There will be 3 types of software/ products discussed here.
1. Text to speech engines, platforms, and programs that actually do the reading of text out loud to you.
2. The voice downloads, packages, programs, and add-ons that improve base text-to-speech programs that typically come with the most basic "Voice" (often Microsoft Sam or David).
3. Optical character recognition (OCR) programs that turn pictures of text into readable documents. Many, but not all, pdf's and other files are technically just "pictures" of words. Sometimes they also have Digital rights management (DRM) or copyright blocks on the text so it is not readable and cannot have its text ripped easily.
Along my academic journey, I was gratefully advised by a senior colleague to take advantage of accommodations made available to me for my particular needs. This includes text-to-speech resources. Besides software and resources provided by institutions I have worked with, I have also found and utilized numerous free and inexpensive resources on my own. I share them here. This post will focus on text-to-speech software which reads text out loud to a listener, and not speech-to-text software which can transcribe spoken word.
For many familiar with text-to-speech software, especially if provided through resources related to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) eligible programs, this list will be familiar and even basic as they will have access to more expensive, sophisticated software, often through their doctor or insurance.
But text-to-speech and other resources are helpful for everyone. However, there can be an enormous investment in time up front to figure out how all the resources interact with each other. For free and inexpensive programs, figuring out the right programs to use and how to use them can be confusing, especially since many software companies are sold (like IVONA) or change their features (Google Drive used to do OCR automatically).
So I will put everything I know here in hopes that it will make this cost of entry easier for you and help you get using this software right away!
The cheapest and easiest TTS programs to use you likely already have. These are on your phone, tablet, and in other smart devices. Simply open a readable pdf (see OCR) in a pdf reader program, such as Adobe Acrobat, and use the TTS functions. However, these are more complicated on some devices than others. Macs and PC's all have built in readers as do cell phones- but some are better than and more frustrating than others. So instead of going through them all, I will list below my favorite free programs and paid programs- though they are device dependent.
1. On any Kindle Fire tablet you can load a readable pdf into the Kindle books app and have it read to you. You can do this by plugging the device in to a computer and placing the file into the appropriate folder, then opening it as a book, or emailing the pdf to a predetermined email address for your kindle. See www.amazon.com/gp/sendtokindle/email &
The advantages of using a Kindle Fire for TTS:
2. The Microsoft Edge browser will allow you to "play" any pdf opened in the browser. Simply right click on the pdf with your mouse and open in Edge.
3. Podcastle Google Chrome extension (free) will convert any webpage into a "podcast" you can listen to. This includes articles open on their journal/ doi page.
4. Moon+ Reader Pro is an Android and IPhone app (I paid $5 for lifetime ownership on a sale) that will read out loud any readable pdf on your phone opened by the app. For Android phones, this is by far the easiest way to use TTS for papers as the built in accessibility features are more appropriate for those that need everything on the phone (menus, icons) read to them. This program will use whatever voice you have selected in your accessibility settings.
1. For Android cell phones:
1. Onenote, the notebook software by Microsoft can recognize text in pictures and allow you to copy and paste it.
2. The most widely used OCR program is through Adobe Acrobat Pro DC. This usually has a monthly cost of ~$10 with an education discount. However, many schools and libraries have these packages on their computers for free.
3. The note taking Chrome browser plug-in/ extension PowerNotes can grab text that otherwise cannot be copied and can open pdf's with unreadable text- and use OCR to make it readable. Many educational institutions may for this subscription and its very easy to log in with your institutional email address.
1. Many newer library book copy machines have OCR built into their settings. Just make sure you enable it before emailing yourself the document.
2. If your institution uses Canvas, it has a feature where it takes a readable pdf and converts it to a wave or mp3 sound file. You can listen to your papers that way.
3. Some digital libraries have TTS readers built right into system. For example, Taylor & Francis online articles have ReadSpeaker text to speech integrated into articles right on their website.
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