Blio is a free reading tool that as of 11/10 was only available for use on Windows-based PCs although Mac, iPhone, and iPad versions are currently in the works. Blio provides a full color representation of the book you are reading. It also highlights while reading aloud and allows for annotations and searching the internet for unknown terms. Books that are out of copyright can be obtained free through Blio and several other books can be purchased through Blio as well. Blio reads documents in Microsoft XPS format, however, documents such as PDFs, Word Documents, and even web pages can be printed into an XPS format and opened through Blio.
Natural Reader is a free text reading tool that is available to work with any text on the computer. To use the free version of Natural Reader, the user can either copy and paste text into the main page window where the reader while two-color highlight as the text is read aloud, or the user can use the miniboard to use Natural Reader directly in a document. When using Natural Reader directly in a document, the user must select the text they wish to be read and there is no highlighting as the text is read aloud. Because there are paid versions available, the options are fairly limited in the free version. MP3 conversion is not available in the free version, neither are the natural sounding voices. The user does, however, have the opportunity to adjust the reading speed via a sliding bar. The free version can be used for an unlimited amount of time.
WordTalk is a free download that appears in add-in ribbon to Microsoft Word and reads text aloud to the user. Every option can be accessed in the free version, and there is nothing to purchase. The voice used is not the most natural sounding voice, but the varying reading methods make this worthwhile. WordTalk allows the user to read by paragraph, sentence, or word. It also has a talking spell checker associated. The talking spell check is actually pretty good at picking up phonetically misspelled words and is simple to use. The words are spoken simply by clicking on them. This is an excellent tool for students to check and edit their own writing. It is not however a comprehensive reading tool, it only works within Microsoft Word documents.
Text to Speech
This website allows for the user to copy and paste text into the website and have it read back aloud in a high quality voice. As the text is read aloud, it is also highlighted and an avatar mouths the words as well. One downside is that it does not allow the user to open documents directly into the website, text must be copied.
This is a free tool that allows you to cut and paste text or load documents into the program to be read aloud. It uses any voice that is already on the computer and is very adjustable in terms of rate, pitch, etc. The user can also convert text to an MP3. While reading text aloud, the text is highlighted. There are no pieces to this that are concealed until paid for. This is set apart from other similar tools because there is a pronunciation option where the user can set words to be pronounced a certain way and it can be run off of a USB stick, so users do not have to have the program downloaded on a computer, making it mobile. It is also able to be used in multiple languages
Dasher is a typing program for people that have difficulty using a standard keyboard to type and find an onscreen keyboard to be too slow. Dasher lets the user guide the cursor through a series of letter to type words. Letters are easier to select based on their frequency following previously selected letters. This allows for increased speed. The position of the cursor is also used to increase speed. Typing speed using this program can be as high as 39 words per minute. This program can be difficult to initially learn and prolonged use can cause eye strain. It is available in multiple languages.
This program allows the user to convert text into an MP3. The user copies the text that he/she wishes to listen to onto the site, selects a language and a voice and clicks “convert to MP3”. The more text copied the longer it will take, but when conversion is complete, another window opens and an MP3 begins playing. This file can be downloaded to other tools such as an MP3 player. The downside to this free program is that the voices that are used are not very appealing to listen to.
SpokenText is a service allows you to convert text files to audio files. The user can copy and paste text, but they can also direct the program to documents, web pages, and emails to be recorded directly. When the files are converted to audio, they are available in multiple formats, including an iPod ready format. The voices used are fairly good. The catch is that unless you pay, you only get a fifteen day trial that you cannot renew without paying. When you are in trial mode, you are limited in the size of the file that can be converted to audio and the amount of time it will be available on the site before it is automatically deleted. This is worth trying and if it works well, purchasing.
This is another program that allows you to convert a text file to an audio format (MP3 or WAV). To operate this service, the user must create an ID and password (this does not seem to have a time limit). To convert text to speech, the user can either choose to copy text or direct the conversion tool directly to a document, RSS feed or email. The user can also chose the language, the speed, the voice and the output (MP3 or WAV). The voices used on this site are much better than any of the other free text to audio options. There is also an option to create proper pronunciations throughout audio files. Conversion time depends on the size of the document being converted and it does not seem as though there is a limit on storage size or time. On the negative side, the program does not seem to respond well to .docx files. Also, the interface seems a little clunky and could be confusing for some users.
Although iSpeech is not currently accepting new members, it is something to keep an eye on as a free text to speech tool. Much like many of these other tools, the user can either copy text to the website or direct the site to a document for conversion into an audio file. The interface is easy to work with and the voice is higher quality than most others.
Read the Words
This tool will take text from any document and turn it into speech. The major downside is that you can only listen to 30 seconds of the audio without purchasing an upgrade package.
This is free online spell checker that goes more in depth than typical spellchecker and can be very helpful to those with difficulty spelling. The user types or copies text they have typed into the box on the Ghotit website and then clicks check spelling. Words that are spelled incorrectly are highlighted in red while words that are suspected to be used incorrectly are highlighted in blue. When the user right clicks on one of these words, a list of words that expands out to their definitions appears. If the proper word is there, it can be selected, if not, choosing the “no suggestions relevant” option provides another list of suggestions. A plug in can also be downloaded that will allow all options to be read to the user. This allows Ghotit to be used in word documents for 30 days. However, there is a means for education institutions to get it for free. This is a comprehensive spell checking program. The downside is that it cannot be done directly in a word document, cutting and pasting between the working document and the website is a must and the website can only handle 1000 characters at a time.
MyStudyBar is a collection of freeware tools that could help students that struggle with reading, writing, and studying packaged and organized into one free tool bar that is easy to use and can sit atop open application on a computer. The tools within MyStudyBar include free tools for text reading, planning and organizing papers, magnifying things on the computer, writing and speech recognition. This is a tool that can be run off of a USB stick as well, making it a mobile tool.
Thunder is a free screen reader that would be primarily used by someone who is blind or has a visual impairment. This seems to be a fairly comprehensive screen reader. To fully understand it, I am planning on asking a blind user to compare this to JAWS and WindowEyes. It is based out of England so voices and some pronunciations may sound British.
Used with permission from Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research (ICATER), Iowa City, IA, (319) 335-5280. www.education.uiowa.edu/html/icater.