Text-to-speech is one of the most basic forms of assistive technology that has been around for decades- having first been developed for those with visual-impairment. It has great value as a very basic provision for students who are not reading at the expected level for their age. These students will struggle to read content for their subjects, may be very slow in reading, or may not understand what they are reading. Text-to-speech allows them to focus on the content- not focus on the decoding, and this in turn enables the students to do what they need to do mre independently.
In the USA, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1990 which banned employment discrimination against the disabled and eliminated unnecessary physical barriers to commercial and government buildings. Since 1990 some changes have been made to the Act. As a result of the Act there have been a number of lawsuits against companies whose websites are found to be insufficiently accessible to the disabled- namely the websites lack assistive technologies for the blind or hearing-impaired. Some would argue that this is taking it to the extreme- but, if one can sue a company on the other side of the world for not having accessible content for customers online, should we not, here in Australia, demand that all content in the classroom is accessible for our students? It is not hard to provide text to speech, as the videos below show.
As a teacher with a background in intervention for students with literacy difficulties, I always focus on intervention first– and we never give up on intervention. But, there comes a time, around Year 3-4, when we move from learning to read to reading to learn where students need to be able to access the content so that they remain engaged in the learning process, and the barriers to learning are removed. Students using text-to-speech will be better able to keep up with the class, understand content, think critically and demonstrate their knowledge in different ways. Using TTS in iBooks on the iPad is a free way to turn any book into an audiobook and is a great way for students to access reading material that interests them in silent reading time. This will help foster a love for reading and engagement in text. Text- to-speech is easy to provide and is vital for the bottom 30-50% of the class.
Any student that needs it should use it.
The best text-to-speech services will provide:
Male/ female voice
Highlights each word as it is read
Text-to-speech is built-in to Microsoft Office. This video shows how to activate it:
Text-to-speech is built-in to the Mac and this video shows how it can be activated:
Text-to-speech on the iPad needs to be turned on in Settings. Students may take time learning how to select the text to be read. This video demonstrates how to turn it on and two different ways of using it:
Text-to-Speech can be employed in Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge through extensions. Various options are available, but my preference is Read & Write for Google/ Edge. The text-to-speech component of these suites of tools is excellent quality with different options of accents, male and female voices and each word can be highlighted as it is read aloud. The TTS remains free forever, even after the 30 day trial if one doesn’t pay for the full toolbar.