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Accessibility support from the Library: Free assistive tools and software

About assistive software

There are many assistive technology tools which can help you choose how you want to access material and these can really improve your productivity.

Some of these are free for you to download and use on your own devices and there are also some applications which the University has made available on the student PCs within the library and IT Centres.

Text to speech and reading support

Text readers built into your device

iPad and iPhones will read selected text, or the whole screen to you using an inbuilt voice.

  • Go to settings, select: General>Accessibility>Speech and turn on Speak Selection and Speak Screen.
  • Instructions on how to read the text are shown when you turn on these settings.

Android also has built-in speech. Greenbot gives more information on android speech.

Text reader apps

ClaroRead Chrome

is a toolbar which offers some of the functions of the full ClaroRead software within the Chrome web browser.  It works with web pages, PDFs and also files accessed through Google Drive.

It provides:

  • Text-to-speech - it will read the content of web pages or Google Docs files aloud.  
  • Screen Overlay- change the colour of web pages to make it easier to see and read
Installing the ClaroRead Chrome extension
  1. Go to the Chrome Web store ClaroRead Chrome page
  2. Click on the + Add to Chrome button
  3. Click on the Add Extension button
  4. Once installed you will see the ClaroRead Chrome icon on your Chrome toolbar.  Click on this to access the toolbar.

video introduction and Help Guides are available on the Claro website.
 

Balabolka (http://www.cross-plus-a.com/balabolka.htm)

is a free Text-To-Speech (TTS) program which can use any installed voices on your system.  It has a high quality feel and is easy to use. There are inbuilt features which improve clarity and articulation, including changing pitch, rate and pronunciation. 

Balabouka can read clipboard content, view text from documents, control reading from the system tray or by the global hotkeys. The on-screen text can be saved in all popular audio formats: WAV, MP3, MP4, OGG or WMA file.

There are options to change how on-screen text is displayed, such as customising font and background colours. Files can be split into more manageable ‘chunks’. When an audio file is presented with players on a computer or on modern digital audio players, the text can be displayed synchronously making it suitable for supporting reading skills. 
 

Dspeech (http://dimio.altervista.org/eng/) 

Another text-to-speech (TTS) application. It will read text aloud using any voices already built into your computer (such as the one in Windows). Output files can be saved in many common audio formats, such as  WAV, MP3 or OGG.

Text can be read back at a different pitch or speed (while speaking) for user convenienceMultiple voices can be applied to the same track to simulate dialogue. Text is pasted into a window or read directly from the clipboard. Dspeech has integrated Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) to recognise commands 

 

Reading Support apps

Capti 

is a universally accessible literacy platform enabling and empowering students to keep up with reading and develop active reading strategies.

  • Upload or drag and drop files into your playlist.
  • Plays ePub, html webpages, PDF and Word documents.
  • You can adjust the background colour (includes a pale yellow).
  • You can also switch to dyslexia font
  • Download the app and use on your device

There is a Premium version which has more features. 

 

Natural Reader

Download your PDFs, Word docs, EPUB books, plain text or PowerPoints straight into Natural Reader. Read them aloud using the play and stop buttons using your preferred voice, language and speed. 

Natural Reader Help explains how to use it.

Free versions for iOS or Android, Mac and Windows

 

Readium

 Readium is a Chrome app Epub reader.

Drag and drop an ePub file into the window.

  • You can adjust the background colour (includes a pale yellow).
  • You can also switch to dyslexia font.
  • If the file is an ePub3 (with audio media layer) there will also be a text-to-speech option.

Screen readers

NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) 

NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) is a free screen reader which enables vision impaired people to use computers. You can control what is read to you by moving the cursor to the relevant area of text with a mouse or the arrows on your keyboard. Commercial screen readers are expensive, but as NVDA is open source it is free. It’s been downloaded 70,000+ times, in 43 languages.

NVDA can also convert the text into braille if you have an attached “braille display”.

NVDA works with Microsoft Windows. You can download it to your PC, or to a USB stick which you can use with any computer.

You can access the User Guide any time under ‘Help’ in the NVDA menu. Press INSERT and the ‘N’ key or right click on the NVDA icon in your task bar

Chrome Vox

Chrome extension: The ChromeVox screen reader is a screen reader extension for Chrome.  

Simple yet powerful navigation is easy to learn and quickly gets new users up to speed browsing web sites and web-based applications eyes-free.

Documentation is available at chromevox.com for the user guide, tutorial, keyboard shortcut and developer reference guides. 

VoiceOver Apple

VoiceOver gives you auditory descriptions of each onscreen element on your Mac and provides helpful hints along the way — whether you prefer using gestures, a keyboard or a braille display. It supports more than 30 languages, including multiple voice options.

VoiceOver is deeply integrated within macOS and all the built-in apps on Mac. As developers update their apps to take advantage of the accessibility interfaces provided by Apple, their apps can start working with VoiceOver straightaway.

VoiceOver getting started guide: 

Speech to text/Voice recognition

Type with your voice 

A Chrome Extensions which turns Google Chrome into a speech recognition app to dictate documents, emails and essays without touching the keyboard.

  • You can correct any mistakes and use voice commands to select text, format text and move around the document.
  • Uses Chrome's Local Storage to automatically save the transcriptions.
  • Uses the Web Speech API of Chrome that is supported in all the newer release of Chrome browser including Google Chrome on Android.
  • The app is integrated with Dropbox and Google Drive to help you easily export the transcribed text to your various online accounts.
  • Alternatively, you can send the dictated text to any email address.

Dictation on Mac

Use your voice to enter text on your Mac. The Dictation feature converts your spoken words into text.

Dictate in Windows

Dictate text using Speech Recognition in Windows. You can use your voice to dictate text to your Windows PC.

Other study support apps

Collections of free software and apps

  • DnA (Diversity and Ability) resource page can be filtered by device, task and cost.
  • Reading On Screen provides information on how to make reading text on screen easier.
  • How to study is a website that has resources on all aspects of studying and the skills involved. Note this is an American,  so this is reflected in the language used.

Lists of apps for iPad and Android smartphone or tablet:

Other resources

  • MyStudyBar brings together a range of useful tools to support studying, reading and writing for Windows PCs.  It includes tools for mindmappingcustomising font and background colours, a talking dictionary, converting text to audio and speech recognition.
  • Ginger Proofreader offers a range of tools which help improve your writing  - including correcting grammatical mistakes including punctuation, sentence structure and style. It can be integrated with most desktop applications and with all major browsers.
  • Wordweb is a one-click English thesaurus and dictionary that can look up words in almost any programme

  • Goconqr is an app which allows you to create and share mindmaps, quizzes, flashcards, slides, notes and flowcharts that suit your own learning style.  You can also use it to discover user created resources on your topic.  
  • Mind Mapping
    • XMind (freeware for Mac and Windows), 
    • Mindomo (Google Play, iTunes, web-based version)
    • Freemind (for Mac or PC).
  • Grammarly is a grammar, spelling, and punctuation tool that can be integrated into your web browser. Suggested corrections come with short explanations. It helps you write mistake-free on sites such as Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and nearly anywhere else you write on the web. There is an MS Office version as well.