Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Showcase: Part II

Visually Impaired

For the visually impaired there are tools which bring the computer to life. Screen readers do exactly that – they are voice synthesizers which read the page displayed. There are a variety of programs which are quite comprehensible, and some which are completely impossible to understand. Screen readers will read what is displayed and what is typed. Several examples include:

LookOut – found at; you can try the sample voices on this site, and these are the some of the best ones that have come to attention thus far. They are still not natural-sounding voices, but are good tools to be used to aid computing for the visually impaired. The company puts out a different software package which translates the screen output to a Braille display (to be covered later in this showcase).

JAWS – found at; the “virtual showroom” with a short flash movie on some of the features offered by this program shows that this is a more extensive program, offering integration of its voice synthesizer with every type of application available, including chatware. JAWS offers a very clear synthesizer capability as well, with voices provided by NeoSpeech, found at This company offers many different TTS (Text-to-Speech) functions and a demo can be found on their website. JAWS provides for output to refreshable Braille displays in its package.

Window-Eyes will provide you with a challenge if you go to their demo and try to understand what is being said. Their product is found at and was not the most effective TTS program found. You will understand why when you visit and try to listen to the sound clips (hint: do so with closed eyes).

Home Page Reader, an IBM product, is another similar software package. Found at, there is a 7.5-minute clip from a PBS show which featured this software in a segment. Home Page Reader is more of a browser than a software package but its developer promises future improvements, such as Adobe Reader capabilities, and even using it for Flash media.

(cont'd next post)

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