AccessTech: Text-To-Speech bringing text to the ears

by Jason Maseberg-Tomlinson, Student Access Center
published in IT News Feb. 15, 2011

As I mentioned last month, one of the most basic needs for accessibility is readable text. For many students with disabilities, accessible text allows the computer to read documents out loud. This is extremely helpful for students with learning disabilities, visual impairments, and also for students who speak English as a second language.

All students benefit from being able to search for terms, highlight text, and annotate readings; searchable PDF files make this possible. Audible text can be a lifesaver for many people.

Many of us have scanned articles to PDF files. Did you know that there are two kinds of scans?

 

  1. Many people are used to scanning just the picture. This is an easy and simple process, and most new scanners have a “one touch” button system to create PDF files. This basic PDF is one of the most common types of files. It is a simple picture of each page with only pictures of text; I call it psuedotext.
  2. The second kind of PDF is a searchable file. This file is accessible to people who use text-to-speech or screen-reading software. To be searchable, the text on the PDF must be analyzed by a computer program and given real text meaning.

A good clean scan is important at all times, especially for OCR (optical character recognition). You can do this with Adobe Acrobat Professional or Standard and this handout. You can also scan with the high-speed scanner in the Media Development Center at Hale. It has OCR built in!

Many of our students use Natural Readers to read these files back to them. A free download is at www.naturalreaders.com. This program allows students to highlight text on a document, click play, and follow along in the book as the computer reads the text aloud. It is great for textbooks (we help students obtain PDF files for their textbooks), e-mails, online research, PDF files, and is also useful for reading one’s own paper aloud (this is a great way to catch editing mistakes).

This text is also helpful for students who use a more complex screen reader such as JAWS or NVDA. These programs allow a student who is blind to use the entire computer through keyboard commands. Rather than view the screen, the computer speaks aloud what the user is “seeing.”

  • JAWS (Job Access with Speech) has been around for years and is a very popular and powerful program.
  • NVDA (Nonvisual Desktop Access, www.nvda-project.org) is a newer program that is free and open source.

These are both Window OS programs. On a Mac OS, one can use Voice Over, which is steadily growing in power and usability.

Creating an accessible webpage is vital, but we also need to make accessible content to place on the page or within our learning management system, K-State Online. If you have any questions, drop me an e-mail or visit the K-Access website.