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Collection: Technology for Students Who Are Visually Impaired

Purple arrow (1137 bytes)Speech Access Technology

NCIP Staff (1994)

The following is a summary of Speech Access technology plus descriptions of adaptive devices which enable access to computers through the modality of Speech. The products mentioned here are used as examples of the technology and do not constitute a complete list of products. Inclusion of a product's name does not imply endorsement of that product and descriptions of products are supplied by the manufacturers and are not evaluations of the products.


Speech Input
Speech Monitoring

Graphical User Interface
Sample Products (Text-based)
Sample Products (Graphical User Interfaces)

Speech Synthesizers


Speech Input

Overview

Although there is technology currently on the market for the inputting of text by speech, this is a relatively new area of development. Furthermore, it has not been a technology specifically designed for users with visual impairments. It is expected, however, that as speech input technology becomes more common in general, ways of making this technology accessible will be designed and improved.  Problems inherent with speech input are the speed with which text is entered, the amount of computer memory required, and the computer's ability to recognize the speaker's voice.

Sample Products


Speech Monitoring

Overview

A speech access system converts text to the spoken word. The system consists of hardware (the synthesizer) that does the speaking and software (the screen access program) that directs the synthesizer. Some synthesizers and speech access programs are linked and sold as a package, and some are not. Before choosing a synthesizer, it is best to consider what is required by the user in terms of the screen access program.

Screen access software

This software allows the user to access commercial software applications and to convert the text or graphics display into verbal output. Users can hear their keystrokes spoken aloud and can read the display on command. Once the program is loaded into the computer's memory, commands are sent by the user to the synthesizer by pressing different keys on the keyboard, the numeric keypad or a separate keypad. The commands tell the synthesizer what to read and how to read it.


Screen access software allows the user to:

An important feature to consider in products of this type is whether the software has review mode as well as interactive mode. Review mode means the application (i.e., word processor, spreadsheet program, etc.) is frozen as the text on the screen is being read by the screen access software. Interactive mode allows the user to use the application at the same time as the text is read. Interactivity is provided through the use of two cursors: one for reading and one for accessing the application. A user who needs to switch quickly between the screen access software and the application may prefer the interactive capability. Not all software programs offer both kinds of modes.

Graphical User Interface

A student who is visually impaired who uses a computer with a graphical user interface (GUI) will need a screen access program designed especially for this environment. GUIs are on Macintosh computers and IBMs and compatibles when the software MS-Windows is running. In order for the user to understand the spatial arrangement of graphics that appear on the computer screen, screen access programs decipher and direct the synthesizer to verbalize the dialog boxes, the buttons, menu bars and option lists. Choices that are made by sighted users with the click of a mouse are executed with cursor keys or special keystrokes.  Prices for screen access programs range from $75- $700.

Sample Products (text-based)


Sample Products (Graphical User Interfaces)


Speech Synthesizers

Overview

A speech access system converts text to the spoken word. The system consists of hardware (the synthesizer) that does the speaking and software (the screen access program) that directs the synthesizer. Some synthesizers and speech access programs are integrated and sold as a package, and some are not. Before choosing a synthesizer, it is best to consider what is required by the user in terms of the screen access program.


Speech Synthesizers

The hardware component of the speech access system, the speech synthesizer can be a portable external device, or an internal chip or circuit board that must be inserted in the computer. The external synthesizers afford the user some flexibility, since the synthesizer can be moved around to different machines. The internal devices, however, offer speed since they work directly with the computer's operating system. The features required by a user of a speech synthesizer by a user can vary. Some users may prefer to sacrifice voice quality for increased speed and efficiency. Besides voice quality, speed with which the product converts text to speech, and cost, other features to consider include memory requirements, the compatibility of the synthesizer to the computer (IBM-compatible or Macintosh), whether the speakers are built-in or external, and the level of technical support offered by the manufacturer. Prices for speech synthesizers range from $100 - $1600.

Sample Products

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

ŠEducation Development Center, Inc.