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Text to Speech Webinar Part 2: Synthetic Speech and Reading Tools

Some coloured bubbles in the background, one containing a smartphone with text on it, beginning with the heading 'about us'. Above that is a speech bubble with the words 'about us' in quotation marks. Main text: Webinar series: exploring text to speech. Part 2 synthetic speech and reading options. Tue 2nd May 1pm.

By Shauna Humphries:


1st Speaker: Steve Bennett (Managing Director at Computer Access Ltd)

  • Steve began his career as Sales Director in 2000
  • Steve was promoted to Managing Director in 2020
  • Steve is passionate about the provision of equitable and flexible access to digital and print information for people with visual impairments.
  • Over the last 23 years Steve has shown his dedication to shaping his company’s mission, which is to encourage people with all forms of visual impairment and technical skills to read, browse, work, learn and communicate in the way that best suits them.
  • This has helped them to be a vital integrated part of their communities, educational establishments, or workplaces.


 Dolphin EasyReader

  • This is a free TTS app which makes reading more accessible for people with visual impairments.
  • The app is available to download on IOS/Android, on GooglePlay/IOS/Amazon app Store, or Windows.
  • When you download the app you will need to create a Dolphin account or you can sign in with Google, Apple or BookShare Ireland accounts.
  • This account will be the common link between all your devices.
  • When you open the app, you will see a list of available libraries appear in a side menu at the left of the screen.
  • At present the app has 46 different libraries available.
  • Once you select a library you enter the credentials (username and password).
  • It is important to note that library credentials are given to you by the library in question to ensure you are a library member. They are separate from your Dolphin account credentials.
  • You then have the option to search books by category by touching Categories in the main menu.
  • You can browse the list and touch the category of your choice to open it. The books available in that department will then be shown.
  • The app works well with screen readers/voice over for navigation.
  • You can also search books by title, authors’ name, or ISBN. To do this tap the search bar at the top of the screen and enter the details.
  • There are over 1000, 000 books available on BookShare Ireland/RNIB BookShare which are available in a variety of file formats including EPUB.
  • When you select a book, a window will appear offering you a full description of the book including essential details (title, author, ISBN). To download the book, click Download.
  • Once downloaded, the Download button will turn into an Open button. Click this button and the text for the downloaded book appears.
  • To change the font type, font size, color themes, margins, letter spacing etc click Text Settings at the top-right of the screen (there are three icons located at the top-right of the screen, Text Settings is the 1st one).
  • The same book can be rendered differently for every print impaired person by adjusting text settings, thereby allowing everyone to have their own reading experience.
  • You can adjust the zoom settings by touching the screen with two fingers and dragging outwards to zoom in and inwards to zoom out.
  • To enable audio, press the Play/Pause button located in the bottom-center of the screen.
  • Click Audio Settings (the middle icon located on the top-right of the screen) to change the voice, speed of the audio, pronunciation etc…
  • Click the Search icon (middle icon location on the top-left of the screen) to search the text, for example, if you are reading a reference book.
  • To bookmark pages/chapters touch the bookmark icon (3rd icon located on the top-left of the screen) and either enter/touch on text and click Save at the top-left of the window.
  • The app allows easy conversion of PDF files to EPUB format.
  • EPUB file formats are normally preferred since they offer a virtual reading experience (you can continuously scroll down to continue reading).
  • PDFs offer a horizontal reading experience (you need to use the navigation arrows at the top of the screen to move to the next/previous page).
  • To convert, simply locate your PDF by clicking the icon at the very top-left of the screen and selecting My Books from the side menu. Select your PDF from the list. Double tap with three fingers to convert to EPUB format.
  • To navigate to the place in the EPUB where you stopped reading simply double tap with three fingers once more (this is particularly useful if you are reading texts containing graphs/diagrams).
  • To revert to PDF format simply double tap with three fingers once more.
  • To convert if you are a Voice Over user simply touch the three dots at the top-right of the screen and select Switch to Text View.
  • For those that wish to synchronize their customized reading experiences (including font style, size, and color themes) across several devices, a Premium account is offered at approximately 10 euro per year for students/30 euros per year for adults.
  • Google Classroom and Microsoft Education are also available with Premium if you wish to store your own PDF/DOCX files and read them in EPUB format.
  • Google Classroom/Microsoft Education are particularly useful if you have your own texts from education establishments.
  • If you want to read an excerpt of text in your own customized reading style, simply touch some text and select Clipboard Text from the side menu.
  • To obtain a full description of Dolphin EasyReader and it’s various apps please visit and look in the EasyReader section. Here you can also visit the Help center and watch video tutorials to troubleshoot issues.

2nd Speaker: ChildVision’s Book Production and Reading Services Team

Katherine Howe (Reading Services Manager), Aisling Murphy (Reading Services IT Support), and Niamh Byrne (Reading Services Digital Media Officer) share a profound interest in accessible digital education and assisting students in their learning through the use of assistive technologies.


Reading Services Overview

  • The production unit is responsible for the production of reading materials in braille, large print, digital and 3-D formats.
  • The library provides reading materials in braille, twin-vision, large print, tactile, digital, and audio formats.
  • AT support is also provided.

The Production Unit

  • This is a national service that transcribes educational material to students in both primary and secondary education, and in both mainstream and special schools across Ireland.
  • Students can register through the Visiting Teacher Service (NCSE) which is available to all students who are registered as visually impaired/blind in the Republic of Ireland.
  • ChildVision offer reading services in various formats including braille, large print, digital, text-only and 3-D.
  • ChildVision began their reading service in 2000 when 35 titles were produced for 6 students. Last year ChildVision produced over 8000 titles for 950 students.

The 3-D Printing Project

  • This is an expanding area of AT which has allowed ChildVision to design, create, and produce tactile hand-held items to assist the teacher and the student in learning through the sense of touch.
  • This project has potential for growth with Lifelong Learning, Early Years, and Therapies.
  • Examples of the items produced include a tactile Math Shapes Kit with added braille containing both 2-D and 3-D items, a fraction wall with added braille, and a braille cell.

The library

  • This is a national service with 1250 members.
  • The library shelves titles in a number of formats including braille, large print, Twin-Vision, LP, audio, and sensory packs.
  • ChildVision’s libraries include a children’s and resource library.
  • ChildVision works with a number of collaborative projects to promote literacy which include the following:
    • Sensory Story Times
    • Tactile Book Project – Childvision works with Transition Year students, volunteers and staff in order to produce new tactile books for their library.
    • World Book Day – ChildVision provides a large number of WBD titles in braille, large print, and digital formats.
    • Annual Braille Reading Day – Students from around the country are invited to read their favorite titles in braille.

How to Create a Book in Digital Format

  • The process begins by obtaining the physical book.
  • The entire book is then scanned to create a PDF file.
  • The PDF is then processed into HTML format.
  • The HTML file is then processed into either Text or EPUB format.

How Books are Delivered

  • ChildVision delivers all digital/text files through the Online Bookshelf Service in a variety of formats including EPUB, Daisy, Text files, and BRF.
  • These formats are then available to download on the student’s/teacher’s preferred device.
  • To download books using the online bookshelf service simply visit Each student is given their own account to access the books on request of the Visiting Teacher.
  • Hard copy braille/large print titles are delivered through the Freepost service from An Post.

Accessing Digital Books on AT Devices: The Mercury 13 and the Braille Sense

  • The Mercury 13 is a Windows Surface Pro which incorporates AT apps including Dolphin EasyReader.
  • Students can use Dolphin EasyReader on the Mercury 13 to read EPUB/Daisy titles.
  • The Mercury 13 allows for easy navigation of the interface and a fully customisable reading experience for each student.
  • Users can customize font style, font size, color themes and audio options.
  • Braille Sense users can download text/EPUB files onto a laptop/desktop and transfer them to the Braille Sense via USB, SD card or other similar cables to the PC.
  • Users can then access their materials through the File Manager and read them through braille. They can also be stored on the device.
  • Users can also navigate directly to the Online Bookshelf website (see previous section) on the Braille Sense to download books directly on to their device.


3rd Speaker: Richard Orm (Chief Executive of the Daisy Consortium)

  • Richard has worked in many disability organisations including RNIB, for more than 20 years.
  • Richard now works for the Daisy Consortium, who are an international organisation dedicated to the development of solutions for accessible publishing and reading.


The Work of the Daisy Consortium

  • The Daisy Consortium is a non-profit global authority on publishing and reading for people with blindness, low vision, and other people with print disabilities.
  • Daisy’s international team of experts develop standards/best practices which are then embraced by leading technology companies, publishers, and library services.
  • Using technologies developed by Daisy, members have produced journals, books, newspapers, and other documents that can be read by people with disabilities in the ways that work for them.
  • For example, someone may need to read through large print, audio or braille content on several continents and in several languages.
  • Daisy works with technologies and standards that make information accessible to everyone irrespective of their disability.
  • The Daisy libraries are producing materials like those offered by ChildVision.
  • Daisy has now made the transition from creating its own reading software to developing standards that make its reading materials fully accessible on technologies/apps developed by other companies such as Dolphin.
  • The advantage of this new approach is that Daisy books/libraries can be accessed across multiple devices.
  • Daisy advocates for easier access to mainstream apps such as Read Aloud or Libby, which are becoming more commonly used by those without a print disability.
  • Daisy wishes to emphasize the fact that Text to Speech is fast becoming a mainstream technology rather than just a specialist app.
  • The Read Aloud app is already readily available in Kindle, Apple Books and Google Books, and is becoming more prominent in web browsers such as Microsoft Edge, Word Processing apps such as Microsoft Word, and News apps such as The Guardian.
  • Read Aloud can be accessed on MS Word using the keyboard shortcut Alt+Ctrl+Space. This offers a healthy balance between reading visually and actively listening.

The Testing and Evaluation of TTS: Fundamentals and Advanced Features

  • Daisy performs evaluations on the various features of reading apps.
  • Issues considered include the ability of these apps to work with screen readers, make visual adjustments, and process mathematics and extended descriptions.
  • Daisy has developed tests to evaluate the TTS features of reading apps, particularly those apps that read EPUB formats.
  • However, the user requirements tested for are standard across many devices/formats.
  • Daisy tests reading apps such as Read Aloud for the following fundamentals:
    • The ability to start/stop/pause/resume the TTS.
    • The ability to start the TTS in a place determined by the user.
    • The ability to read excerpts/paragraphs of text from a book as determined by the user.
    • The ability to have more user control over audio settings, change the voice, and change the speed of the audio.
    • The ability to correctly handle phrasing.
    • The ability to correctly identify text as headings, bulleted lists etc…
    • The ability to incorporate visual highlighting of text and change color themes where necessary.
  • Daisy tests apps such as Read Aloud for the following advanced features:
    • The ability of the voice to automatically switch between languages if reading a multilingual document or a document in another language.
    • The ability to have greater user control over the reading of Alt Text/have Alt Text read aloud in books containing illustrations.
    • The ability to describe mathematical expressions more accurately.
    • The ability to update the pronunciation of specific words such as proper names.
  • The results of these tests are fed back to app and technology developers and they then have control of improving the situation for everyone.

The Future of TTS: Where do we go from here?

  • Daisy predicts that the specialist TTS apps are the ones that will continue to lead the way in the development of TTS as they contain those advanced features (see previous section) which are imperative to the needs of those with print disabilities.
  • Daisy predicts many great developments in TTS in the future which include the following:
    • Greater incorporation of AI into TTS
    • The production of more natural sounding voices thanks to the assistance of AI and large data sets.
    • The production of a greater volume of TTS-narrated audio books, which may not completely replace real voice narrators, but will potentially be more cost-effective and lead to quicker, more efficient product delivery.