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Who Needs Text-to-Speech and Why?

Text-to-speech helps those who cannot read print for a variety of reasons. To understand its use and benefits, let’s explore different reading styles that would benefit from text-t0-speech. These reading styles might qualify someone for a Bookshare membership; a qualified professional would make that decision.

Individuals who are blind depend on text-to-speech to navigate a computer. Those with low vision may or may not use text-to-speech, depending on the accommodations they need. Text-to-speech output can be used to read a book on a device, such as the devices from Plextalk and Humanware, or an computer, such as Kurzweil 1000 from Cambium Learning.

Individuals with severe learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, who have difficulty decoding and understanding text may comprehend printed content much better when it is read out loud.  According to reports from teachers and students, these individuals may have substantial gains in reading scores and comprehension with multi-modal reading, when the text-to-speech is combined with word-by-word highlighting. For example, after introducing a student to Bookshare and multi-modal reading, one teacher reported a fifth grade student progressing from 65 to 76 to 103, between August and January as measured on the DIBELS reading assessment test.

Many text-to-speech software programs are available that provide a range of reading supports, including highlighting of text as it is read aloud, changing font type and size, and setting custom background and text colors. Some of these programs include Kurzweil 3000 by Cambium Learning Technologies, Read:OutLoud by Don Johnston, WYNN by Freedom Scientific, and Read & Write GOLD by Texthelp Systems.

Individuals with physical disabilities who cannot hold a book or turn its pages may or may not need text-to-speech output. The appropriate assistive technologies will provide these students with the accommodations, including text-to-speech, as needed to read independently

The assessment is the key determining factor in deciding whether or not a student will benefit from a text-to-speech output accommodation. A student who has difficulty decoding multisyllabic words, loses his or her place on the page, or has difficulty comprehending printed text, may benefit from text-to-speech output. It is the responsibility of the educators and therapists working with the student and the student’s IEP team to make that determination and document it in the IEP. Choosing the right software application for the student depends on matching the features of the software with the student’s needs.

It is possible to start a student using software that provides text-to-speech and word-by-word highlighting without a formal evaluation; however, to give that student access to Bookshare content, a qualified professional will have to certify that the student qualifies for Bookshare.

What can you do to help others who may benefit from TTS?

1. Learn more from one or more of these links:
Technology to Help Struggling Students

National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials

2. Show this short video about accessible books at a faculty meeting.

3. Take 3 minutes and learn about the Bookshare edition of Read:OutLoud.

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  1. Dear Betsy:

    Text to speech (TTS) should be “billed” as an everyday tool for executives and the general student population.

    The day to day students and executives would be best to use simple TTS like Balabolka or for proofing term papers or an essay before turning it in for a grade. For the executive they could use TTS for proofreading a letter or email before it goes out or to read trade journals which they usually don’t have time to read but they can play them over a Bluetooth headset on a Smart phone or tablet (Balabolka with a click turns text into a MP3 file) while doing monthly budgets instead of listening to “Pandora”.

    The more TTS is accepted into the general population the less of a “stigma” the awesome technology is for those who depend on them for reading to us “gifted persons” with dyslexia or “print disabilities”.

    This general acceptance would also push the much needed educational boost our country system needs to make the jump from analog (power down before you go into the classroom) system into one which is digital. Digital Textbooks which then would turn a textbook into a virtual textbook. So if the student wants to learn a little bit more about the “Dust Bowl” then they could highlight the word and then data mine Dust Bowl on the web and note it into the textbook.

    Green education, what a new idea, except it isn’t, it has been brought to the system by the Learning Disabled, through

    • Betsy Burgess

      A very insightful comment, taking the post beyond the world of education. Thanks so much for the contribution!

      • Just came back from a Luncheon with Lee Woodruff as the Keynote speaker, her husband,Bob Woodruff, was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq, Bob Woodruff replaced Peter Jennings for ABC news, and was in a coma for 36 days. Would not TTS and help these individuals in rehabilitation?

        For me the highlighted word and hearing it has greatly improved my spelling, it seems as if TTS and could help Veterans with brain injuries in rehabilitating them to read or at least stimulate their cognitive skills as they retrain themselves to read, write and speak.

        Lee Woodruff thought it would be a great idea and a useful tool. Bob Woodruff Foundation may be a source to follow for some type of funding and direction.

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