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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Literacy problems? Then try a screen reader they are not just for the visually impaired. textHELP vs NaturalREADER

Click here to listen to this article. (mp3)

Its really important that everyone gets the opportunity to access the internet. One of the barriers for people who have literacy disabilities is that the internet is mainly text driven. One of the ways to get round this is to use a screen reader. Screen readers have been historically closely associated with use by people with a visual impairment, however, they can be an invaluable tool for people with literacy problems as well.

Screen readers that are designed exclusively for people with a visual impairment are not great for people who have vision. They tend to read the text very quickly and they include information about everything which is on the screen and this can be confusing if you are not used to it.

A good free screen reader for internet use is browsealoud by textHELP. The only snag with this, and it's a biggie, is that the web site that you are visiting needs to be browsaloud enabled. Although the browsealoud screen reader is free the website developer has to purchase browsealoud in order to enable their web site.

What we want is a screen reader that will read any text from a web site or document on the screen. textHELP have a product that will do this called Read and Write Gold. This is undeniably a good product. I have helped people to use it to excellent effect. Having said that there are a couple of major problems which have put me off the software. At one time textHELP would sell the screenreader element of Read and Write Gold separately however, they no longer appear to do so, I can not find it for sale on their web site. Instead it has become an element of the Read and Write package. This has resulted in the software becoming much more expensive. Secondly textHELP no longer have a free trial version available from their web site. I find this unforgivable, I would never buy software that did not allow me to try it first.

So textHELP get a grip, start focusing on individual customers, you seem to be totally focused on selling to organisations.

If you want to try a screen reader I suggest you go for NaturalREADER. Do not be put off by their horrible home page (I just mention that because I am scared of people who wear headsets). Again, I have helped people to use this software to excellent effect. NaturalREADER provide a free trial version (without annoying reminders) that has all the functionality you need to make a good assessment of the product. Once installed put it into minibar mode, select the text you want it to read by highlighting it with the mouse in the usual way, then click the speaker icon on the minibar. Works a treat. Great stuff NaturalReader guys, keep up the good work.

If you should decide to buy NaturalReader you will get more functionality and importantly it is reasonably priced, especially if you are in the uk with the present $/£ exchange rate.

Need more info on this? Then leave a comment or use the contact button to email me.

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4 comments:

  1. Also worth checking out TextAloud from
    http://www.nextup.com

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  2. Anything in particular that makes you recommend TextAloud Ken?

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  3. Thanks for your input to polybore Ken.

    TextAloud is indeed well worth checking out. I would have mentioned TextAloud in the post (as I have used it in the past and found it very good) but the main purpose of the post was to have a go at textHELP. textHELP seem to have somehow sewn up the UK educational/ state sector market in terms of this type of screen reader. I compared textHELP to naturalReader mainly because naturalReader has a free and not time limited version whereas textHELP have no trial and are expensive. I think that this is because they are selling to government agencies who are notorious for getting anything to do with ICT badly wrong.

    Text aloud is an excellent bit of kit but does not have a free version. Having said that textAloud is extremely well priced.

    I'll write a post naturalREADER vs TextAloud in the near future.

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  4. There's a free and compelte solution to illiteracy for anyone over the age of 9 at literacydeficits.blogspot.com

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