The concept of text-to-speech (TTS) software was first conceived in the 1950′s. TTS software processes written text into spoken words. Since the 50′s, this technology has gone through many changes and has developed into an affordable technology tool that is a great asset in special education classrooms. Students who have a limited field of vision, have dyslexia, or may be struggling readers can benefit from TTS software. This technology can play a vital role in making computers accessible as a tool in the classroom.
One of the most famous individuals who uses TTS software is Stephen Hawking. Hawking is a famous scientist who has ALS and has relied upon this technology to communicate since 1985. He is almost completely paralyzed and uses a wand-style device attached to his glasses, activated by his cheek, to enter words and phrases into a computer system. His system uses a word recognition program. He enters the first few letters of the desired word and the program narrows down choices based on his use. All of the words that are entered into the computer system, which is carried in his wheel chair, are then synthesized and spoken through his computer.
Similar software can be used on a home or school PC. TTS software, that is included with the Microsoft Windows operating systems, is relatively simple to activate. To activate TTS, all you have to do in Windows XP is select Start, All Programs, Accessories, Accessibility, and Narrator. Read and then follow the directions on the command prompt to setup the computer for TTS navigation for your students. TTS can also be integrated with Microsoft Office. In Office 2007, you will first need to install a simple macro (program). This link provides easy to follow directions for installation.
TTS is also integrated on many websites. Most government run websites have accessibility sections where articles and important information are available in audio format. There are also free sites where you can copy and paste text and then have it read aloud to you. Two examples of sites that offer this free service are AT&T and Google. Many of my students also use www.dictionary.com to look up their Language Arts vocabulary words. This site provides audio pronunciation where you can select to hear the word read aloud.
Other popular electronic devices also use TTS as a means for learning and communication. LeapFrog has developed the Tag (ages 4 to 8) and Tag Jr. (ages 2 to 4) reading systems where the student uses an electronic pen to interact with the many high quality Tag books. The words and other sounds effects are then read aloud to the students as they swipe the pen over the text. This is great tool for students to learn to read and as they progress, they become less reliant upon the pen less and begin to read on their own. LeapFrog has an educational department where schools can purchase a variety of packages as a classroom set. All of the packages include the computerized pens and sets of books that can be used with the system. This would be a great addition to the Pre-K-5th grade special education classroom.
Many free and inexpensive TTS software tools can make computers learning accessible to many special education students.
Article by Laura Ketcham
Photo by eirikso