-speech readers generally cannot.

Third-Party Text-to-Speech Readers

Simple text-to-speech readers work with standard applications, such as Microsoft Word and browsers. Many of these are available in free or inexpensive versions, with paid upgrade versions with better voices or additional features. Currently available text-to-speech readers include:

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