Text-to-speech and screen readers: Built-in accessibility tools you should know

Even seasoned assistive technology specialists sometimes forget to check the accessibility features available in a device or on a platform before looking for a separate tool to meet a student’s needs.

It’s an easy mistake considering companies release new and improved accessibility features all the time. If you’re catching up, here are three tools you should know that students may already have access to from their devices:

1. Microsoft’s Immersive ReaderImmersive Reader, one of Microsoft’s Learning Tools, reads text aloud and highlights each word as it’s read. Immersive Reader also comes with options to change the size or color of the text, adjust the contrast between the text and background, and increase or decrease the spacing between lines. When “parts of speech” is turned on, text can be color-coded by nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Immersive Reader also includes a picture dictionary that displays a picture as the cursor rolls over a word. Immersive Reader is available in OneNote, Word, Outlook, Office Lens, and the Edge browser.

2. Google Chromebook’s ChromeVoxChromebooks come with a built-in screen reader called ChromeVox that can be activated by pressing Control, Alt, and Z. When enabled, ChromeVox will provide audio descriptions of the functions and text displayed on a student’s screen. The student can speed up, slow down, and pause the voice as well as change the language and pitch. If a student is using a Braille device connected to a Chromebook, ChromeVox will display Braille and captions on the top of the page. In addition to the screen reader, students who need parts of a page read aloud can use Chromebook’s select-to-speak tool, which highlights and reads aloud words from a selection of text. Select-to-speak will also read aloud the function of an icon on a page.

3. Apple’s VoiceOver and rotorVoiceOver is a built-in screen reader that can be turned on under accessibility settings in Apple’s iPhone, iPad, and iPod. When VoiceOver is on, a student can rotate two fingers on the screen to access a rotor dial that includes a menu of additional options to control VoiceOver. For example, using the rotor, a student can switch between having one word read aloud to having one character read aloud. The rotor can be programmed with additional controls from a list of commands in settings. A student can also change the voice of VoiceOver and adjust the speaking rate and pitch.

In addition, while VoiceOver is turned on, a three-finger triple tap will turn on a feature called Screen Curtain, which turns off the device’s display. Under “Accessibility,” students can also access text-to-speech features by turning on Speak Selection and Speak Screen. When Speak Selection is turned on and a student taps a word, the option to “speak” the text will appear. When Speak Screen is turned on and a student swipes down with two fingers, all the text on the student’s screen will be read aloud.

Jennifer Herseim covers Section 504 and education technology as it relates to special education for LRP Publications.

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