Claro ScanPen for iOS and Android

Claro ScanPen logo Broadly speaking, there are two types of apps:

(1) those that have lots of features to accomplish lots of different things and

(2) simple apps that do one or two things.

Claro ScanPen fits in the second category. Do you have dyslexia and occasionally end up with a piece of paper in front of you that you really wish could be read aloud? This may be the app for you.

Open Claro ScanPen and you’ll see what looks like the usual camera interface for your phone or tablet.

Screenshot of camera view of Claro ScanPen

Take a photo of your document. Swipe the line you want read aloud to you and the app will read it out loud. The app draws on your system voices or allows you to purchase additional voices for a small fee.

Screenshot of Claro ScanPen reading aloud text that has been highlighted after swiping

That’s it! It’s easy to use from the first time you open the app.

Now, let’s say you want to get fancy. You can change the settings to have the entire page or just a word read out loud. Also, from the system settings, you can set the app to allow cropping or to allow multiple images to be saved and swapped between.

Claro ScanPen settings screenshot

One caveat is that, as expected, poor image quality and/or small print will adversely affect the optical character recognition and result in gobbledygook speech output. As such, this app is best used with high quality documents, decent-sized print, and a steady hand.

For example, below is a photo of an article in the process of being cropped. Claro ScanPen nicely recognized that the “Take Action” column on the left was separate and it didn’t try to read it at the same time as the rest of the article. However, it did fumble many of the words while reading aloud, likely because of the fairly small print.

Screenshot of Claro ScanPen cropping a page

Claro ScanPen is free for Android and $6.99 for iOS. If you use Android and ever need a document read to you, I recommend you check it out. If you use iPhone or iPad, you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the money for this quick and simple app or if you’d rather stick with a free, but clunkier, option – OfficeLens in combination with a full-feature app like Voice Dream or the built-in iOS text-to-speech.

@Voice Aloud Reader

Megaphone logo for @Voice Aloud Reader A student recently introduced me to a text-to-speech app that he’s been using on his Android phone. @Voice Aloud Reader is free and he pointed out that it gets better reviews that Voice Dream’s Android app, so I knew I needed to try it out myself. I found that it’s a useful and simple text-to-speech app that anyone with an Android device who wants to listen to text should give a try.

Like many text-to-speech readers, users can copy and paste text into it. I was most interested, though, in how easily a user can take a PDF off of cloud storage and listen in @Voice. It worked quite well.

Below is a PDF open in the OneDrive app.

Screenshot of PDF open in OneDrive app

Tap on the three dot button on the far left to reveal the menu that allows one to “Open in another app.”

Screenshot of first page of PDF with sharing dropdown menu visible

Choose @Voice Aloud Reader.

Screenshot of choices of which app to open PDF with

It will then open directly in @Voice and begin reading. While it will not highlight each word while reading, it will highlight each sentence.

Screenshot of PDF opened as text with a sentence highlighted that's being read aloud.

As seen above, the image of of the PDF is lost, as the file is converted to just text. As long as the PDF is properly formatted, this shouldn’t present much of a problem.

Settings allow one to easily change the speed and the voice. Voices do not come directly with @Voice, as it works with the built-in Google Text-to-Speech Voices. If you’re not happy with the default voice, @Voice’s settings will allow you to easily find new Google voices or will refer you to other vendors to purchase additional high quality voices.

There are other ways to get readings into @Voice. It will sync directly with Dropbox. A desktop/laptop Chrome extension allows a user to add an article to an @Voice list to listen to later. And saved Pocket articles can open easily too.

@Voice Aloud Reader is a great option for those looking for a free text-to-speech Android app. If the ads on the screen bother you, they can removed for $10. While it will allow for the creation of mp3 files of articles, it doesn’t have as much functionality as Voice Dream, our go-to text-to-speech app. The word is that Voice Dream for Android is a bit buggier than the iOS Voice Dream app and does not have all of the same features, although we’re hopeful that a recent update improves things. Of course, there is not a free version of Voice Dream, so those of us watching our money may wish to try the free @Voice Aloud Reader first.

 

Google Text-to-Speech Voices

There are a number of ways to use text-to-speech on Android devices and they typically rely on the built-in Google Text-to-Speech voices. But how can you change the voices?

First, go to your device settings and tap on “Language and Input.” From there, choose “Text-to-Speech Output.”

image

Next, tap on the settings wheel next to “Google Text-to-speech.”

image(1)

And then choose “Install voice data.”

image(2)

A number of voices are available. Choose your preferred language and dialect. image(3)

Then select the voice and tap “OK.”

image(4) Choosing a new voice will take up memory on your phone, but you may find it worth it.

Screenshot Reader

As more and more professors assign online homework, we will occasionally come across sites that are not accessible. Rather than offer homework in a standard text format, a publisher may present words as part of an image, in a video, in Flash, or in a format that allows students to drag and drop homework answers. Unfortunately, standard text-to-speech software used by students with dyslexia often cannot read words presented in these inaccessible formats.

Read&Write, however, has a tool that can recognize any text on the screen and read it aloud to the user. Screenshot Reader allows users to draw a box around inaccessible text on the screen and have that text read aloud. And if you are SUNY Cortland student, faculty, or staff, you can get Read&Write for free.

See the below videos on how to use Screenshot Reader on Mac and Windows PCs. As always, give us a shout if you need further assistance.

Using Read&Write to Recognize Text in a PDF

At SUNY Cortland, our faculty are responsible for providing accessible electronic readings for all students who need them for equal access. I’ve worked closely with the faculty on this for several years now and I’m pleased with the number of faculty who post quality accessible files on Blackboard.

Nevertheless, a stray inaccessible file will occasionally be posted. Maybe a student hasn’t identified yet or maybe a professor just forgot to check to make sure that one PDF is searchable. In cases like this, we ask students to call the matter to the attention of the professor so they can fix the error and let me know if the situation repeats.

But what if you want to just read that one document and be done with it? If you have Read&Write installed on your computer, you have the tools in front of you to make that PDF accessible.

Open Read&Write, go to the drop down menu next to the Scanner button and choose “Scan from file(s)…” (The below screenshots are from Windows, but Read&Write for Mac will work similarly.)

Image of toolbar with Scan feature drop-down menu

Then hit the big “Scan” button. It will prompt you to open a file from your computer. Find the file you want to read and choose it. If it is a file with multiple pages, Read&Write will ask you to choose which pages to recognize. When ready, hit “Scan.”

Multipage document detected notification

Read&Write will show you the progress of recognizing each page of the document. It takes a second or two to recognize the text on each page.

OCR in Progress notification

The document will then open in PDF Aloud, allowing you to listen while the words are highlighted.

Screenshot of a document being read in PDF Aloud

This will work if you want to use Read&Write to read a paper document as well. Just take a picture of it with your phone, transfer it to your computer, and follow the above steps. (If you use OfficeLens, though, it will recognize the text on its own.) If you have a scanner, you can scan the paper document as this video demonstrates.

Office Lens

Office Lens logoMobile scanning apps offer incredible benefits for many types of users.

  • Trying to reduce paper clutter? Take a photo of it and recycle the original paper or return the library book.
  • Trying to be better organized? File your scans in a cloud-based notebook like OneNote so you can easily find them when needed.
  • Using text-to-speech because of dyslexia? Use your phone to snap a shot of that classroom handout and then load it into Voice Dream or another text-to-speech app.

While there are lots of mobile scanning apps out there, Office Lens is free, simple, and powerful. Here’s how I used it with my iPad to snap and save a scan of our library’s Interlibrary Loan bookmark.

  1. Open Office Lens and hold your device to allow the app to frame the shot for you.

Screenshot of Office Lens framing the bookmark

I’m choosing to capture this as a document, as this will (1) cause Office Lens to ignore everything not in the frame and (2) will automatically run optical character recognition (OCR) on the shot to recognize the text. Choosing to capture a whiteboard would be appropriate for taking a shot of the whiteboard after a class. In either case, don’t worry if you are taking your shot at an angle–Office Lens will crop and present it as if you were shooting straight on.

2) Next, what do you want to do with your scan? You can easily export it to a number of Windows apps. Go ahead–put that whiteboard scan into a PowerPoint. Use your scan of a page from a physical book to paste a quote into a Word document. Save a scan of that handout to the course notebook you are keeping in OneNote. Or just email it to a friend.

Screenshot of Office Lens Export options

3) If you want to use text-to-speech to listen to your newly OCRed document, create a PDF and use iOS sharing to open it in Voice Dream.

Screenshot of iOS share Screenshot of Voice Dream reading the bookmark

Or export to OneDrive and open it in Read & Write‘s PDF Aloud on your laptop.

Screenshot of PDF Aloud reading the bookmarkOffice Lens is available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone/Mobile.

Read and Write

text-help

We are excited to announce that SUNY Cortland has purchased a site license for Read & Write, a suite of reading, writing, and study tools for PC and Mac. The suite can be installed on any college computer and students may install it on their own computers.

Read & Write opens as a toolbar that hovers over everything else open on your computer or can be locked to the top or side of the screen, as seen below.

Screenshot of Read & Write toolbar locked to the top of a screen.

The toolbar allows the user to access the 30 or so features of the suite. It can be customized to allow users to focus on the handful of features they find most helpful. These features includes the following apps:

  • A text-to-speech app that highlights text while reading it aloud;
  • A scan and read app that allows the user to create searchable PDFs and other documents that can be read aloud;
  • PDF Aloud, an app that opens PDFs and reads them aloud;
  • Screenshot Reader, an app that allows the user to take a screenshot of part or all of the screen and then have it read aloud. This will be handy for students who want to have online homework read aloud and have been stymied by inaccessible Flash-based text.
  • A DAISY reader that allows students to read Bookshare and other DAISY files;
  • Speechmaker, an app that creates mp3 files out of text.
  • Study tools that can be useful for those doing reading and research with electronic documents, including several colors of highlighters and an app that inserts voice notes;
  • Writing tools, including a word predictor and an app that helps the writer sort through homophones and other confusable words;
  • An app that allows the user to graphically¬† organize ideas;
  • And more…

The toolbar includes drop-down menus to customize each app and view video tutorials of each feature, making them relatively easy to learn. That said, we will highlight some of the most useful features of Read & Write in future posts.

You may learn how to obtain a copy of Read and Write for your college-owned computer or your own computer at no charge by contacting Jeremy Zhe-Heimerman. In the future, we hope to publish a link that will allow any member of the SUNY Cortland community to download the software directly.

 

Vital Source Text-to-Speech

VitalSource logoI spent time this week working with a student who wanted to use the text-to-speech feature on her VitalSource e-textbook.

Those of us who work with disabled students in higher education have learned to be skeptical of e-textbooks. The combination of piracy-wary publishers and indifferent platform creators has resulted in most e-books being inaccessible to students with dyslexia and others who require text-to-speech for equal access. When I last tried VitalSource’s platform (back when it was CourseSmart), there was a way for many books to be read aloud through text-to-speech, but it was cumbersome to say the least. A look at VitalSource’s new platform shows some limited improvement.

Use of text-to-speech in a VitalSource book requires downloading and installing their Bookshelf desktop app. I worked with my student’s PC laptop, but a Mac app is available as well. Once installed, the student can open the book, easily navigate to the desired page, and click on the play button to start reading.

VitalSource desktop app
There are plenty of downsides to VitalSource books, though.

  • Words are not highlighted while being read aloud. This makes it tougher for the reader to follow along.
  • Text-to-speech is not available in the web app.
  • There is no text-to-speech function in the iOS app and, as seen below, Speak Selected Text does not work either.

No "speak" button in iPad appOne day, students will be able to buy completely accessible ebooks. For now, the VitalSource desktop app may be acceptable to some users, but it, along with the rest of the ebook industry, falls short of offering equal access.

Microsoft OneNote

th When working with students in Disability Services and when teaching students of all abilities, I commonly come across students who would benefit from better organization. It’s not uncommon for students to make it through high school without having to keep good track of notes, homework, reading materials, and more. It can be a bit of a shock, then, to enter college and have to keep everything organized for five different classes taught by professors who don’t see it as their job to help you keep it together. What’s a student to do?

I started using OneNote for all of my note taking and organizing about a year ago and I haven’t looked back. It’s one great place to store everything you might need and then access it on all of your devices. For me, this has meant organizing everything from meeting notes to receipts to web articles to recipes. OneNote will also be particularly helpful for students who need help with executive functioning or just want to get organized. Here are some of the most useful features of OneNote along with some of its limitations.

Take Notes

Yes, this is the most obvious and basic feature of OneNote. Type notes into the app and save them in different notebooks and tabs within each notebook. As you’ll see, though, you can do much more than just type notes onto each page.

Web Clipper

Did you come across a great article online for a research paper? Use the OneNote Clipper to quickly and easily save the article in your OneNote.

Save Electronic Documents

Do you need a better system to keep your electronic documents organized? You can save PDFs, Word files, spreadsheets, and more in OneNote. That means you can have a tab devoted to a class you’re taking and you can save everything there–syllabus, class notes, reading assignments, PowerPoint slides, etc.

Photos of Documents

Have a paper document you’d like to save in OneNote so you can always find it wherever you are? Maybe you’d like to convert that paper document to a searchable PDF that you can also have read aloud to you in a text-to-speech app like Voice Dream. Office Lens can do both. An in-depth review of Office Lens will be coming in the future.

If you don’t want to mess around with another app like Office Lens, you can already take pictures of documents and save them in OneNote. OneNote will automatically run OCR on the document, which makes it searchable.

Audio and Video Recording

OneNote will record audio or video through your device’s microphone or camera and save it on a page in a notebook. Microsoft claims that you can type notes at the same time and sync those notes with the audio/video–a really handy tool for studying. On my iPad, though, I can’t do anything else while audio is recording. It seems the syncing feature is only available on Windows devices.

Math

This is a tool I haven’t used, but OneNote allows you to enter and solve some pretty complicated Math problems.

Handwriting

If you are using a touch-screen, you can write in OneNote with a finger or stylus. This could come in handy when taking notes in a class and needing to draw a diagram. You can even convert your handwriting to text if you want it cleaned up and searchable. I haven’t used this tool much, as I don’t have a stylus and find finger-writing clumsy. It also appears that the Lasso Select tool is not available on my iPad version, meaning I had to move to my PC to convert to text. But here’s a quick demonstration. I wrote this on my iPad:

Handwriting in OneNoteAnd then OneNote converted it to text perfectly:

converted handwriting

Syncs Across Multiple Devices

You can install OneNote on your phone, tablet, and computer–or access it on the web–and your notes will sync in real time. Free apps are available for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Amazon, and Chromebook. This can be handy for taking notes in class on a tablet and then accessing them later while studying on a laptop.

Shareable

Do you have a big group project coming up? You can share a notebook with everyone in your group. Everyone’s notes will be stored there so all can access at any time.

Searchable

While I keep my notebooks organized by tabs, as seen in the images above, all of your notebooks are searchable. So instead of navigating to a particular notebook and then a tab to find find a page, you can simply type a keyword into the search bar. I use this most often by searching for an ingredient that I want to use in a meal. OneNote will spit back at me all of the recipes I saved that have that ingredient in it.

This can be especially useful for studying. If you want to find all of your notes that mention a particular term or concept, OneNote will find them for you. Maybe it will even show you pages from a different class that will help you make connections you would otherwise have missed.

Free?

OneNote is free to install on your devices. The data in your notebooks is stored in Microsoft’s cloud storage product, OneDrive. SUNY Cortland students have 50 GB of storage through OneDrive, a pretty good sized amount to get you through your college career. If you have a personal Microsoft account, you currently may access 15 GB of storage free. Microsoft recently announced, though, that they are cutting that back to 5 GB, after which you may pay $2 a month for up to 50 GB or $10 a month for 1 TB and Office 365.

That means that OneNote is essentially free for SUNY Cortland students and others who are light users. My personal storage is getting to the point that I may have to think about a subscription down the road–just what Microsoft wants!

Summary

Those are just a few of the features in OneNote that may be most useful. The Google will find you all kinds of more complicated things you can do with it as you grow comfortable with the basic features.

 

NaturalReader for PC and iOS

NaturalReader app logo

NaturalReader has been one of our most popular free apps for students with dyslexia for years. Students with PCs have found it especially useful, as Windows does not have a user-friendly text-to-speech tool built into it like that found in Mac OSX. But in recent years, NaturalReader apps have become available for Mac, iOS, and Android as well.

This post will focus on the PC and iOS apps, as those are the ones that we’ve worked with the most. I’ve found that the Mac app has not been updated as regularly as the PC app and doesn’t work quite as well. And since OSX has its own text-to-speech capabilities built into it, there’s not as much of a need for it on that platform. We don’t have access to an Android device to test that app, but student reports indicate that it is similar to the iOS app in design, strengths, and weaknesses.

PC

NaturalReader for PC has two interfaces. One, the Floating Bar, hovers over whatever window is open on the screen. The other is a traditional app that opens up documents to be read aloud.

The traditional interface can open RTF, Text, PDF, Word, or ePub files. The files are displayed as text only, so all images are stripped out and much of the formatting is lost. Users may then click the play button to begin reading wherever they wish.

reg interface

The free version picks up whatever voices are already on your computer. The user may easily adjust the speed without leaving the main interface. One may buy additional voices separately, or spring for one of the paid versions with other additional features.

As seen in the image above, the speech output syncs with highlighting on the screen.

When a user clicks on the “Floating Bar” button seen in the bottom right of the above image, the app shrinks down to a bar that hovers over whatever window is open on the screen.

Floating Bar

The user then must select text to be read aloud by dragging the cursor over it. When one clicks on the play button, NaturalReader will read the selected text aloud. There is no synchronized highlighting here unless the user clicks on the little arrows on the bottom right of the bar. That opens up a box that displays the selected text and highlights the words as they are being read aloud, as seen above. Clicking on the settings wheel allows the user to change the voice and the speed.

Students use NaturalReader differently based on personal preference. Some stick with the Floating Bar for all of their readings. It works for everything, whether a searchable PDF with lots of images, an HTML article, or a Word document. Others like the highlighting in the traditional interface and will open text-heavy documents there. When a document has lots of images, though, these students will typically rely on the floating bar so as not to lose all of the formatting that’s lost in the traditional interface.

iOS

NaturalReader for iOS currently is free for 100 minutes, at which point it becomes all but inoperable. If one wants to keep using it, NaturalReader Pro is $9.99 as of publication. Just make sure you don’t buy the old NaturalReader with the teal logo which, for some reason, is still available on the app store even though it is quite buggy.

It’s relatively easy to open files in NaturalReader, as one may link a OneDrive or Dropbox account or open a webpage. If a file is open elsewhere on your device, a user may also tap the button to open it in another app, one of which will be NaturalReader.

ios open

Files then display and are read aloud as the text changes color.

ios

The below images demonstrate how a web page article can be found in NaturalReader and converted to text for reading aloud.

ios web article

After tapping on the “Listen Now” button, the article is converted to text as such:

ios read web article

There are three major shortcomings to this app that make me unable to recommend it over our favorite mobile text-to-speech app, Voice Dream Reader, which also costs $9.99 and is now available in Android in addition to iOS.

First, it’s not easy to navigate through a file to a particular spot. Voice Dream users can double tap on any word and text-to-speech immediately begins at that tap. With NaturalReader, one either taps the play button and listens to the file from the beginning or one taps the arrow at the bottom right of the screen to bring up a menu to scroll to a place in the document. It’s not always easy to find the exact spot, though. The image below demonstrates how I’ve moved the switch horizontally to navigate to page 5 out of 9.

20151013_193943000_iOS

Second, Voice Dream syncs with more cloud services. Besides Dropbox and OneDrive, users may sync their Google Drive, iCloud, Bookshare, Evernote, Box, Pocket, and Instapaper accounts. This makes it easier to open files in Voice Dream than in NaturalReader.

Finally, Voice Dream is more rich with features for customized reading and note taking. I’ll be writing another review of Voice Dream Reader in the near future that spends more time on these features and the improvements made on the app since my first review.

The Takeaway

NaturalReader for PC is an excellent choice for those looking for a free text-to-speech app for windows. NaturalReader for iOS is worth trying out and keeping an eye on, but it’s not at the level of Voice Dream Reader, which is available at the same price.

Please let us know your own experiences with NaturalReader and other text-to-speech apps.

Apps for academic success