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Text-to-Speech and Dictation: Built-in support tools you didn’t even know were there

Jordyn Sims Pierce, MS, CCC-SLP, ATP | Mar 12, 2021 | Communication disorders, Learning disorders

Today’s world of technology is so full of useful tricks and tools that it’s hard to keep up. Text-to-speech, speech-to-text, dictation, optical character recognition – how to keep them all straight? And what even are they anyway?! This blog answers those questions and illuminates a few of my favorite accessibility tools for people with cognitive, communication, or learning disorders.

Did you know that Apple and Android have some amazing built-in accessibility features? Two of my favorites are text-to-speech and speech-to-text (otherwise known as dictation).  

Text-to-Speech

This feature enables your tablet, phone, or computer to read aloud any text on the screen.  This can be really helpful for someone with vision issues or who struggles with reading due to a communication disorder like aphasia, reading impairments due to a TBI, or a learning disorder like dyslexia. 

Here’s how to turn on text-to-speech on an Apple iPad or iPhone:

1. Open your “Settings” app

       

2. Go to the “Accessibility” sub-menu

3. Tap on Spoken Content

4. From here, swipe on Speak Selection – now, whenever you highlight a word or sentence by holding down on your screen, you’ll see a Speak option – this will prompt the device to read aloud whatever you’ve highlighted. 

5. You can also swipe on Speak Screen, which will allow the entire screen to be read aloud.

6. In the Pronunciations section, you can slow down the speaking rate, and even teach the device to pronounce your name correctly!

7. Within Typing Feedback you can have your device repeat back to you any letter (“characters”) or word (“speak words”) as you type.

8. This is also the sub-menu where you can turn on Hold to Speak Predictions, so that when your device predicts the word you’re typing above your keyboard, if you hold down on a prediction you can have it read aloud to you.

9. You can also turn on subtitles and captions on for any videos that have it available – you can get to this feature from the “Accessibility” sub-menu as well.

 

Speech-to-Text (Dictation)

This is a great feature for anyone who is struggling to type or spell. It allows you to speak into your device, and your device will then automatically transcribe what you’ve said into text! The technology isn’t perfect quite yet, but it’s still impressively close. Whether you have fine motor challenges that make typing difficult, written language impairments that impact your spelling abilities, or just hate to type, this tool is for you!

Here’s how to turn on speech-to-text on an Apple iPhone or iPad:

1. From your settings app icon, select the General submenu and tap on Keyboards.

2. Scroll down to tap Enable Dictation – if the selection button is green, you’re good to go!

3. Now anytime you use your keyboard, look for the microphone icon in the bottom right corner. To use it, tap the microphone icon once, and start speaking into your device; you’ll see your device begin to transcribe whatever you speak. When you’re done dictating, tap the keyboard icon at the bottom to finish.

Speech-to-text for an Android smart phone or tablet device:

1. Guess what? It’s already on! Tap the microphone icon second from the right on the toolbar across the top of your keyboard. All you have to do is begin speaking, and when you’re done just tap the green button.

BONUS CONTENT 

In addition to these built-in supports, there’s one more suite of apps I want to tell you about. These apps are such useful tools that I couldn’t write a blog about text-to-speech without highlighting them!

Voice Dream is an incredible set of apps that enable dictation through their Writer app, text-to-speech through their Reader app, and optical character recognition through their Scanner app.  

The Voice Dream Reader app doesn’t just convert text to speech, it also offers amazing highlighting tools as well as fantastic voices of which you can control the speed, pitch, etc.

The Voice Dream Scanner app performs optical character recognition, which is a fancy way of saying that the Voice Dream Scanner app is so smart, it can look at any picture, find any written text in that image, and then convert it into text that Voice Dream Reader can read aloud to you. That’s right, science fiction comes alive with these apps! Got a pesky DMV form you’re not feeling confident enough to read? Take a picture and have Voice Dream read it for you!

Jordyn is a practicing Speech-language Pathologist and Assistive Technology Specialist and is the Director of Pierce Speech, Language, and Learning Center.  She also is the Director of Clinical Operations for Constant Therapy Health, leading content development, advising on product features, and coordinating internal and external research projects.

Looking for tasks to improve your reading and writing skills? Check out Constant Therapy, our evidence-based speech, language and cognitive therapy app that can help you on your way to successfully reading and spelling with greater confidence.  

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