Thursday, January 29, 2015

Voice Dream Writer: Word Processing Plus a Whole Lot More

Voice Dream has become a well-known name in the assistive technology community because of Voice Dream Reader: a text-to-speech reader available for iOS devices. Now the developer has released a new app called Voice Dream Writer which aims to support writers with special needs. Voice Dream Writer has features that can benefit people with a wide range of needs including people with dyslexia and people who are blind or visually impaired. People without disabilities can also benefit from the app. For example, english language learners could benefit from spoken feedback and other features offered by Voice Dream Writer. 

The text-to-speech feedback is designed to help writers find mistakes in their writing. The style of text-to-speech reading can even be changed to help writers focus either on spelling and grammar, or on content and organization. The app also offers easy access to an outline view that can help with organizing a document. Other features allow users to look up words phonetically or look up words by its meaning. 

The text-to-speech feedback can be accessed as users type so they can verify that a word or sentence was entered as they intended. This helps writers identify words or phrases that looked correct, but upon hearing them read aloud sound incorrect. The app will also read back text that has been dictated to help users insure that their voice was transcribed correctly.

When it is time to review a document, Voice Dream Writer includes some very thoughtful features for editing. The app includes two customizable proof reading modes that use text-to-speech to help with the editing process. The first is designed to help writers edit the content of their document. In this mode words are read back using text-to-speech sound natural and smooth: as they would when reading a book with Voice Dream Reader. This allows writers to focus on the content and organization of their document. 

The second mode reads text back in a somewhat choppy manner which allows users to focus their document at the micro level. This mode is ideal for editing spelling a grammar because the lack of flow with the text-to-speech voice makes it easier to focus on each word rather than the overall content of the text.

Each proofreading mode is customizable with options to announce misspelled words, spell homophones, and speak punctuation and capitalization.

Similar to Voice Dream Reader, Voice Dream Writer includes the ability to change the visual style of the app. Font size, character and line spacing, margins, text color, and background color can all be changed. Additionally, users can change the text to speech voice and speaking rate to match their preferences. Text-to-speech voices purchased in Voice Dream Reader are available in the Writer without an additional purchase. The pronunciation dictionary also syncs between the Writer and the Reader if both are installed on the same device.

Text files can be imported from iCloud Drive or supported third party services such as Google Drive or Dropbox. Unfortunately, users can only import text files and not Microsoft Word files. Documents can be exported as HTML, RTF, Microsoft Word, or Apple Pages format.

Click read more below to continue to read the review of Voice Dream Writer. Some of the most innovative and helpful features will be described below.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Keeble Keyboard for iPad: Flexible Text Input for Users with Special Needs

Keeble is a virtual keyboard for iPad made by AssistiveWare. The app is only available in English for iPads running iOS 8 and above. As a result of new features available in iOS 8 the Keeble keyboard can be used in almost every app on the iPad including mail, Safari, and messages. Keeble gives users a number of customization options to make text input easier for users with special needs such as motor challenges, dyslexia, and other disabilities.

One option available is the ability to change the appearance of the keyboard. Users can change the color of the keyboard which could be helpful for users with visual impairments. The higher contrast colors can be more easily seen compared to the white and gray colors of the default iOS keyboard. The layout can be change from a QWERTY layout to an ABC layout if desired.

Keeble also includes word predication to speed up typing; especially for Switch Control users. The word predication features is slightly more advanced than iOS 8's built-in word prediction. Keeble allows users to change the number of predictions offered above the three offered by the default iOS 8 keyboard.

Keeble also allows users to change how the keys respond to taps and presses. This is especially useful for users with motor challenges that may cause accidental taps or presses on unwanted keys. Hold duration can be set to change how long a key must be held before that character is entered. With this option enabled, quick accidental taps will not be registered. Additionally, the backspace repeat can be customized to avoid accidentally deleting text. A "select on release" option is also available which will enter text on release of a key instead when the key is pressed.

The last customization option allows users to turn on spoken feedback of the text they type. Feedback can be given letter by letter, word by word, and/or sentence by sentence. This feature allows people with dyslexia or poor spellers to confirm that what they words they think entered are the words that they hear being spoken back to them using text-to-speech. While this feature is useful it can only be enabled and disabled via the apps settings. If there was an option to turn on and off auditory feedback directly, it would be much easier to access the feature when needed and disable the feature when not needed. Users can totally turn off the iPad's speakers but this will also mute all other audio output. There is space on the bottom right of the number and symbol entry keyboard where quick access to this setting could be added.

The Keeble app costs $15 on the App Store. To download the app click here. Click read more below to view screenshots of the Keeble keyboard.