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Chromebook Accessibility Hack of the Week: Bookshare Web Reader + Read and Write for Google

By guest author Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles, PhD, ATP

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles
Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles

What a great fortune it is to work in an environment where every student is issued a Chromebook in grades 1-8. This is a HUGE game changer in the delivery of AT. In working with students who require AEM (Accessible Educational Materials), we use Bookshare, a free service that provides hundreds of thousands of print materials to qualifying individuals.

Bookshare suggests many reading tools  that have been selected by users. On the Chromebook side, we have been using the Bookshare Web Reader, which is integrated into Chrome. However, for some of the students I work with, the Chrome OS text-to-speech (TTS) voice is “very robotic,” “not natural,” and “bothersome” (I tend to concur, and would love a day when Chrome OS would deliver a Native TTS voice that is comparable to Apple’s Alex or to a human-narrated voice).

Until that day arrives, we’ve come up with a workaround that has proven to be effective with these students.  By overlapping Read and Write for Google’s web-based TTS reader to read Bookshare books to students, it’s become a well received option to providing access to Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) for our students. Read and Write is an easy-to-use tool that students are familiar with, is provided to every student in our district, and has a nice variety of voices. Plus, the word highlighting is more pronounced.

To see how this works, I’ve created a brief video to illustrate the point:

Sometimes, a simple workaround is all that is needed to continue to provide access to content in a way that most makes sense for the end user. If you’re in need of a Chromebook option for a better voice for Bookshare’s Web Reader, consider using Read and Write in concert.

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles, PhD, is a RESNA (Rehabilitation Engineering & Assistive Technology Society of North America) certified Assistive Technology Professional (ATP), who specializes in breaking barriers to learning through the use of Assistive Technology and Universal Design for Learning. This blog originally appeared on Hillary’s website and has been reposted with her permission.

4 Comments

  1. This is excellent Hillary! I will certainly pass this along to our ELA and special education teachers.

  2. Dan TeVelde

    Listening to a book it’s not the same as reading. Every child should be taught braille, and have access to a braille note taker or braille display.

    • Bookshare Communications

      Dan: Thank you for your comments. Bookshare serves individuals with learning and physical disabilities as well as visual impairments. As a result, we give members the flexibility to read in any format that works best for them including our many text-based formats and BRF which can be read on a braille note taker. You may be interested in reading this blog by Allison Hilliker who is on the Bookshare customer support team: http://blog.bookshare.org/2015/11/a-new-perspective-on-literacy-for-students-with-low-vision/

    • Hi Dan-
      Thank you for your response. Perhaps my post should have been clear about the targeted population who require text to speech support. I also work with a student who is blind that does use Braille and BRF within Bookshare to access books. One size does not fit all and the right tools for the tasks for each individual are critical.

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