Why a reading aid is indispensable on websites
A reading aid on websites is a useful tool to make content accessible to a larger group of internet users. Have you ever seen a Read or Listen button on websites? Chances are it's ReadSpeaker's reading aid: ReadSpeaker webReader. ReadSpeaker is a global organization specializing in text-to-speech technology. The company develops lifelike, synthesized voices in dozens of languages. Scribit.Pro uses the voices of ReadSpeaker to add audio description to online videos in no less than nine different languages. Gerda Doevendans, account manager at the organization, talks about the importance of an online reading aid.
'ReadSpeaker was founded in 1999. With the emergence of the Internet, there was no tool available to help people who have reading difficulties gain access to online information,' says Gerda. 'There was an enormous need for digital accessibility. ReadSpeaker therefore developed a solution in the form of a read aloud button for websites with which the text on the web page can be read aloud by a digital or synthetic voice. Such a voice is based on recordings of a human voice and sounds surprisingly natural.'
ReadSpeaker now works with thousands of organizations in the Netherlands, including municipalities, water authority’s, the national government, large hospitals and other healthcare organizations. The ReadSpeaker read-aloud button can be found on many websites where a broad target group purchases services. This promotes accessibility for large groups,' says Gerda. With ReadSpeaker's reading tools, websites (HTML) and documents (such as PDF or Excel) can be read aloud.
Scribit.Pro also works with ReadSpeaker to make videos accessible. Scribit.Pro provides video content with audio description, subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, a transcript and possibly a sign translation. Scribit.Pro's audio description is generated by ReadSpeaker's text-to-speech technology. Audio description is a way of describing images in which a voice tells what is happening in a video. This makes it easier for people with a visual impairment to follow the video. Scribit.Pro also prepares a transcript for videos. A transcript contains all the visual and auditory information of the video. It is a fully written text in which the subtitles of the video are combined with the image description from the audio description into a kind of script. This text can also be read by the reading aid.
All Dutch (semi-) government agencies are required to technically design their website (and online videos) in such a way that it meets the level A and AA guidelines of WCAG 2.1. This legislation ensures that people with disabilities, including audiences that benefit from text-to-speech (such as people with a visual or cognitive impairment, or people with reading difficulties), can access the content to be self-reliant online. The read-aloud button of ReadSpeaker fully meets these requirements. In addition, the ReadSpeaker solutions comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This ensures that sensitive (personal) data is not included in text-to-speech.
Important for multiple groups
A reading function to make content on websites accessible is important for different target groups. 'The Netherlands has 2.5 million inhabitants who are low literate and who do not master the language well enough to be able to read blocks of text independently,' says Gerda. A read aloud button where a pleasant voice reads out that piece of text can be very helpful for them. 'Meanwhile, the text is being highlighted. The sentences and words that are read out are visible in two different colors. This triggers reading along, so that something new can be maintained better and sounds are recognized.'
Gerda continues: 'In addition, there are another 900,000 people in the Netherlands with dyslexia.' This group prefers audio, because it costs less energy. 'There are also groups that are often forgotten even though they do need support, such as the elderly with reduced vision and concentration. Or people who are seriously ill and are temporarily less able to read because of the stress they experience. It's nice to be able to listen to patient information.'
It should be clear that this subject concerns a large and broad group. But Gerda also sees that we live in a changing society: 'People more often use audio for convenience and listen to podcasts or news articles.' In the future, the role of mobile devices will only grow, so that text-to-speech is also used more and more and as many people as possible can be self-reliant. In this way, people can listen to news or blog articles, or listen to documents or e-books on the go more and more easily.
webReader is easy to integrate and has many features
The webReader offers all kinds of options. 'Such as pausing the reading, turning automatic highlighting on or off and choosing the colors yourself. But also fast-forward or rewind, or adjust the volume of the voice and the reading speed,' Gerda sums up. 'The text can also be partially read aloud, by simply selecting the text in question and pressing the read aloud button. The texts can be translated into 22 different languages. The text can be enlarged or reduced, put in a different font or displayed in other colors to make it easier to read. This can be nice for people who are color blind, for example.' However, all these functions are not standard on all websites with a reading function. During implementation, the website owner chooses which functionalities are available.
Images are also not skipped. “If there is alternative text below the image, the read function will read it aloud. For words or names that need to be pronounced differently, pronunciation rules can be included for each company in pronunciation dictionaries, so that everything is pronounced correctly.'
Reducing the digital gap
The reading function should help to reduce the digital gap. Gerda: 'Four million Dutch people cannot keep up well digitally. They have difficulty arranging their affairs digitally, such as applying for support or allowances, renewing their driver's license, or making an appointment with the hospital online. It is essential to provide this group with extra resources so that they can fully participate in society. Not only is a reading aid important here. It is also important to use simple language at B1 level and to ensure that websites are technically set up according to WCAG 2.1, so that people with all kinds of disabilities can participate. This makes a lot of people more self-reliant.