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.
Graphical User Interface
Sample Products (Text-based)
Sample Products (Graphical User Interfaces)
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.
- DragonDictate (Dragon Systems)
Voice activated system which can be used to control a computer or run applications.
Requires a minimum of 386 computer and 8 megabytes of memory. Price: $5,000
- Kurzweil Voice (Kurzweil)
Voice activated system which can be used to control the computer by voice. Meta Voice is a
module that provides speech output so that a user with visual impairment can access the
system. Requires 486 computer and 32 megabytes of memory. Price $3,000 for Kurzweil Voice,
$2400 for Meta Voice.
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:
- read on command by word, line, sentence, paragraph, etc;
- know the punctuation and other attributes of the text;
- know where things are by informing user of column and row location on the
- move around the screen;
- control the speed, quantity, volume and pitch of the speech;
- search for special attributes such as color and graphics;
- be notified of screen changes (errors, help messages);
- set speech windows by blocking a section of the screen to be read;
- save a series of frequently used keystrokes to be executed by a single
key (a macro) to facilitate often used sequences of commands;
- tailor the screen access program so that different configurations can be
stored and retrieved for different applications;
- change which keys execute speech commands;
- announce status of the keyboard (e.g. NumLock, Insert mode).
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)
- Artic Vision and Artic Business Vision (Artic Technologies)
For IBM XT, AT, PS/2 or compatibles. Processes all keyboard input and screen output into
speech and is interactive with spreadsheet programs.
- ASAP (Automatic Screen Access Program)
Works on MS-DOS machines. Supports the following hardware: Accent, Audapter, BrailleMate,
Braille 'n' Speak, DECtalk, DoubleTalk, Echo, LapTalk, LiteTalk, Sounding Board and
- Flipper (Omnichron)
For MS-DOS or PC-DOS 2.1 or later. Features include: search capability for particular text
or for particular monitor attributes, optional pronunciation of capital letters, ability
to screen a row for changes and read it for changes, and reading of digits separately or
as numbers. Text can be read or spelled without entering review mode. Online help is
provided. Works with a variety of speech synthesis hardware.
- IBM Screen Reader/DOS (IBM Corporation)
Compatible with many popular personal computer applications and supports a range of
commercially available text-to-speech synthesizers. Screen Reader/2 runs converts IBM's
Graphical User Interface to speech.
- Isos (Interface Systems International)
For IBM PC/XT/AT, PS/2 or compatible.
- JAWS (Henter-Joyce, Inc.)
For IBM PC or compatibles. Dual cursor design allows the user to read the screen with the
JAWS cursor and have the PC cursor ready to communicate with the application program.
- Protalk (Biolink Computer Research and Development, LTD.)
For DOS on IBM PCs and compatibles. Windows version in development. Program reads the
contents of the screen to the user, allowing the user to access standard software on the
computer. Does not require a separate text input and screen review mode, and automatic
functions of application software can occur while the screen is being read. User can
select to how much text should be read, character, word, line, etc. Protalk recognizes
on-screen object such as windows, tables, columns, highlight bars. Requires 12K of memory
- ProTERM (MicroTalk Software)
For Apple IIc or enhanced IIe. Can be run under ProDOS operating system so it will load
automatically when the computer is turned on. Has the option of reading every keystroke as
it is entered, and undesired characters can be shut off so that they won't be read aloud.
Super Serial Card and 128K of memory are required. Echo II speech synthesizer is required.
ProTERM Plus with the added feature of communicating with XModem protocol is also
- PROVOX (Kansys, Inc.)
Works with DOS 5. Gives user control of voice output in both direct and review modes.
Outputs most keystrokes and screen display. User can interrupt speech output, locate the
cursor, or read only highlighted areas. Other options include moving up or down the screen
one line, word, or character at a time and restricting voice output to a specific window.
User can specify whether non-text character such as "return" should be spoken.
Supports many speech synthesizers. Demonstration package is available.
- Slimware (Syntha-Voice Computers, Inc.)
For IBM compatible 386 or better, 4 MB hard disk space. Designed to work with most
text-based application programs.
- Soft Vert (TeleSensory, Inc.)
For IBM PC, Micro Channel, and laptop computers. Uses an edit and review mode. The route
command brings the edit cursor to the location of the review cursor. Other features
include keyboard and screen-driven macros, a resident system utility, and additions for
Lotus 1-2-3 and mainframe connectivity. Works with many speech synthesizers.
- Speaqualizer (American Printing House for the Blind)
A hardware attachment for IBM PCs and compatibles. Requires no additional text-to-speech
software so computer's memory is free for application programs. Consists of an internal
circuit card, a control box to control what section of the screen will be read and how it
will be read and a connecting cable. User can adjust speed and volume of the speech at any
time and can opt to hear characters read back as they are typed on the keyboard. Upper
case letters are signalled by a higher pitch in voice. Speaqualizer can review text in
columns. Since the system is hardware-based, it does not take up any of the computer's
- Textalker (American Printing House for the Blind)
For Apple II.
- Tinytalk (OMS Development)
For IBM compatibles. Uses very little memory. Supports some inexpensive speech
- Vocal-Eyes (GW Micro)
For IBM compatibles. Features include full support for monitor attributes, automatic box
reading, compatibility with windowed programs, "hot keys" for user-defined
macros, cursor control, and "cut and paste." Works with many speech
synthesizers. Demo disk available.
Sample Products (Graphical User Interfaces)
- ASAP for Windows (MicroTalk)
- IBM Screen Reader/2 (IBM Corporation)
- JAWS for Windows (Henter-Joyce Inc.)
- outSPOKEN (Berkeley Systems)
For Macintosh. Numeric keypad is used instead of the mouse to control the cursor.
Structure and content of entire display can be communicated. Commands permit the user to
move between windows, find out font and style of current word, control voice, and identify
frequently used icons and symbols. An optional review mode allows certain keys to be
- Protalk for Windows (Biolink Computer Research & Development,
Supports a number of off-the-shelf sound cards in addition to standard speech
- Slimware Window Bridge (Syntha-Voice Computers, Inc.)
For IBM PCs and compatibles using Microsoft Windows or DOS. Features automatic tracking of
pull-down menus, automatic reading of dialog boxes, user definable windows for software
configuration, notepad functions, and full macro capability. Keyboard can be customized
for one-handed typing. Mouse or touchpad can be used. Speech and braille outputs can run
simultaneously. Requires Wondows 3.1 or higher. Supports most synthesizers or Braille
- Windows Master (Blazie Engineering)
Uses Braille 'n Speak for both input and output. Also supports standard speech
synthesizers and a regular keyboard.
- WinVision (Artic Technologies)
Requires Artic Synphonix 215 speech card or Transport external synthesizer and Artic
Business Vision speech access software.
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.
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.
- Accent (Aicom Corporation)
Plug-in speech synthesizer card that works with computer to produce speech from ASCII
files. Five models are available. All Accent models employ a standard Accent text
processor which can speak in two modes. In the Text Mode, Accent will convert text into
ordinary speech. In the Spell Mode, all text (including punctuation) will be spoken letter
- Artic Transport (Artic Technologies)
Portable external synthesizer. Has serial interface, text-to speech algorithm, and
rechargeable batteries. Can be used with Artic Business Vision or by itself with other
screen access programs.
- ASAP (MicroTalk)
Includes ASAP (Automatic Screen Access Program) software and a speech synthesizer that
fits into one of the slots on a standard XT- or AT- style computer.
- Audapter Speech System (Personal Data Systems)
Offers intelligibility, speed, control and instant silence. Operates on AC power,
connecting a computer and screen review software through a DB-9 serial interface. Speech
rate maximum is 700 words per minute.
- CompuSight Speech Systems (Electronic Visual Aid Specialists)
Comes in three models. Apollo II is a self-contained speech synthesizer with internal
4-inch speaker. PCII Speech Systems is an internal half-car for 386 and 486 machines and
comes with 4-inch external speaker. Juno Speech System is a battery-powered synthesizer
that connects to the serial port of a laptop and comes with a 4-inch external speaker. All
models feature six resident voices and adjustable inflection, tone, and speed. Some models
can speak up to seven languages.
- DECtalk (Digital Equipment Corporation)
Translates ASCII text files from a PC into realistic human speech. The user can choose
from among nine voices, control pronunciation, volume, speech, pauses, pitch and syllable
- DoubleTalk (RC Systems)
Speech output device for personal computers. Can be installed in any IBM-compatible
computer able to accommodate an 8-bit, half-length cord and uses no computer memory.
Contains four types of speech synthesizers. External speaker included
- ECHO (Echo Corporation)
Echo Speech Synthesizers come in a range of interfaces. Compatible with MS-DOS, IBM PC's,
Apple IIe, Apple IIGS, Apple IIc, Apple IIc Plus, and the Macintosh LC.
- InfoVox (Henter-Joyce)
Available in both male and female voices and in different languages. Connects to serial
- Litetalk (MicroTalk)
Small speech synthesizer. Connects to computer through the serial port or the parallel
port. 2" x 3" x 6". Weighs less than 1 lb.
- MultiVoice (Institute on Applied Technology, Children's Hospital)
A battery-operated version of DECtalk that attaches through a standard RS-232 port. Ten
voices (male, female, child custom) are available.
- Personal Vert (TeleSensory)
Includes Vert screen access software, a high-speed internal or external speech
synthesizer, Intercept keyboard-handling program, and the cursor-tracking program Track.
Available in English, Spanish, or French.
- RealVoice PC (Adaptive Communication Systems)
Speech synthesizer hardware for IBM PC desktop and portable computers. Plugs into the
computer serial port (a cable is included). Available in either male or female voice.
- Slotbuster (RC Systems, Inc.)
Multifunction circuit card. Compatible with the Apple II, II Plus, IIe, and IIGS. Can
function as a speech synthesizer, a serial printer port and a character buffer.
Synthesizer can speak text by character or phonetically, and the speech can come from the
internal Apple speaker or through an external speaker (not included). Various features of
speech are adjustable.
- Sounding Board (GW Micro)
Voice synthesizer for IBM PCs and compatibles and Toshiba laptops. Installed inside the
computer. Includes capitalization alert, format alert, fast forward/rewind, pause and
hyperscan. Has 10 levels of pitch, volume, and speech rate, 26 levels of tone. Also
includes interactive "hot keys" for entering commands.
- Speak Out (GW Micro)
Portable battery-powered external voice synthesizer with the same features as the Sounding
Board. Both serial and parallel interfaces allow for compatibility with many types of
- Verbette (Computer Conversations)
Mark I is an IBM PC internal card. Accompanying software allows control from the keyboard
of over 64 levels of speed. Basic functions are controlled by using the ALT key with other
keys. Mark II has a user dictionary that allows users to define their own pronunciations
of words or symbols. Both Mark I and Mark II are designed to work with the manufacturer's
Verbal Operating System (VOS).
- Vert Pro (TeleSensory)
Includes Vert screen access software, human-sounding DECtalk circuit board, Intercept
keyboard-handling program, and the cursor-tracking program Track.
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