In simple terms a screen reader consists of two parts; the speech synthesiser which produces audible speech; and the screen reader software itself which sends the appropriate information from the visual PC screen to the synthesiser. screen reader lets a blind user select and read those sections of the screen he/she wants to hear. For example, sighted users reading a menu when they come to the item they want, or stop reading a web page when they reach the link they are after; users of screen readers use them to silence the synthesiser's output when they've heard it. The ability to filter out irrelevant information is often as important as the ability to hear relevant information. screen reader software is adaptable to a user's needs; the speed of the voice, pitch, the way it announces punctuation other aspects of the sound can all be easily changed. For example, the software can be set to announce each key as it is pressed, useful for less confident typists, or to announce each word as the space bar is pressed, or when the 'Enter' is key hit. Alternatively many confident touch typists will turn off the speech altogether when typing for prolonged periods so that the speech does not speak the words or letters as they type. The text written on the can be reviewed using the up and down cursor to read a line at a time, or 'Ctrl' and cursor left or right to read a word at a time, and other functions to read paragraph at a time, or read the entire document straight through. The screen reader sotware also contains functions to read specific aspects of the screen, such as the title bar, the suggested correction in a spell checker, or the contents of a specific cell in a spreadsheet . For example, with JAWS (a particular type of screen reader), insert with the letter 'T' will read the title of the current screen area, or webpage, insert with the letter 'F' will read out font details such as size and font type. reader user's use 'keyboard shortcuts' built into the opperating system (which most PC users are unaware of) to perform functions normally done with the mouse. So, pressing the 'Alt' key with the letter 'F' brings up the file menu, whilst Alt key with E brings up the edit menu etc. Similarly, pressing the tab key will move through a webpage a link at a time, or cycle through availible buttons or tabs in other situations, whilst shift with tab cycles back the sol republic other way. Rather than clicking the mouse button to open links, check/uncheck select boxes, or activate buttons, pressing the space bar, or enter will do this for the screen reader user. readers are not only useful for people who are visually impaired but are increasingly being used in situations where people are unable to look at a computer such as in the dark, or even for in-car computer-systems. of Screen ReadersVideo displays were first used with computers in the early 1960s but did not become common until the early 1970s. terminals used a printer rather than a video screen for output; text was a one-dimensional stream of "scrolling" text which could be fed into a synthesiser connected between the computer and terminal. The only problem was that the user had no way to re-read text that had already been spoken. real development in screen readers however began in 1982 with the release of IBM computers; these provided a standard interface for connecting external combined with a standard operating system and the possibility of installing much more memory with which to run more powerful software, including readers. By the late 1980s, several screen reader programs were commercially available, including Enable Reader, Soft and the Enhanced PC Talking Program. Synthesisers speech synthesiser is the piece of equipment that produces sound from text in the form of a synthetic voice. This is either an external synthesiser- box that plugs into the rear of the computer, a 'software synthesiser' which operates through the PCs soundcard, or a card that plugs into the PCMCIA on a laptop PC. the most famous user of synthetic speech in the world is Dr Stephen Hawkins, Lucindian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University. He the DECtalk speech format synthesiser which gives him the distinctive voice. He tried a newer one a few years back but he didn't like it, as the synthetic voice had over the years obviously became his own. External Synthesisers the UK, since the early 1990s DECtalk and the Apollo II have been the most widely used hardware synthesisers. Both, as well as other less common hardware synthesisers are still fairly popular today. the increased popularity of software synthesisers has to some extent reduced the use of hardware synthesisers, they are still commonly used today. In part this is because even with upgrades in the screen reading software the old synthesisers still remain supported, and that as people still have their old synthesisers they continue to use them. However, many continue using the hardware synthesisers as they prefer the quality of the speech, or wish to 'free up' their soundcard, for other purposes such as playing back or recording music or other sounds on the PC 1. Computer Access 2 used to make the Apollo II also produced a PCMCIA synthesiser version of the larger desk top equivalent, called Gemini, which could plugged into the PCMCIA socket on a laptop. These, like the Apollo II had a headphone socket, but because of their very much smaller size did not have built in speaker, though one could be attached externally to the card. Synthesisers the late 1990s onwards, software synthesisers became the most popular option for synthetic speech used with Screen Readers. The main reason for was the expense; rather than having to pay a lot of money for a bulky external device, a standard Windows soundcard was able to produce equal or better speech. is a software synthesiser that can be used with several screen readers including JAWS, whilst 'Orpheus' is used by Dolphin computer Access with their screen reader, Hal. scanner software, a self voicing scanning and optical character recognition software package designed specifically for the blind or dyslexic runs using the Eloquence engine. Readers are several screen reading programmes on the market currently and whilst most individuals have a preference for one of them over the others, this mainly due to personal choice and largely because once one becomes familiar with one particular package it is then a very steep learning curve to change to another company's' product. two main screen readers on the American market are Job Access With Speech (JAWS) produced by Henter-Joyce, a division of Freedom Scientific, and produced by GW Micro Inc. These two screen readers are also common in the UK, with a third UK based company Dolphin Computer Access screen Hal probably being equally as popular as JAWS, with Window-Eyes in third place. screen reader is a memory resident program that uses a text to speech synthesiser to relay information about what is appearing on the screen. Currently, Windows screen readers use system hooks to gain access to keyboard input and menu and dialog box messages. It monitors some API functions to catch changes to the cursor, focus, and other elements on the screen. character, font, font size, class, etc.). The user can then a keystroke to access this information when he or she wants to find out about an element on the screen (EG, the current title in the title bar). Computer Access's Hal Screen Reader and other products screen reader that runs with the Orpheous software synthesiser (and can be used with the Eloquence engine too) is a UK manufactured one called Hal. One of the big advantages Hal is that users with some useful sight can use Hal in combination with Lunar Screen Magnifier, or purchase Supernova, a combined Screen Reader, with Magnifier and increased support for Braille displays. With Supernova users can have Speech, magnification, or Braille output (if they have a Braille display), or any combination of these three. In Addition, Dolphin Computer Access produce Luner+, which they describe as a 'Screen Magnifier with 'entry level speech'', this, whilst mainly the same as the Luner screen magnifier also includes a simplified screen reader to enable elements of the screen to be read aloud to those with some useful vision when, for example, prolonged use of the PC has made the users eyes tired. Screen Reader JAWS is another popular screen reader made by the American company Henter-Joyce. JAWS screen reader software is shipped as standard with the software synthesiser 'Eloquence', which is installed by default as the default synthesiser. However, during installation or at any time after installing JAWS, users can add additional or replacement sytnesiser drivers to use with JAWS, including hardware synthesisers such as Apollo II, Artic and DECtalk, and software synthesisers such as Flex Talk, Real Speak or Microsoft SAPI. Micro's Screen Reader Window-Eyes is another screen reader, which is compatible with a wide range of speech synthesisers. Many user's of Window-Eyes claim it to be a more stable piece of software than, particularly JAWS, and it reputedly suffers from less crashing which is often a problem with JAWS and other screen readers. Both Hal and Window-Eyes have suffered in the past from critasism over their poor performance with the internet, but recent reviews would seem to suggest that now all three; JAWS, Hal and Window-Eyes, offer comperable access to the internet. Such reviews have also tended to support the view that Window-Eyes is a more stable piece of screen reader software than JAWS in particular. this article has focussed on software such as JAWS, Hal and Window-Eyes, these specialist software packages are extremely expensive and cheaper exist on the market. However, these cheaper alternatives, often termed 'Text To Speech' systems, although they may be sufficient for some do not necessarily enable full functionality of the PC to be accessed. For example, Lookout is an inexpensive screen reader, which claimes to provide access to many programs on the PC including internet explorer. The quality of the speech is as high as other screen readers discussed above, as it will use simular software synthesisers through the PCs soundcard. Unlike JAWS, Hal and Window-Eyes, Lookout has an interesting feature which is that sol republic tracks hd it plays musical tones whilst one is moving the cursor or mouse pointer. These tones give spatial information on where one is on the screen; raising pitch indicating the cursor/mouse pointer is moving up the screen, and descending pitch indicating one is moving down the screen. Whereas JAWS Hal and Window-Eyes can cost the best part of a thousand pounds (or more), Lookout is retailed for a little over a hundred pounds in the UK, with the version able to work on Windows 98 retailing for £80. synthesisers on phones the past few years mobile phones have become more and more complex, many now having internal memory that the user can access. Because of this, and because blind/visually impaired mobile phone owners want to be able to use text messaging and their phone books etc, two pieces of software now exist that can produce synthetic speech through the mobile phone's speaker. These screen readers mobile phones are limited to which models and makes of phone they work on, with most Nokia series 60 and some series 80 phones supported by the software. first phone which could be used with speech was the Nokia series 80 mobile/PDA the Nokia 9210 and the 9210I. The software that allowed these phones to used by the blind is called TALKS, and TALKS has now extended the number of phones it works with to include most of the Nokia series 60 phones on the opperating system. TALKS, like JAWS uses the scansoft Eloquence speech engine, and for individuals who have used JAWS, the software has many similar that makes learning to use it very easy indeed. is another piece of software which works on certain mobile phones as a screenreader. With TALKS (or Mobilespeak) installed on a mobile phone, a blind user can read through, and write and send text messages, access the calendar and address book, and use all the features of the phone such as media player and web browser. Many of the mobile phones can also run GPS software, and TALKS in particular supports certain GPS packages on the mobile phone. recent development in screen readers, is the release by Dolphin Computer Access of a screen reader capable of working on most Windows bassed PDAs. As for the speech software on mobile phones (which often have many common features with PDAs), this can open up high street PDA devices to the blind in a way previously not available. However, with the software costing over £300 in the UK, it is an expense often above the price of the PDA itself which must be incurred in order to enable the device to work. Displays people use a refreshable Braille display rather than listening to the information. A Braille display is not like a computer screen. It is usually a long piece of equipment, able to display in Braille a single line of text at a time. Usually the Braille display is placed at the front (nearside to the user) of the keyboard. The screen reader sends the information on the screen to the Braille display. Then, a person places his or her fingers the display and reads the information in Braille as it appears. Braille displays are helpful to people who are deafblind and to people who work at jobs require them to talk to customers on the phone. two main problems with Braille displays is firstly that the user has to move their hand or hands off the keyboard in order to read the display. However, the main problem is their price, which puts them beyond the means of even relatively wealthy individuals. Entry on the National Library for the Blind1 Attempting to run, simultaneously a screen reader, such as JAWS, with recording software, such as multitrack recording software, with both using the soundcard, can create problems with buffering and conflicts/sharing.
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