Magazine article American Libraries

Products for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Magazine article American Libraries

Products for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Article excerpt

The 1990s have seen the development of many new graphics-based computer products. However, those among us who are blind or visually impaired must rely on the conversion of printed or computer-generated text to voice or braille to make print information available. This month, Technically Speaking will tour the library marketplace for a sampling of products that transform text to voice or braille, magnify it for easier reading, or make using a computer less reliant on visual cues.

I remember the excitement 19 years ago when Ray Kurtzweil invented the "Kurtzweil reader" that transformed text to synthesized speech. Recently he estimated that today's state-of-the-art scanner/voice synthesizers have 80 times the performance yet cost 1/30th as much as the original Kurtzweil reader.

Xerox Imaging Systems

Xerox Imaging Systems, which continues to market the successor to the original Kurtzweil reader, offers a family of products for the blind and visually impaired. As the firm's product literature explains, "reading machines process text in three steps. First, printed material is electronically scanned [using an optical scanner], capturing each page as an image. Second, characters are `recognized,' and finally, they are converted to speech and read aloud using a synthesizer" or printed out in braille.

All of Xerox's products are based on a core technology--document recognition. Their most basic product is the Reading AdvantEdge, an MS-DOS--based optical character recognition software package that can be used with any 386 (or more advanced) PC and various Xerox and Hewlett-Packard scanners. The software recognizes a large variety of typefaces in Danish, English, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Spanish, and Swedish--either right side up or upside down (really, I'm not making this up).

Used with a DECtalk synthesized speech card, also available from Xerox, the scanned and recognized text can be read back. By itself, the Reading AdvantEdge sells for $800. With the DECtalk option, the price goes up to $1,600. However, if you purchase a Xerox scanner with both the Reading AdvantEdge and DECtalk, the total cost can be as low as $1,300 or as high as $3,000, depending on the scanner. It pays to bundle up to avoid chilling prices!

The Reading Edge, another Xerox product for the blind and visually impaired, consists of a scanner with a keypad control unit, OCR software, and DECtalk synthetic speech. Users can control the speech output of the scanned material through the keypad, regulating the speed of the voice, the inflection of the speech, and the quality of the speaker's voice. Connected to the serial port of a PC, the unit can function as a speech synthesizer for any third-part screen reader. The cost is about $5,500.

For more information call 800-248-6550, fax to 508-977-2425, or visit


The TeleSensory Corporation has been producing products for the blind and visually impaired for 25 years--everything from low-vision readers that magnify text to sophisticated computer hardware and software that meet a wide variety of needs. The company offers so many products for integrating braille and speech into computer use that even a brief mention of all of them would fill this entire column, but here's a sample:

Over the years text magnifiers have become increasingly feature-rich and less expensive. TeleSensory's newest product in this area is Aladdin, a personal reader--they call it a closed-circuit TV--that can magnify anything put on its viewing table up to 25X--even curved objects such as pill bottles or books that don't lie flat. It costs $1,800.

Another product, V Voice, is designed to be used with OPACs. V Voice provides synthetic speech for all text information that appears on a library's OPAC screen. CARL, DRA, Dynix, GEAC, Inlex, VTLS and Winnebago are some of the systems that V Voice can be used with. …

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