Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Beef up your Text to Speech Tools with Confident Reader

Looking for a low-cost, high-powered text reader and accommodation tool?
I have been using the free demo version of Natural Reader for use in the classroom for some time to introduce teachers to what it can do. I love the floating miniboard toolbar that can work with most all my documents and web pages. Some of the teachers have purchased Natural Reader for use with their students and to convert text files to Mp3.
While visiting the site recently, I discovered they have a new product, Confident Reader, that is a spin-off of Natural Reader, but for accommodating Dyslexia, reading and writing. And you know what I really love? They didn't hike up the price because it was being adapted for educational use. The personal version is $69 and the professional version is $99.
The main difference between Natural Reader and Confident Reader is that CR includes a typing echo by letter, word or phrase so you can hear what you type, a 100 ebook library of classics, a word prediction engine and a spell checker. The Natural Reader personal version is $49.50, so you are paying about $20 more for CR.

You can view the Confident Reader demo here.
A 7 day/ 10 time trial is available here.

Confident Reader has 2 natural voices, reads MS Word, pdf, MS Outlook and the web. It converts text to Mp3 file, has the ebook library, typing echo, word prediction and spell check. The professional version includes some nifty sound editing (that you could do with the open source tool Audacity), but it is nice to have it all in one place. The pro version converts multiple text files, like chapters, as a batch and even allows you to use a graphic sound editor to clean up the tracks and add a background music track. With the insertion of xml tags feature , you can insert male and female voices in the reading , insert pauses and conversational tags to create a dramatic and professional sounding audio book.

If you are looking at how to spend stimulus bill funding for your school in the area of technology/assistive technology, this might be a great way to stretch your dollars to get the biggest bang. I am going to get one to demo with my schools on my laptop. I am using a scanner and the free Top OCR (an image to text converter) to get my hard-to-access text ready for those students who qualify under copyright law, and then looking at this Confident Reader as a dynamo of a player at a low cost. It will also be a great companion to the Access Apps collection of tools we are introducing in our districts. There have been some shortcomings for me to free readers either in voice quality or the lack of highlighted text as the reader reads. Confident Reader looks like it gives me both.
With services like Bookshare and tools like this and all the free open source apps, we have many exciting methods to help students accommodate their learning. I see so much potential. Crazy as it sounds - I almost wish summer weren't coming so we could continue to implement and get these things going!

All the best to you!

Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!


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