There has been a considerable increase in the availability of software and devices designed to convert text to speech. A wide variety of software allows users to have text read to them from computer screens to phones. Software like Jaws has been widely used in the blind and low vision communities for many years and more recent developments include a free app for phones that scan and read text. From the robust featured software to the simplest app, options abound for converting text to speech.
While software products and phone applications are useful for the technically savvy user, there is a larger demographic of the low vision community that are seniors that have not grown up with technology and are not as comfortable with learning new things. Their needs are most commonly addressed by devices that are simple to use and easy to incorporate into their daily routine. For these users there are handheld text to speech devices, headworn text to speech devices that connect to a pair of glasses and desktop text to speech readers. Some of the newer text to speech devices that are available today include the following.
OrCam Read is a simple to use, handheld device, about the size of a marker board pen and equipped with a camera that captures text and instantly converts it to speech. Holding the device much like a writing instrument, the user simply points to their desired text and presses a button to capture the text to be read. OrCam Read guides the user to the text by projecting a red laser arrow to help them align the device with their text, making it easier to capture their desired text. OrCam Read also has a laser frame, or square, that allows users to ‘box’ multiple columns of text with one push of a button. When captured, this text is read just like one would read a newspaper article, headline first, then column one, column two, etc. Seeing this device and how simple it is to operate has generated responses like ‘It’s magic!’ The speed at which text is read is easily adjustable as is volume. OrCam Read will even pair with most Bluetooth devices, giving users privacy when reading things in the store, their restaurant menu or even the text that accompanies art in a museum display!
OrCam Pro has all the features of OrCam Read along with added features like facial recognition, bar code reading, color detection and more, but it delivers these features in a different way. OrCam Pro is about the size of a tube of lipstick and magnetically mounts to the frame of a user’s glasses so the camera in the device is pointed in front of the person wearing those glasses. The user interacts with OrCam Pro by either using a finger to tap or swipe the side of the unit to perform a function or they can use an upright index finger to ‘point’ to text they desire to have read to them. OrCam Pro recognizes the upright finger pointing and automatically captures the text to be read. The same text could also be captured with a simple ‘tap’ on the side of the OrCam device. OrCam Pro is more robust, with more features and ability than OrCam Read, requiring more of a learning curve, but this powerful headworn text to speech device brings a great deal of independence to users. All the features of OrCam Pro are contained within the device and does not require internet access in order to use it.
Envision Glasses combine the power of Google glasses with a host of applications to bring low vision and blind users features like text to speech, facial and currency recognition, multiple languages, scene descriptions and more. Envision Glasses will even allow users to call a friend or family member to guide them through an airport for example, by allowing users’ friends to see where they are and help them navigate their way around. The Envision Glasses rely primarily on having access to the internet where the processing of information is done. Being an internet centric product means the power and capabilities of Envision is limited only by the ingenuity of software developers. New capabilities are introduced to users regularly as the product continues to incorporate new features. Envision Glasses offer a robust set of capabilities to users and are well suited to the user that is not afraid of technology and learning new things.
Smart Reader is an example of a simple to use, desktop text to speech reader. Small and lightweight, Smart Reader deploys a camera that points down to a user’s desktop and with the press of a button, will capture a page of text and convert it to speech. Simple, but powerful and capable as Smart Reader will recognize multi-columned text and read it appropriately – and even if that text is presented to the camera upside down! With the simple spin of a dial, users can change the rate at which their materials are read to them, change the volume or voice. If a user prefers to see their text while reading, Smart Reader allows them to connect to any monitor where their captured text is not only displayed, but can be magnified and in any contrast they prefer!
Text-to-speech devices are powerful and useful tools in the hands of the low vision and blind user communities. Which device is best for you and how do you get a text to speech device? These are important questions and because text to speech devices like those described above are an investment, we recommend users take advantage of local distributors that will bring these products to your home or workplace for a hands-on learning experience. Working with a distributor will help you make the best decision and you will get trained on your text to speech device as well.
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