Last week I attended the Library Technology Conference at Macalester College in St. Paul. There were so many great sessions, and I’ve returned to my desk with a lot of great ideas for libraries in North Dakota.One of the sessions I attended, presented by two librarians from the University of South Dakota, highlighted some really great accessibility tools that libraries can utilize to help patrons who may need specialized accommodations to access library resources. This article will focus on some of the free text-to-speech tools that are available to assist patrons who may have difficulty reading text on a computer screen. Text-to-speech software can be extremely helpful for people with learning disabilities, people with vision problems, people learning a second language, and many other purposes.
Natural Reader is free text-to-speech software that reads aloud selected text in a variety of formats, including Microsoft Word files, webpages, PDFs, emails, and more. It only takes a minute to download this free program to your computer. All you have to do is click to open the Floating bar, and then open a web page or document or whatever you’d like to be read, highlight the text you want, and click the Play button to hear that text spoken aloud.
WordTalk is a free plug-in that will speak aloud the text in any Word document, from Word 97 to Word 2010. It was designed to assist students with reading difficulties, but would also be extremely useful for people with vision difficulties and others.
Did you know that Adobe Reader has a Read Out Loud feature? You can find it in Adobe Reader by going to View > Read Out Loud > Activate Read Out Loud. This will enable text-to-speech functionality for PDF files opened in Adobe Reader.
These are just a few of the free text-to-speech software options that are currently available. There are also many good paid software options, but if you just want to have something available for library patrons who may need this type of assistance when using your public computers, these free options may be great for you.