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Improving Digital Accessibility

Many of the devices you already use include built-in accessibility features. Try some of the options below to see how it might improve your experiences in and out of the classroom.

Text-to-Speech (TTS) Resources

Text-to-speech programs and features read digital text out loud.

Text-to-speech (TTS) provides a mechanism to have digital text read out loud by a computerized voice. This is different than an audiobook, which is a recording of a human voice. Audiobooks must be recorded and processed in advance, and are only available for certain texts. TTS makes many more resources available, as long as the text is digitally accessible. 

The Immersive Reader is a free, text-to-speech tool developed by Microsoft. It is available in many Office 365 programs, such as WordOneNote, Office Lens, and Outlook. It is also built in to Canvas

Natural Reader is a text to speech program that is available online, as a downloadable desktop program, and as a Chrome extension. The free version of Natural Reader allows you to upload digitally accessible documents and have them read out loud. The Chrome extension can read any text selected within the Chrome browser. 

Paid versions of Natural Reader give access to premium voices, the ability to export text as an audio file, and the capacity to extract digital text from inaccessible documents (such as scanned PDFs). There is also an app available for iOS and Android devices that is available for a small fee.

Many Kindle and Google Play books can be read out loud using built in TTS capability in those readers. Be aware, however, that not ALL Kindle and Google Play books are TTS enabled. When viewing books in the Kindle store, scroll down to the "Product Details" section and check to make sure that the book is Text-to-Speech Enabled. In the Google Play store, scroll down to the "Additional Information" section and look to see if "Read Aloud" is enabled. 

Speech-to-Text (STT) Resources

Speech-to-text functionality allows you to convert spoken word into digital text.

Speech to text (STT)  (also known as "voice to text", "voice recognition", "live transcription", or "dictation") uses automated speech recognition (ASR) to convert spoken words into digital text. This is the same functionality that allows you to create text messsages using the microphone feature in your phone or how Zoom creates automatic live captions. STT can be used as an alternative to typing or to transcribe other audio, such as lectures or recorded files. 

Many Office 365 programs (Word, Outlook, OneNote, PowerPoint) include the "Dictate" feature. The web version of Microsoft Word also includes a "Transcribe" feature, which is described in more detail on our Notetaking page

Voice typing is a feature available in Google Docs and in the Google Slides speaker notes. This feature works best using the Chrome browser and may not be available in all browsers (such as Safari).  To turn on Voice typing, go to the "Tools" menu and click "Voice Typing". Click the microphone button to begin. 

There are two key components to improving your use of speech-to-text apps:

  1. Good audio quality: Speech-to-text works best when the computer can hear and decipher the words being spoken. Speak slowly and clearly, reduce background noise as much as possible, and try different microphones to find one that works best for you. If the built-in microphone on your device isn't working, try an external microphone
  2. Practice! Speech-to-text is a completely different way of creating text and you will not be perfect at it the first time you try it. After some time and practice, your ability to add and edit text will improve. If it helps, do a quick search to find online tutorials to get some additional pointers.

Tools for Relieving Eye Strain

Most devices have built-in features to help reduce eye strain. Additionally, text-to-speech and speech-to-text tools can help reduce the need to look at a screen.

Dark mode (or dark themes) changes the background of your browser, app, or program from predominantly white, to a darker color, such as a dark gray. Many programs have built-in dark modes that you can toggle on and off in the settings. The idea is that the dark mode reduces the brightness of the light emitted from your device, while maintaining readability of the content. 

If you find yourself squinting to read the text on your device, try adjusting the text size to make reading easier. Tools like the Immersive Reader (see information above) allow you to change the size of the text for specific documents. You can also change the size of the text across your entire device, or in a specific browser.

There are a number of other ways to try reducing eye strain. Not all require an adjustment to your existing technology.

  • Reduce the amount of time spent looking at a screen. It may sound obvious, but there are ways to reduce screen time while still getting your work done!
    • Use a text-to-speech program instead of reading content online (see info on text-to-speech, above)
    • Try speech-to-text instead of looking at a screen while typing (see info on speech-to-text, above)
  • Use an e-ink reader instead of reading content on a screen. There are many types of e-ink readers available, such as the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and Kobo e-ink readers. When deciding on an e-ink reader, be sure to check whether you can upload content to the device, such as PDF documents, or whether you can only read content purchased through the device.
  • Try blue-light (reducing) glasses. There are many options available, including ones that can be worn over corrective glasses. 

Accessibility Support for Your Digital Devices

In addition to the specific suggestions listed above, there are a wide range of additional accessibility features available. The following sites provide additional information for specific programs and devices.