Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Free Assistive Reading Tools

I've been working with a special education teacher today trying to find some solutions for some of his students with reading disabilities and vision impairments. Mostly, looking to find ways to do both text to speech and speech to text.

As far as I can tell, there are only two real viable options for speech to text: the speech recognition tool that comes free with Windows 7 or Dragon Dictation which for the PC or Mac is still relatively expensive but for the iPhone or iPod Touch is free. (for a real good description of this visit Ira Socol's post, Writing without the Blocks).

As for text to speech, there are plenty of tools out there that will convert movable type to a spoken word mp3 file:

  • - convert text to speech
  • - convert text to speech (spoken by a cartoon avatar)
  • vozMe - convert text to speech
  • - convert text to speech

or to a more multimedia output:

  • - If you can type, you can make movies. Text-to-Movie
  • - text-to-speech talking avatar generator
  • - Oddcast makes fun and interesting multimedia generator widgets. One of which is the Etrade talking babies widget.
These are all great, but they require two things:
  1. That the student have access to an electronic typed version of what they need read to them, and
  2. That the student have access to a computer in class.
Problem is, what the student needs read to them looks more like this:

than this:

The solution we came up with was the use of free optical scan tools like:
  • - Free online tool that converts text from image files or PDFs to movable text in a DOC, PDF, RTF, or TXT file.
  • - Free online tool that converts text from a picture file to text that can be copied and pasted.
First we take the pages of the student's textbook and scan them into a PDF file on our copy machine:
Then upload those files to one of the free OCR tools listed above to convert it to text. Then we take that text and convert it to an mp3 file using text to speech. From there, we can load the files onto an MP3 player that the student can use.
But, if we want to take this a step further, we could create QR codes for the audio files we created that the student could access with their own mobile device. We simply paste a small version of the code on the page that is read in the file. To do this we could use any of the following free tools:
  • - QR Code reader
  • - QR Code Creator
  • - QR Code Creator
  • - QR Code Creator
  • - QR Code Creator

I wonder how long it will be before textbook companies will offer this accommodation themselves. Wouldn't it be great if a real book could be an auidobook?


Scott Schwister said...

Very cool. You might find this development of interest: Book Scan Wizard, an open-source book-scanning utility that uses camera images to generate ebook files, now can kick the output directly into Internet Archive's database. Internet Archive handles the OCR conversion and creates searchable ePub and PDF files.


Esspweb said...

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Kate said...

Fabulous post with great links. Thanks so much for putting this together and sharing!