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Make Your Computer Speak Text Aloud

You can make your computer talk in a number of ways, which can be a valuable facility for people who have difficulties with reading, for someone who can't see very well or at all, and for those who need to give their eyes a rest. These guides explain how to use the built-in speech function in your operating system (Windows or Mac). There are also third-party screen-readers and text-to-speech software applications available.

This guide is different depending on your operating system (Windows or Mac).


Windows

Step 1: Use Narrator now

Open the "Ease of Access Center" window by pressing the Windows+U, or by clicking the "Start" button, followed by "Control Panel," then "Ease of Access," then "Ease of Access Center."

Under the "Quick" access to common tools header, shown in fig. 1, click "Start Narrator," or press Alt+N. This will start Narrator for current use.

fig. 1

Ease of Access Center panel

Step 2: Set Narrator to start every time

Follow these steps to make Narrator start automatically when you log in.

Open the "Ease of Access Center" window as in Step 1. Under the "Explore all settings" header, click on "Use the computer without a display," or press Tab until it is highlighted and then press Enter.

Under the "Have text read aloud" header, tick the box next to "Turn on Narrator," as shown in fig. 2, or press Alt+U to tick it.

fig. 2

Ease of Access Center: Use the computer without a display panel

Click the "OK" button, or press Tab until it is highlighted and then press Enter.

Step 3: Tell Narrator what to read

Once you have turned on Narrator, you can select which things Narrator will read aloud, as shown in fig. 3.

fig. 3

Main Narrator settings

If you want text to be read aloud as you type, tick the box next to "Echo User's Keystrokes" by clicking on it, or press Alt+K to tick it.

If you want to have system messages read aloud, tick the box next to "Announce System Messages" by clicking on it, or press Alt+M to tick it.

If you want to hear screen scrolls, tick the box next to "Announce Scroll Notifications" by clicking on it, or press Alt+N to tick it.

If you want the settings box minimised at start-up, tick the box next to "Start Narrator Minimized" by clicking on it, or press Alt+Z to tick it.

When you are finished, minimize the settings window by clicking on the "Minimize" button on the title bar, or press Alt+Spacebar and then press N.

Note: If this does not work, it could be because your computer settings cannot be changed due to local IT policies--contact your local IT support for further assistance.

Step 4: Keyboard shortcuts in Narrator

To read text from a screen, use the following shortcuts when Narrator is running:

  • Insert+F3--Read the current character.
  • Insert+F4--Read the current word.
  • Insert+F5--Read the current line.
  • Insert+F6--Read the current paragraph.
  • Insert+F7--Read the current page.
  • Insert+F8--Read the current document. 


Mac OS X

Here are step-by-step how to use the built-in speech functions in Mac OS X. Starting with OS 10.4 (Tiger), Mac OS X has included a fully integrated screenreader called VoiceOver. Earlier versions of Mac OS X have only the more limited screen-reading function called Speech (which is also available on later versions).

Step 1: Open the "Universal Access" window

Make sure you are in "Finder," If necessary, press Apple+Tab to cycle through the open applications until you return to "Finder."

Click on the "Apple" icon on the menu bar or press Ctrl+F2.

Click on "System Preferences," as shown in fig. 1, or press the down arrow key to highlight it and then press Enter.

fig. 1

System Preferences

In the "System Preferences" window (shown in fig. 2), click on the "Accessibility" icon, or press Tab repeatedly (you might need to press Ctrl+F7 first) to cycle through the icons until the "Universal Access" icon is highlighted, then press the Spacebar.

fig. 2

System Preferences: Accessibility

Step 2: Turn on VoiceOver

In the "Accessibility" window (shown in fig. 3), make sure the "VoiceOver" tab is selected.

fig. 3

System Preferences: VoiceOver

Under the "VoiceOver" header, click the "On" radio button, or press Tab until the "Off" radio button is highlighted and then press the left arrow key to select "On." You can also turn VoiceOver on or off at any time by pressing Apple+F5.

Step 3: Customise the settings for VoiceOver

To change the VoiceOver settings, click on the "Open VoiceOver Utility" button.

In the "VoiceOver Utility" window, shown in fig. 4, you can customise the settings.

fig. 4

voice-over-utility

To select a category, click on it, use the up and down arrow keys, or press Apple and the number it is in the list. For example, for "General" press Apple+1 and for "Braille" press Apple+9.

For a detailed guide to all of the VoiceOver settings options, see Apple's VoiceOver pages.

Click on the window's red close button or press Apple+W to finish.

Note: If this does not work it could be because your computer settings cannot be changed due to local IT policies--contact your local IT support for further help.

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Step 4: Braille support in VoiceOver

VoiceOver includes braille support. VoiceOver automatically recognizes the model in use and programs the keys --including "wiz wheels," scrollers, router keys, and buttons--to best suit each model's characteristics.

If you don't have a USB braille display, you can use the on-screen visual braille panel that is included with VoiceOver.

The braille panel behaves like a standard 40-cell display. It shows both the braille dots being sent to the dedicated braille display and an English translation, so sighted instructors, parents, or co-workers can read its contents with minimal disturbance to the non-sighted user.