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5/15/2013
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Voice Dream Reader: Affordable TTS For Disabled Users

During a life-changing year in the Arctic, former enterprise software CTO created a life-changing mobile app for disabled users.

"It helps that nearly everything on an iPad is available through voice and touch," Chen said. To make the app more usable for the blind, he said, "I literally had to blindfold myself and learn to navigate through it."

The app is also designed to read from common text formats such as PDFs and pull content from widely used iOS apps such as Dropbox. Visually disabled readers can also take advantage of the Bookshare program supported by the U.S. Department of Education that makes copyright-free ebooks available to people with disabilities.

Voice Dream Reader has become well-known throughout the community of assistive technology specialists. Janowski said in addition to recommending the app to parents, in some cases she can get the school system to provide an iPad with the app installed as part of a student's federally mandated Individualized Education Program.

Chen said he sees school systems ordering licenses in blocks of 20 in order to get the 50% discount Apple provides for volume purchases. "I'm always thinking about an Android version, but I'll probably wait a bit," he said. "The iPad pretty much dominates in education."

Voice Dream Reader has also attracted some users who are not disabled -- such as busy college students who have it read to them while they walk between classes -- and from users who may never have been formally diagnosed with a disability but still find reading difficult, such as those with attention deficit disorders or dyslexia, Chen said.

His original target audience of busy executives may come later. "I use this occasionally when I'm in the car. The sound quality is tolerable; I can tolerate it. From a company standpoint, I'm reluctant to openly market this as a product for the general population. A year or two from now, that may be different -- I'm finding some fantastic text-to-speech voices."

Follow David F. Carr at @davidfcarr or Google+, along with @IWKEducation.

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