An additional method of accessing text is always going to be useful if you’re visually impaired. So having access to free technology that can read the text in your Word document to you, or allow you to not only listen to a book but also navigate through it with ease and precision and add locatable bookmarks, can only be a positive situation.
Firstly there’s WordTalk: a free, downloadable plug-in, for use with Microsoft Word.
The software locates itself directly within the Word toolbar, and can be easily used to read aloud any text you’ve either typed, or imported, into a Microsoft Office Word document.
Want to listen to your document later, or on a portable device? Just save the converted text to speech as an audio file. Need a dictionary or thesaurus? You’ve access to WordTalk’s talking versions. Find the toolbar a little small? Don’t worry, there are some easily memorable keyboard shortcuts.
The fact that WordTalk’s designed to be used within the Word environment, also means the user can still benefit from working with the document’s familiar assistive features and options eg. setting preferred text sizes and line spacing, using the navigation pane, practiced keyboard shortcuts etc.
What could be better
However, there are some parts of the software that work less well for a visually impaired user.
The content of a text can often be more easily understood by synchronizing the visual/audio experience. Yet, crucially, the WordTalk visual experience can be difficult. Trying to follow the small word narrator highlight box, as it jumps along with the audio location in the text, can be visually stressful, and the highlight often obscures, rather than gives definition, to the word being read.
Unfortunately there’s no option for a more ‘easy on the eye’ sentence by sentence narrator highlight box instead, and whilst you are allowed to choose a visually preferred background highlight colour, it’s not possible to do so with the crucial foreground word highlighting.
Use of the handy speaking dictionary/thesaurus would also be improved, if the text size of the words could be enlarged. It would also be appreciated if WordTalk was available for Windows for Mac.
However, despite these limitations, WordTalk is still a handy assistive learning tool. It’s free, it’s simple to use, and it enables a helpful and convenient audio access strategy.
Then there’s AMIS – again a free software that allows you to open full text, full audio DAISY digital talking books (DTB), on your computer.
DTB’s are specifically designed for use by people with a ‘print disability’, so as might be expected with software designed to work with these, there are a number of really useful accessibility features.
Toolbar too small? Then use the screenreader function or keyboard controls. Want to navigate easily through that complex textbook? No problem – you can easily do so phrase by phrase or section by section. AMIS even allows you to search for specific words and place bookmarks for any text you want to easily relocate.
And what about the listening experience? The normal narrator speed can be halved or doubled without suffering distortion, and when pairing text and audio access, the narrator highlight box is synchronized to follow sentence by sentence, making for a visually relaxing reading experience.
To further optimise the latter you can enlarge the text; choose both a preferred narration highlight colour and a text colour eg. white text with a black highlight etc; or even opt to subdue the distraction of the surrounding text by ‘greying it out’ with an overlay of grey or pink.
Save as DAISY add-in for Microsoft Word
Additionally, by using the DAISY for Microsoft Word add-in to convert your documents to DAISY format, you can even use AMIS to improve your access to your own work.
What could be better
So what’s not to like? Similarly to WordTalk, it would be useful if AMIS was available for Mac users. Apart from that, well considering all that AMIS offers, it’s a minor quibble really, and may have more to do with the DAISY format than the AMIS software: AMIS is an environment for completed DAISY content ie, you cannot use it to work on one of your own documents that you may wish to edit.
There’s every reason to download the free AMIS software, for when combined with a digital talking book/magazine/document, it allows a VI user to move around a text in a way previously only available to sighted users.
More info about using WordTalk and AMIS?
Try these Youtube videos:
WordTalk-A Quick Overview
Using AMIS to read DAISY files – Load2Learn Tutorials