What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.



For people with reading difficulties, text-to-speech (TTS) software offers some of the traits and attributes of a personal reader. TTS uses voice synthesis software (that strange little computerized voice, that is getting better and better all the time) to provide oral reading of ordinary electronic text files, such as word-processed documents, text on webpages, and e-books.

For information on using digital text in the classroom, HIAT provides wonderful resources and information including a comparison of programs, how to use e-Text in the classroom, using various file formats, websites that are useful for finding e-text, etc. It is strongly suggested that you take some time to explore this site. 

Free e-text readers:
  • Announcify reads out loud every website you want. For example, if you're too tired but still need to study one more Wikipedia entry, Announcify can help your tired eyes relax. 
  • Balabolka is a Text-To-Speech (TTS) program. All computer voices installed on your system are available toBalabolka. The on-screen text can be saved as a WAV, MP3, MP4, OGG or WMA file. The program can read the clipboard content, view the text from AZW, CHM, DjVu, DOC, EPUB, FB2, HTML, LIT, MOBI, ODT, PRC, PDF and RTF files, customize font and background color  control reading from the system tray or by the global hotkeys.
  • Chrome Speak provides native support for speech on Windows (using SAPI 5), Mac OS X, and Chrome OS, using speech synthesis capabilities provided by the operating system. On all platforms, the user can install extensions that register themselves as alternative speech engines. 
  • CLiCk, Speak is a simple, free, open source tool that reads the text on websites when using Firefox. The features include: read selected text, read page, and stop reading. It was designed with sighted users in mind, as navigational markers and alternate text are not included.
  • CyberBuddy has Microsoft Agents that are animated characters that can move around the screen and talk to you. Keep reminders and get your attention when a reminder is due, Instant Message (like ICQ) with speech and animation, Send Voice Messages and more.
  • FoxVox will speak any text you highlight in a web page. FoxVox can also create audiobooks in mp3, ogg, and wav formats. You can now easily turn your blogs and articles into podcasts. 
  • GhostReader is a multilingual speech solution for Mac OS X that allows you to listen to your documents with naturally sounding voices in a language of choice. Or use it to create your own personal podcasts or your own audio books by exporting to iPod ready iTunes tracks. Or just use it to speak selected text in a handy reader window with play, fast forward and rewind functionality. It even allows you to listen to text by just pointing your cursor at the text as you sit back and relax while GhostReader reads the text under the cursor.
  • Natural Reader - software that converts text into voice. Reads text directly from other applications, without copying or pasting. Can also convert text files into MP3 or WAV files for use on portable devices like iPod, CD players and PocketPCs.  
  • Odiogo lets you  transform textual content into audio formats downloadable directly to the PC, iPods/MP3 players and mobile phones.
  • Power Talk is a free program that automatically speaks any presentation or slide show running in Microsoft PowerPoint for Windows.You just download and install PowerTalk and while you open and run the presentation as usual it speaks the text on your slides. The advantage over other generic 'Text To Speech' programs is that PowerTalk is able to speak text as it appears and can also speak hidden text attached to images.
  • QR Voice allows you to easily type in text and hear it spoken to you. It does not require any software download or registration and has user friendly interface. 
  • Select and Speak uses iSpeech's human-quality text-to-speech (TTS) reads selected text.  It includes 43 iSpeech text to speech  voices.  You can configure the voice and speed option by changing the settings at options page.
  • Speak It reads selected text using Text-to-Speech technology with language auto-detection. It can read text in more than 50 languages. 
  • Speakonia comes with about 20 voices (all with strong robotic accents) and lets you quickly change the reading speed and pitch.
  • Talk-To-Me for Windows. Will read your E-Mail, Instant Messages, web pages, letters and documents. Send Animated Messages to friends. Greet you daily with the date, time, and a personal message and set alarms to remind you of events.
  • TextHlep BrouseAloud can be downloaded in either Mac or PC format. BrowseAloud will read websites out to you and highlight words as they are read out.
  • Text 2 Speech lets you enter your text, select one of the voices and download the resulting mp3 file to your computer. This service is free and you are allowed to use the speech files for any purpose, including commercial uses. 
  • Text to Voice gives Firefox the power of speech. Select text, click the button on the bottom right of Firefox window and this add-on speaks the selected text for you. Isn't it brilliant? Audio is downloadable. 
  • Ultra Hal offers a simple program to help users select text and have it read aloud.Operating Ultra Hal is very simple. Users type in the word, phrase, or paragraph they want read aloud (there is no space limit). The box mimics a word processor and should be intuitively manipulated. From there, users click on the Read All button and hear their words. There is also an option to highlight certain text and just read a selection. Running the sliders will help dial in the perfect speed and pitch to make the voice sound more human and realistic if they so choose.
  • Verbose is a text to speech program which will read aloud any text or save it as mp3. After you have installed this text reader software you can assign a system wide hot key. Then whenever you want Verbose to read the text on your screen just push that key and the software will read it aloud. With Verbose text reading software, you can have Verbose read the current text on your screen out loud with the simple press of a button by setting up system-wide hotkeys.
  • VozMe is pretty much similar to QR Voice. It is very easy to use and has a simple interlace. Just type in your text and click to hear it spoken to you. 
  • WordTalk is a free plug-in developed for use with all versions of Microsoft Word (from Word 97 upwards), which can help people with reading difficulties use Microsoft Word more effectively. It will speak the text of the document and will highlight it as it goes. It contains a talking dictionary to help decide which word spelling is most appropriate. It sits neatly in your toolbar and is configurable, allowing you to adjust the highlight colors, the voice and the speed of the speech. It is a UK version so beware of some spelling issues.
2 free full office suites, Open Office and LibreOffice, have free built-in text-to-speech available. 

Using Text-to-Speech in Word depends on the operating system and version of Office you are using. This guide will help you!

Beyond the free- of course you often get what you pay for. If you need more horns and whistles (and sometimes we just do!) Keep researching! These are the main TTS tools. Some offer built in study support options... they go way beyond just TTS.Explore each one, concentrating on the needs of the student.

Texts Available to use with TTS: 
There is quite a bit of material available in electronic text (e-Text) format. Text from the Internet and from processors can be used by TTS software.

Scanners sold for personal computers today come equipped with OCR software that can be used to scan printed documents, interpret the text, and transfer it in digitized form to a computer file. The file can then be displayed on a computer screen and read aloud using the built in Adobe Reader software. Scanning is not always your best option, however as it can be very time-consuming, especially when long passages, such as textbook chapters or entire books are involved.  

Publishers must make their textbooks (learn more about AIM) available in digitized format to schools. This allows schools to provide TTS capabilities to struggling readers, who then have access to digitized versions of the same print-based texts being used by their peers.

A variety of websites now make extensive collections of digitized texts available. These consist largely of materials that were published sufficiently long ago that they are now in the public domain (therefore are not protected under the copyright laws).

Project Gutenberg has spearheaded efforts to put text materials on the Internet for free use. They have a wide range of public domain materials available online.

Other Considerations and Tools to Know about:
  • Bookshare provides the world’s largest online library of accessible reading materials for people with print disabilities. Individuals can sign up for membership and access the library on their own. Organizations that serve individuals with print disabilities (schools, libraries, community centers, etc.) can sign up and provide access to their students or clients.A Bookshare membership offers unlimited access to accessible books, textbooks, newspapers and magazines. Additionally, free access technology makes it easy to read books with a computer.
  • MyStudyBar is a tool which helps overcome problems that students commonly experience with studying, reading and writing. The tool consists of a set of portable open source and freeware applications, assembled into one convenient package. Easy to install, simple to use, handy and effective, MyStudyBar provides comprehensive learning support at the desktop, where it is needed. And if this is not already attractive enough, a further eye-catching feature of MyStudyBar is that it is completely FREE to download and free to use.
  • CC Prose is dedicated to making classic literature accessible to people around the world.  By combining high quality audio, large print text, synchronized closed captions, and machine translations in multiple languages.
  • 60 Second Recap will help students to better understand those core books they are reading in their general education settings. It will literally provide a 6o second recap of various books we are used to seeing as core literature. 

Having knowlegde about NIMAS (National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard) is the best thing you can do for your students!!!

“The various specialized formats created from NIMAS filesets may then be used to support a very diverse group of learners who qualify as students with print disabilities. It is important to note that most elementary and secondary educational publishers do not own all of the electronic rights to their textbooks and related core print materials and a copyright exemption allows them to deliver the electronic content of a textbook and related core print materials to the NIMAC, a national repository which began operations on 12/3/06, as long as the publishers possess the print rights. The NIMAS applies to instructional materials published on or after 7/19/06.”