Text to Speech
iOS, the operating system on which iPads work, has a variety of settings which allow text to be read aloud. This could be an article in itself but, in short: to enable text-to-speech, go to Settings – General – Accessibility – Speech.
- turn Speak Selection on and you can then select by sections of text or particular words by tapping and holding down on the screen in any app the text you want read aloud. A box pops up which gives you the option to copy, define or speak that selection.
- turn Speak Screen on and you can then swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen to hear the contents of that screen spoken. A little box appears here too giving options to pause, fast forward or rewind, to speed up or slow down the rate of speech.
Many iBooks have a text-to-speech function. There are also other sources for talking books which can help a struggling reader to enjoy literature and the many benefits that being widely-read brings.
If you want to go to be able to import text from other sources to read aloud, then Voice Dream Reader for iPad is a good option. It’s integrated with many other programs, has a lot of features and is robust. One thing it doesn’t do is OCR (optical character recognition) so if you want to be able to scan a non-electronic document (such as a worksheet or homework page) and have it read aloud, then Prizmo or Readiris might be the answer.
Vision Australia has a library which anyone with a print disability can join. That is:
- A person without sight, or whose sight is severely impaired
- A person unable to hold or manipulate books, or to focus or move his or her eyes e.g. MS, stroke, severe arthritis
- A person with a perceptual disability e.g. dyslexia, visual processing disorder
The library has an extensive catalogue so it’s well worth checking out.
Mac OSX (10.8 and later) has dictation and speech-to-text features which work in a similar way to the iPad features and can be accessed via System Preferences.
Options for PC
If you’re looking for something that works on a PC, WordTalk is a free add-in for Microsoft Word, developed at the University of Edinburgh. It highlights and reads text in a Word Document. Once you have installed the add-in from the website, an extra tab labelled “Add-ins” will appear when Word is opened. That tab contains a toolbar with the available options such as speak a word, speak a paragraph, speak from the cursor.
Texthelp produces Read & Write for Google, a Google app which provides text-to-speech, editing and translating tools. Read & Write for Google is free for teachers but there is a cost for individuals and schools. It’s a good option for someone who wants to work with the Google suite of apps.
There is an app version of Read & Write for Google which is free for the lite version. iReadWrite is an iPad app also produced by Texthelp with text-to-speech and word prediction features as well as a dictionary and a number of sharing and display options.