19 September 2017
At DSF we are often asked for advice about what software should be installed on various computers and which apps should be downloaded on mobile devices.  Most frequently we are asked about various apps and programs that can be used to allow students to have information read out to them (Text to Speech) and to be able to use their voice to produce written text (Voice to Text).   Although there are many free and paid apps and software titles available, most devices that students are already using have both dictation and text reader functions built in.  Best of all, they are free to use!

How do these tools help?

For students who have literacy difficulties, reading for comprehension and producing extended written passages can be very challenging.  In the classroom, this often results in reduced content knowledge and understanding, reduced vocabulary development and poor ability to demonstrate their skills and knowledge at a level consistent with their overall understanding.  By allowing the use of assistive technology, we can reduce some of the difficulties that students may face when being asked to read and process large amounts of text and when asked to complete written tasks and assessments. 
When considering the portable nature of devices used at school and at home, students are able to utilise these tools across their day and at home.  This can assist with managing lengthy homework assignments, reading larger passages of text in novels or completing internet based research.  It also assists older students to work with a greater degree of independence.
Text Readers
Text to Voice or Text to Speech allows a student to highlight text and have their device read to them.  Students can focus on listening to the content and learning, rather than concentrating most of their cognitive efforts on decoding and reading accurately.  Most devices have the capacity to read out text without the need for installing additional software and students are able to not only adjust the volume, they are also able to adjust the speed and pitch of the computer-generated voice and choose an accent that they find the easiest to work with.  In some cases, you can even ask the device to highlight words as they are read aloud so that the student can follow along.
Voice Dictation
Students utilising voice to text or dictation software are able to express themselves quickly and easily without the negative impact of spelling difficulties and handwriting delays.  Students can produce written text more in line with their level of understanding.  Although dictation software does not automatically add in punctuation marks and capitals unless specified, the aim of utilising voice dictation is to allow the user to get their thoughts down on paper in the least restrictive manner.  Once the text has been written, students can then go back and edit their work, add in punctuation and utilise some of the tools mentioned in the last e-alert to improve the quality of their written work.
There are many devices that are used in schools.  For this e-alert we will be focussing on Macbooks, Windows based laptops, Apple devices (such as iPads  and iPhones)  and Android tablets.



Depending on whether you are using the latest version of OSX (Sierra) or an earlier version (El Capitan or Yosemite), setting up your computer to use dictation is slightly different.  For all versions of Mac OSX, you can choose to use regular dictation or enhanced dictation.  Both versions of dictation work very well, however enhanced dictation does not require a connection to WIFI and you are able to set a short cut key or phrase that will start and stop the dictation process.  This is particularly helpful if students are using computers at school and do not have wifi access.
For more information on setting up dictation and the text reader on OSX Sierra, please visit https://support.apple.com/kb/PH25744?viewlocale=en_AL&locale=en_AL and https://support.apple.com/kb/PH25639?locale=en_US
For more information on how to set up and use dictation on El Capitan or Yosemite, please visit https://support.apple.com/kb/PH21844?locale=en_US or https://support.apple.com/kb/PH21842?locale=en_US

Windows Laptops

Microsoft Windows began including voice dictation in 2006 with the release of Windows Vista. Any windows device produced over the last 10 years will have voice dictation included within the computer.  Similar to Apple computers, students are also able to adjust the speed, pitch, volume and accent of the text reader to assist with improving comprehension.
For additional information about setting up dictation on Windows laptops, please visit https://support.microsoft.com/en-au/help/14213/windows-how-to-use-speech-recognition and for more information on the narration function please visit https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/17173/windows-10-hear-text-read-aloud.
For a list of dictation commands used in Windows, please visit: https://support.microsoft.com/en-au/help/12427/windows-speech-recognition-commands

Apple Devices

One of the benefit of apple devices is the inbuilt voice dictation function that is ready to go out of the box.  There is no need to set it up, apart from making sure that you have set the language to Australian English or any other language that you wish to use.  You can change the language by accessing:
  1. Settings
  2. Siri
  3. Language. 
Whilst you are in the settings:
  1. Select General
  2. Accessibility
  3. Speech. 
From here you can turn on Speak Selection, choose whether you would like words to be highlighted as they are read aloud, change the speed and voice and if necessary and even edit the pronunciation of some words.
Similar to laptop computers, you can use Apple’s inbuilt voice dictation function to enter text in any app including text messaging, emails, internet browsers and documents.  When entering text, a small microphone symbol will appear next to the spacebar on the pop up keyboard.  Press this and begin talking.  Once finished, press the done button.
To have text read aloud, simply highlight the text by holding your finger on the word, select all of the text to be read out and from the pop up menu choose Speak.  This will read aloud anything that was highlighted.
For more information on setting up voice to text or text to voice on the ipad, please visit:  https://support.apple.com/en-au/HT202362

Android Devices

Similar to iPads, voice dictation comes standard on Android devices.  To activate dictation, simply select where you would like to type and once the on-screen keyboard pops up, press the microphone next to the space bar.  In most cases, the dictation function should work with relative ease and you will not need to adjust any settings.  To improve accuracy, you may need to change the language of input to Australian.

  keyboard.png      android.jpg
Android devices also have the capacity to read text aloud and this needs to be activated by opening the Settings menu, choose General Management and then select language and input.  From here you will be able to select the text to voice options and adjust as needed.  If your student regularly uses their Android device to read pdf files and e-books, consider using the text reading app Google Play books.  This app allows the reader to select read aloud and it will read the whole document with the correct tone and inflections based on the punctuation of the book.
For more information on setting up voice dictation or text reading on android devices, please visit:   https://support.google.com/accessibility/android/answer/6006983?hl=en

Hints and Tips

  • In order to use dictation software, it is important that students use an alternative microphone. Although most devices have an inbuilt microphone, in a noisy classroom this is likely to pick up a lot of back ground noise and reduce the accuracy of the program.  Many students have had success with utilising headphones with a built-in microphone.  These can be specifically designed headsets or ones used with mobile phones (see below for an example).  The use of headphones will also allow the student to hear any text that is read aloud, including the text that they have just dictated.  
  • Some devices, such as the iPad, allow you to use dictation straight away and will learn the user’s speech patterns over time to improve accuracy.  Other devices require you to train the dictation app before use.  
  • If you are using dictation software and you find that the accuracy is not as expected, encourage the student to slow down their rate of speech, make sure that you have selected Australian English as the language and try to ensure as little background noise as possible.
  • For students who do not have significant difficulties with applying punctuation and capitalisation rules,  they can dictate punctuation and capital letters.  For example: dictating “first she ran comma then she played full stop” will produce the following sentence: First she ran, then she played.  

Wait, I still have questions!

If you would like to know more about how to use computers and portable devices more effectively, DSF offers one-on-one consultations where you can chat with a Psychologist or Speech Pathologist and learn more about apps and devices.  In addition, DSF will be running a workshop early in Term 4 2017 covering the use of assistive technology and software programs/apps.  Information about up and coming Professional Learning and Parent Workshops can be found by visiting https://dsf.net.au/events/
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