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Tools for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired to Access Electronic Information

It is estimated that there are over 10 million vision impaired people in the United States today. For children pursuing their education, being visually impaired can be a challenge, but now there are many options available for assistance that we never had before.

So much of the information that we receive these days is obtained through digital technology, and assistive technology tools are available to help people who are blind or visually impaired get access to information using computers and other electronic devices.

All current operating systems have built in accessibility options for different browsers and devices. The software will provide information on how to adjust settings to change colors or font sizes or even access text to speech options, and software is available to increase accessibility and choices, including tools for accessing print information.

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Some of the main accessibility tools available now for use by children and students of all ages include:

Screen Magnification Software

There are numerous software programs available that allow an individual to magnify what is shown on the computer screen. Most of these programs allow users to increase the size of the image on the screen, change the color of the background and the font type, select enlarged or different color cursors and arrows, and have some type of TTS (text-to-speech) capability.

Screen-Reading Software

The use of screen-reading software, known as TTS or text-to-speech, enables a user to hear the text that is displayed on a screen. These programs use a sound card in the computer to produce the speech, which can be heard through speakers or headphones. The user controls the screen-reading technology through keyboard commands to choose what information on the screen to read aloud and to control how it is read. Interpreting photos, images and other graphics is a challenge but technology is getting better and better at handling dynamic visual information.

Refreshable Braille Displays

A refreshable braille display, also known as a braille terminal, is an electro-mechanical device for displaying braille characters. It allows the user to feel a braille representation of the text that is on the computer screen. The display consists of plastic pins that are raised and lowered to form the corresponding braille characters as the cursor moves across the print on the screen. Braille displays are typically 20, 40, or 80 braille cells in length. Braille displays must be used in combination with screen-reading software.

Assistive Technology – An Overview

There are many methods available for a visually impaired person to access digital content (websites, documents, etc.). Some of the most common are screen readers, including text-to-speech (TTS), screen magnifiers and braille displays.

The majority of screen reader software will simply read the text on a web page or document in a uniform, static way, from top to bottom and left to right. Only if the content creator builds accessibility into their documents and websites can assistive technologies be used in a dynamic way, allowing the reader to experience the website or document as completely as sighted people do. Digital accessibility comes from content creators, not from assistive technologies.

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Examples of Screen Reader Assistive Technology include:

Screen Readers

Screen readers are software apps that identify and interpret what is being displayed on a screen, allowing blind or visually impaired users to read the text with a speech synthesizer or braille display. A screen reader is the interface between a computer’s operating system, its applications, and the user. Screen readers are a form of assistive technology (AT) that are useful for addressing many types of special needs, including assistance for the blind or visually impaired, people who are illiterate, or those who have learning disabilities.

Screen Magnifiers

A screen magnifier is an app that interfaces with a computer’s graphical output to display enlarged screen content. Screen magnifiers are used by visually impaired people who have some functional vision, and can be particularly useful for the elderly. Screen magnifiers are not useful for those who have little or no vision.

Text-to-Speech Software

Text-to-Speech software converts the written word into audio. TTS software is useful for the visually impaired as well as being a good teaching tool. The ability to hear accents and pronunciation is useful for learning languages.

TTY (Text Telephone)

TTY is also sometimes called a TDD, or Telecommunication Device for the Deaf, but TTY is the more commonly used term because TTYs are used by many people, not just people who are hearing-impaired. TTY is one of the oldest assistive technologies. In the 1960s and 1970s, deaf researchers in the United States developed relay services to enable deaf and hearing people to communicate with each other. These early devices were called teletypewriters, or TTY, and they connected to a phone system specifically created for the hearing-impaired.

Nowadays TTY conversion modems are connected between computers and telephones to allow an individual to type a message on a computer and send it to a TTY telephone. With TTY, someone who cannot hear can use the telephone by typing what they want to say and reading what the other party says. With TTY texts can also be sent via telephone. A person using a TTY can converse directly over the phone line with anyone else using a TTY or computer with the appropriate software.

Text to Speech as an Educational Tool

When it first appeared in educational circles as a potential teaching tool, some felt that using text-to-speech educational technology to help struggling readers was sort of cheating. More like a crutch. Fortunately, as teaching methods evolve and technology becomes completely amalgamated in learning and teaching, TTS is becoming more common in today’s classrooms.

TTS, which is software that reads text aloud as students follow the highlighted text on the screen, is proving that not only is text to speech not a crutch, but it is indeed an invaluable tool to help students improve results and stay motivated.

Change is hard, but it makes perfect sense that any tools that allow students multiple visual and auditory options to learn is a good tool. Students must be able to learn in the manner which is most effective for them, and TTS frees the reader to focus on meaning, rather than on the act of reading, which encourages an understanding of concepts and facilitating dialogue and writing that might otherwise be difficult to attain.

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The positive effects that result when every student is enabled to learn in the way that is personally most effective cannot be understated. Assistive technology such as text to speech increases motivation and self-esteem, and facilitates independence by allowing the student to read what they choose, with the knowledge that they will have greater success in understand what they read. TTS can be the difference between a student keeping up in reading, writing and understanding grade-level content with the others in his or her class. Text to speech technology can be seen as an internal support system which can instill confidence and allow students to fully participate with their peers.

Traditional methods of teaching reading focus on developing the ability to decode and make the connection between sounds and letters. People learn in different ways, and this method is not effective for certain learners.  Decoding can be difficult and detract from understanding the actual content of what is being read. A big risk in these situations is that the student becomes frustrated and considers reading a chore. When this happens a love of reading is never developed and the person ceases to read much in later life.

Text To Speech in Special Education

Text-to-speech (TTS) is an assistive technology. Briefly, assistive technology (AT) is considered any device, piece of equipment or system that helps a person with a disability work around his or her challenges so he or she can learn, communicate and function more easily.

TTS is software that reads digital text aloud. It is sometimes referred to as “read aloud” technology. With just a click or touch, TTS turns words on a screen into audio. It is not surprising that this technology would be a great help for people who struggle with reading. In addition, TTS can help strengthen writing skills and improve focus and mindfulness.

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TTS works with almost all digital devices. Many types of text files and most web pages can be converted into audio with TTS software. The voice in TTS is computer-generated, and reading speed can be moderated – sped up or slowed down as needed, which is particularly important for teaching people with special needs. Many TTS tools highlight words as they are read aloud which allows learners to see the text and hear it at the same time. This creates a multisensory reading experience and removes a major obstacle to decoding reading and language comprehension.

Text to speech software has been shown to improve word recognition, increase attention span and increase comprehension compared to reading alone. This is in part because hearing the words while seeing them allows readers to focus on understanding instead of just sounding out words. TTS lets students use their abilities to work on areas of weakness.

It is important to understand that TTS can assist learning. It cannot replace good teaching or a well-designed curriculum. Technology can help a student gain confidence and work independently and it can help individuals set and meet goals, but it is only one tool in a broad range of teaching options. No software can make up for ineffective teaching, and learning and attention problems will not be cured by technology alone.

How Text-To-Speech Improves Commerce

For people who make their living with words, and for businesses who want to really communicate with their customers, Text-to-Speech technology is a fantastic tool.

Writers, bloggers, editors and content producers are discovering that Text-to-Speech makes proofreading and editing faster and much more accurate. Hearing copy read aloud makes it easy to identify grammatical and spelling mistakes.

All commerce to a greater or lesser extent now takes place online. Digital communication on various appliances is ubiquitous and it’s not going to change. Historically, web content providers have been limited to read-only, text-based offerings. Recently more dynamic approaches have been possible with the wide-spread use of video and interactive media. With the addition of text-to-speech technology, anyone with learning or reading-related disabilities are able to enjoy a more satisfying experience. Frustration and alienation are eliminated by adding Text-to-Speech to an application. Businesses can differentiate themselves from the competition by offering consumable content for every user.

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It is always a good thing to give your customers choices. Some consumers may want to read content, others may prefer to listen to content, and some will want to do both. Giving customers the freedom to choose how they learn about and interact with a business by adding TTS functionality to an application is a win-win for all.

Because until recently there has not been a way to capitalize on the power of the spoken word on a large scale in the digital realm, the power and benefits of listening has been overlooked.

Listening looks easy, but it’s not simple. Every head is a world. (Cuban proverb)

Most people will agree that there is a significant difference between “listening” and “hearing.” In general, hearing seems effortless and automatic and listening feels intentional and selective. Businesses can use these differences to improve their relationships with their clients and to spread their messages widely. Offering TTS technology as part of digital outreach and social media marketing makes good business sense.

Planning and organization are essential features of listening, and planning and organizing are fundamental to commerce. A well-informed consumer makes a satisfied customer. Effective communication skills benefit everyone, in every milieu. Whether communication involves class discussion, comparison shopping, lecturing in the classroom, dialogues with colleagues and students, or networking in conference receptions, the ability to listen strategically is essential.

How Text-to-Speech Software Facilitates Learning

In a nutshell, Text-to-Speech software takes written text and transforms it into speech. This technology offers several benefits to consumers, businesses, publishers, personal users and educational, and social institutions. This next-generation communications technology can expand learning and financial opportunities in many ways.

Digital publishers can offer their clients an easy way to access information and leisure. After a long day at work, having a way to relax and listen to the latest news, gossip, and trends without having to read a word is very appealing and gives digital publishers another edge over print.

For educators, the sky is the limit, and the ability to teach languages using text-to-speech is very exciting. An essential element of learning a new language is to hear the sounds, words and sentence flow of that language. Text-to-Speech allows one to see how a word is written in a different language and simultaneously hear how that word is pronounced. Add to this the freedom to learn at-will, without being bound to class times or tutor schedules is a big plus. Text-to-Speech software can be applied to many online course materials and print publications.

Text-to-Speech technology enables non-traditional learners and students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, to excel. TTS eliminates the stress of having to rely solely on visual cues to absorb information. On the same theme, TTS is beneficial for people who have difficulty pronouncing words. Speed and volume can be adjusted to meet the needs of the user. People with physical disabilities can get great benefit from TTS technology too, enabling someone who is mute to communicate. Because TTS can be used on many devices it is accessible at all times of the day and in most situations.

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Text-to-Speech can also be used to help people with a variety physical disabilities.

Perhaps the most recognized and famous person to use TTS is Stephen Hawking, who is an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author. Dr. Hawking has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and uses TTS to communicate his brilliant ideas.
Text-to-Speech has been shown to improve reading comprehension and speed. TTS helps with pronunciation, and it can also be used to improve and make editing and proof-reading more accurate. TTS can help identify spelling and grammar issues in a written body of text. When text is read aloud it is much easier to know whether or not a sentence is too long, the cadence is off, or even whether a word has been spelled incorrectly or not.

Students and other learners who use TTS often have improved reading compression, accuracy, and the ability to recall information accurately. When people use as many of the 5 senses as possible when learning, absorbing information and being able to recall that information at a later date is greatly improved.

Text-to-Speech Applications: Benefits and Uses

Text-to-speech systems, also known as TTS, were first developed to aid the visually impaired by offering a computer-generated spoken voice that would “read” text to the user.

TTS software in general is considered an assistive technology tool that can be used in many ways. Another early application of this technology was to help people who have trouble reading. The amendment of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004 compelled educational institutions to seek out technology to assist in fulfilling this mandate. The IDEA is a federal law ensuring educational services to children with disabilities throughout the United States.

TTS allows users to see text and hear it read aloud simultaneously. There are many apps available, but typically as text appears on the screen, it’s spoken. Some software uses a computer-generated voice and others use a recorded human voice. Very often the user has a choice of gender and accent as well.

Tablets and smartphones usually have built-in text-to-speech features. The software reads text files, and the names of programs or folders when pointed at on the screen and can read certain web pages aloud.

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Text-to-speech tools are often used with optical character recognition (OCR). OCR is a technology that scans printed material into a computer or handheld unit and converts it to digital text. There are also portable OCR devices available. These are called reading pens, and they can scan and read back text. Most digital devices include apps that read digital books.

While text to speech has benefits for all users, some specific groups benefit more than others.

People with learning disabilities who have difficulty reading large amounts of text due to dyslexia or other problems really benefit from TTS, offering them an easier option for experiencing website content.

 

People who have literacy issues and those trying to learn another language often get frustrated trying to browse the internet because so much text is confusing. Many people have difficulty reading fluently in a second language even though they may be able to read content with a basic understanding. TTS technology allows them to understand information in a way that makes content easier to retain.

 

TTS allows people to enjoy , and also provides an option for content consumption on the go, taking content away from the computer screen and into any environment that’s convenient for the consumer. For people with visual impairment, text to speech can be a very useful tool as well. For those who access content on mobile devices, reading a great deal of content on a small screen is not always easy. Having text-to-speech software doing the work is much easier. It allows people to get the information they want without the inconvenience of a lot of scrolling.

 

TTS offers many benefits for content owners and publishers as well. This feature immediately increase the accessibility of online content for those with visual impairments or reading difficulties and it facilitates access for a larger percentage of the online population, including those whose native language is different from the language of a particular website or mobile app.

 

Text-to-Speech makes it easier in general for all people to access online content on mobile devices, increases citizen engagement and strengthens corporate social responsibility by ensuring that information is available in both written and audio format.

Content Curation is Here to Stay. Publishers Must Embrace It

Content curation is basically the process of gathering information relevant to a particular topic or area of interest. Services, including curating apps or people that implement content curation are called curators. Curation services can be used by businesses as well as end users.

Content curation is often confused with, but is very different from content marketing. Content marketing often includes the use of original information designed to target a specific market or demographic. Content curation doesn’t include creating new content; it is the act of discovering, compiling and sharing existing content with current online followers.

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Curating apps compile, carry and disseminate various content including articles, blog posts, journals, images and videos from all types of websites and information services.

Content curation as a means of information sharing is here to stay. The question is, are content curation platforms good or bad for publishers?

Content curation platforms have changed the publishing industry, including the legacy print publishers and have helped in many ways. One of the most immediately obvious and practical uses is that these apps save news companies the huge task of redesigning and configuring their websites for multiple platforms including smartphones and tablets.  Content curation apps are also powerful marketing tools for increasing readership and subscribers for digital publishers by implementing a controlled, targeted approach for specific audiences.

The majority of the most popular curation applications allow the user many options including the freedom to choose which publications get to their newsfeed or publisher list, and what kind of articles from any given publisher they get. The key is personalization and a reading experience that is customized to the reader’s preferences.

For digital publishers content curation is beneficial in a few ways. For small or niche publishers who do not have deep advertiser support through their websites, partnering with a content curator can save time and money, and for bigger publishers the appeal of content curating apps is the opportunity to expand readership by tapping into the apps existing audiences.

Many digital publishers rely on subscriptions for revenue, so they still need native and web apps as part of their online presence, but the unique ability of content curation apps to push a specific content set to a precisely defined audience is another opportunity for them to boost their digital presence and increase audience and revenue.

Apple’s Conundrum

The recent request by the FBI for Apple to assist in the unlocking and access to an iPhone belonging to a suspected domestic terrorist has created a lot of interest and opinions among pundits, lawmakers and technology providers. The basic debate is about digital privacy and the obligation that companies do or do not have to modify their proprietary products for the so-called “public good”.

The US Government’s request to Apple to create software to bypass the iPhone’s security capabilities, in effect weakening the very security protections that define Apple products, is a big deal. Protecting the American public from terrorism is a very real and difficult task, made more so by the very technology at the center of this debate, but the solutions are not clear-cut.

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As society increasingly relies on digital platforms for commerce and communication, economic growth depends more and more on the inherent trust that we put in modern technology and the institutions that provide it. The growth of the world economy and social advancement to a great degree is directly connected to the trust we have in our technological processes to ensure that our data is safe. Safe from criminals and safe from prying eyes. We expect our technology to keep us secure.

When tech companies or the government does things to break this trust, there is a domino effect and all systems and tools become suspect. This case will precedents for the foreseeable future. The intentional weakening of protections created to guard our personal privacy opens Pandora’s Box.

This is an incredibly complex topic. That the government wants Apple to write code (in effect creating a new product) in order to undermine an existing product is troubling in and of itself. Where will the line be drawn regarding a company’s ability to create or not create new product? Is that not the basis for free enterprise? What social obligations do large technology companies have to serve and protect the public?

What Do Digital Magazine Readers Want?

In a nutshell, no matter what medium they get their news and information from, readers basically want simplicity, and quality. They want good stories, reliable information, entertainment, and access to editorial content across a range of devices and channels. They want value, they want speed of delivery and they want consistency. Digital publications must be accessible, easy to locate, easy to use and share, and easy to purchase from all sorts of places. The ability to interact with content including buying products on the page is also becoming standard.

Digital magazine edition providers are beginning to add features that should start accelerating circulation growth. Magazine publishers are adding news feeds to their apps, which gives readers a reason to return on a daily basis, if not more. Providing more value will keep the coveted eyeballs coming back for more, and sticking. The “freemium” model that attracts users with a limited free service and then enticed them into the full paid service is one way for digital publishers to increase market share.

In digital publishing it really is a numbers game. Subscription growth and digital ad revenue are key factors for most digital magazine publishers. Their business models depend on it. The current markers of success are engagement and dwell time. Both of these indicators are key factors in showing if a reader is enjoying a product.

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Another model that is gaining traction is personalized article delivery. In general this is touted as giving the reader a magazine-style experience based on their personal tastes and reading habits. The music industry has been using this model successfully for some time now. This model is more labor-intensive, requiring premium content and human curation.

To date much more marketing effort has been put into e-books than into digital magazine editions, for example. The music industry has had to reinvent itself in recent years, and is proof that positive growth can happen with the right amount and type of marketing.  There are so many wonderful digital edition magazines that haven’t been marketed enough. People just can’t find them. They must be promoted aggressively, and in the right places. Loud, consistent, clear and precise marketing messages, and most importantly – targeted to the right people, are the keys to success.

This has been said many times before but bears repeating – Knowing Your Reader is Vitally Important.  Integrating the right analytics and understanding what the reader is saying is imperative. Listening to the audience is number one, and providing a personalized experience in return for loyalty is now becoming a must-have feature. Tailoring products for various situations and audiences make the customer relationship a personal one, and creates customer loyalty.

Heading into 2016, it is apparent that the digital marketplace will continue to evolve on an on-going  basis, and marketing and subscription plans that are put in place one month can be out of date the next. By focusing on and reacting to the audience and what they want, digital publishers will continue to develop and thrive.