There is a wide variety of freeware and shareware available on the Internet that can be helpful for individuals with disabilities. Sorting through the choices (which are many) can be overwhelming. In this article I will highlight three freeware and shareware software programs for Windows machines that can be helpful for individuals who can benefit from auditory feedback on the computer.
First, let’s define what freeware and shareware means. Freeware is simply software that is free. Shareware is software that you can obtain for free for a trial period. Once the trial period is over, the user will need to pay for the software, and in many cases, the fee is minimal.
“Read to Me” is a shareware plug-in that will read web pages out loud in Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 or newer. This is helpful for individuals who have reading challenges. You can obtain Read to Me from http://www.stevefoxover.com/. Once you have Read To Me installed, you will see a small, green set of buttons on the Internet Explorer toolbar. You can then go into your Web page and double click where you want it to start reading aloud. Read To Me will then begin reading the text aloud and either highlighting or underlining the words that are being spoken. You can use the Read to Me toolbar to start, stop, or pause the speaking. This toolbar also allows you to go into the main menu and adjust the settings, such as voice, speech rate, and volume. You can use Read To Me for thirty days, and if you want to continue using it, you can purchase the registration code for $14.95.
“D Speech” is a text-to-speech freeware program that will speak aloud text that you paste or type into it. D Speech is helpful for individuals who either have difficulty reading text, or who cannot physically access a book. This program will highlight the text as it reads aloud. You can adjust the voice, volume, speed, and pitch of the text being spoken. You can paste in scanned textbooks, on-line texts, or even text from an e-mail. You can also convert the text into either wav or mp3 format for playback on your computer or portable mp3 player. You can obtain D Speech from http://dimio.altervista.org/eng/ .
“Speaking Notepad 5” (shareware) is a talking word processor that will speak aloud words and sentences that you type in, as well as any text that you paste in from other sources. You can convert any text within Speaking Notepad 5 into wav, mp3 or wma formats for playback on your computer or portable mp3 player. Individuals who have difficulty with spelling, phonics and reading could benefit from Speaking Notepad 5. You can download and use Speaking Notepad 5 for free for 21 days from http://www.qwertystudios.com/ . After the trial period you can purchase Speaking Notepad 5 for $29.95.
While the above mentioned items are free or inexpensive, please keep in mind that freeware and shareware will not meet the needs of every individual who needs assistive technology to be successful. There may be instances where an individual could benefit from assistive technology that contains more features and is consequently more expensive. An assistive technology assessment can help to determine what features an individual needs and what products will meet those needs.
Children’s Care Computer Coordinator/Educator