Daisy reader software for the PC

My experience with using the Daisy reader software EasyReader and Amis

My overall experience with Amis is probably slightly tainted due to the fact that I had to install, uninstall and re-install the software at least five times.  I had downloaded it a couple of weeks ago but, apart from being able to view the instruction guide, the software kept on crashing as soon as I tried to open a Daisy book.

I contacted the support team at Dolphin through their wikispaces and I immediately received help with the issue.  Although, they were not able to resolve the problem completely, at least, I was informed how the proper installation should look like which was of great help.  I left the installation for a week and the problem just seemed to have disappeared and now I have a working version of Amis on my computer.

Lets compare the two Daisy readers:

EasyReader

  • very easy to install
  • clear, user-friendly interface
  • extremely easy navigation
  • differentiates between different levels of navigation and these are colour coded
  • zoom up to 999% available
  • speed of reading can be changed very easil
  • bookmarking is very easy and notes can be added
  • double click required to move through the book
  • automatic scrolling as the book is read out
  • reading out does not start automatically
  • highlights text while reading out, but not word by word highlighting.

Amis

  • more complex installation
  • simple but not so user-friendly interface
  • easy navigation
  • zoom not as powerful as that of the EasyReader
  • speed of reading can be changed very easily
  • single click to move through books and reading starts automatically then
  • no easy differentiation between different navigation levels
  • highlights text while reading out, but not word by word highlighting.

I have downloaded a couple different Daisy books to get a feel for these books.  Although I was very impressed with some of the reading books for younger pupils which had natural voices narrating the book with the result of bringing the book to life.  I thought this was a very uplifting experience.

However I also downloaded a Geography book to explore a more complex layout.  At times, the diagrams were not straight after these were mentioned in the text, which I thought must be very confusing for visually impaired pupils.   The description of some of the pictures was very misleading as it was not very detailed and described something different to what I interpreted from the picture.  Another difficulty was that the picture was referred back later on but there was no hyperlink available to ease the navigation back to the picture.  This seems a real shame to me; it may not be possible to do this with a Daisybook, however, I would find this surprising if it wasn’t.

I also looked at a Daisy reader on the iPad, called Read2Go but as it cost £13.99 I did not download it.  From the description given, it looked as if  bimodal reading was possible as the words were highlighted while these were read.  This may however not depend on the reading software but how the Daisy book was created.

Here is a screencast comparing the two Daisy Readers.

Using Dragon Naturally Speaking Professional

First impressions

In one way I think Dragon Naturally Speaking is a fantastic software.  I am convinced that the accuracy of the word recognition will improve if I follow the recommendations consistently.  On the other hand, I find the whole process of speech recognition at times very frustrating, especially since I am able to touch type very quickly.  However that is not quite the point. If I had not felt so frustrated at times, how would I be able to understand the frustration a pupil might, or better, will feel at times with the software. Having worked with the software for a couple of days, I am absolutely convinced that we can get it to work.   Considering the difficulty one of the student experiences with putting his thoughts down on paper due to his reading and severe spelling difficulty, this surely is such a fantastic piece of software.  It really opens up all kind of possibilities to be independent.

Here are some useful web sites:

Information on speech recognition

Speech recognition for students with disabilities

http://www.ngtvoice.com/products/software/dragon/

It is also worthwhile to subscribe to Ask the dictactor on Youtube:

My advice is persevere and enjoy the experience if you can, it really teaches you a lot.

Cue Card remix

After having seen the remix of cue cards on http://atechnotebook.wordpress.com/ in Unit 3, I was really impressed by its simplicity and effectiveness.  I just could not resist to use a similar layout for my remix as I know this will not only benefit dyslexic pupils but also VI pupils due to its simplicity.

Here is one I initially created:

cue card2

 

Although I still like the look of the cue card, the reality of creating more and more of these became a nightmare due to the fact that the squares representing the keys are images, resulting in the document to become more and more complex.  Eventually, I had to abandon this idea as the images were moving out of line and place.

I then adopted the look Dominik had come up with initially but I was still keen to incorporate the ideas of colour.  This is what I ended up with and although maybe not as visually pleasing as the above, I am still happy with the end result.

cuecards4

 

Please find the files for either layout attached and feel free to use these.

Cue Card Visual images

Cue Cards alternatives

Unit 5 Productivity

Improved organisation

For this unit, I have started take on board Dominik’s advice on folder organisation.  Prior to this unit, I had too many folder at the top level which meant that I had quite a complex structure on the top level.  After watching the Load2Learn videos I decided to adopt more of a tree-like structure.  Fewer top layer folders but increasingly more folders when moving down the hierarchy.  This does not only work visually better but it also has made navigation easier for me.

Folders unorganised

 

Contrast this with the such improved version:

improved organisation

 

Keyboard shortcuts

I have struggled to wholeheartedly acquire lots of keyboard shortcuts for some time but I have now adopted a solution I am happy with.  I have purchased Rocketkey and this software will help me to continue to acquire keyboard shortcuts.  It is not that I do not like shortcuts as I have been using quite a few prior to this course.  I have also started using a lot more keyboard shortcuts when using Abbyy FineReader over the last months.

Experience of implementing Inclusive Technology for Reading in practice

Text-to-speech software

One of the major difficulty in implementing inclusive technology was to get the software installed on the school network.  In particular, it proved difficult for WordTalk due to the different versions of Windows and MS Word that are currently on our network.  It meant that some of these had to be activated on every computer which was cumbersome and time consuming.

However, pupils like using WordTalk to support proofreading their essays and we have also started using WordTalk for assessments.  Most pupils prefer to use WordTalk instead of a reader as it allows them to be more independent.

A parents’ information evening was well received and parents were very interested in the technology and keen to install the software at home.

Ereaders

We have currently two Kindle Keyboards but these are not as frequently used as we would like.  Although we have informed English teachers that these are available, the uptake of these have been limited.  Part of the reason might be that teachers often read novels to pupils in class.

Cue Cards

I have shared the cue card with a couple of pupils but the pupil most benefitting from this, is a VI pupil.

Impact for the future

As time as been very limiting to follow the course and implement changes, the impact of the course will continue to be felt in the future as I will continue to highlight the importance of technology to support reading.

What I have learned during the Load2Learn “Inclusive Technology for Reading”

Unit 2: PLN

Before starting this course, which also coincided with my intention to explore web 2.0 tools for teaching and learning, I was not even aware what a PLN is.  I had started using Mentormob to see how I could use Twitter but I could not see the benefits to me of being connected.  My worst fear was that it will just add even more to my hectic schedule.

What should a PLN look like?

NetworkedTeacher

It is assumed that the 21st Century educator now operates under this model (Alec Couros of Open Thinking blog created this graphic).

The benefits of being connected only became apparent while using the PLN, so it is best to just give it a go.  However, it was easy for us in a way, as we were shown the usefulness of Twitter by giving us the opportunity to take part in a Twitter social where we could instantly see the benefits to us.  It also helped to have been given some hashtags to explore, so that we could discover some of the useful links being shared, saving ourselves to have to discover everything ourselves.

Will Richardson summarises succinctly what  a PLN is (http://youtu.be/mghGV37TeK8) but in the video he also highlights the need for teachers to experience a PLN in order to see the benefit of this type of learning.  After having starting a PLN, I agree with Will’s comments, unless you experience it yourself how can you possible know the benefits it may bring.  One of the things I have learned from being connected, is that Google is not my first port of search engine any longer.  I now often search for something specific using Scoop.it, Livebinder, Pearltrees and Pinterest, just to get an idea what other people have collected already on this topic.

One thing I still need to do is to fine-tune my PLN; so far, I feel I have been just swept along and I am drifting wherever my curiousity takes me on the web. This is acceptable for some of the time as you pick up some real nuggets by chance encounters.   However I would like to manage my PLN a little more and I have found this interesting summary which just fits perfectly with my sentiment.

http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/personal-learning-network/

I have started making a list of blogs to follow, some of which I will follow through their RSS feeds whereas others I will need to visit now and then.  I followed a couple of blogs via email but I find my inbox is being filled up with notifications and I personally don’t like this.  I have started using a RSS reader and still need to explore how to use podcasts and audio resources more.

Unit 3, 4 and 5 combined

Documents can be made more accessible either by changing the format within the documents  or change how documents are read, i.e. audio output, TTS with bimodal reading mode (ebooks/digital), Braille/tactile, large/giant print.

Structured, more accessible documents

Although knowing about structured documents for a long time, I still did not create these consistently due to various reasons.  One of the main obstacles was that I thought that it takes so much longer to write something if you have to constantly stop to change headings and other formatting.  Of course it doesn’t once you have learnt how to use shortcuts.  However, a real eye opener was when I opened a 100 page long pdf document on Voice Dream Reader (Ipad app).  I realised that I had no way of gaining an overview of the document quickly and was not too sure of the documents’ relevance.  If the document had been structured this experience would have been very different.

Another problem I faced was that I am using Word2010 at home and I have set up a Quick Style called “assistive” but which I have not transferred it to the computer I am using at school yet as I was not aware how easily this could be done.  My “assistive”  Quick Style incorporates all the recommendation from Clear Print as recommended by RNIB:

(Accessed February 2013: http://www.rnib.org.uk/professionals/accessibleinformation/text/pages/clear_print.aspx)

Top tips for achieving Clear Print:

  • Document text size should be 12-14 pt, preferably 14 pt.
  • The font you choose should be clear, avoiding anything stylised
  • All body text should be left aligned
  • Use bold sparingly, only highlight a few words rather than a paragraph
  • Keep the text layout clear, simple and consistent
  • Don’t use blocks of capitalised letters, and try not to use any italics or underlining
  • Text shouldn’t be overlaid on images
  • The substrate or coatings should not be glossy or reflective
  • Ensure the paper is thick enough to prevent show through
  • The contrast between the text and background is as high as possible
  • All text should be the same orientation on the page
  • Space between columns of text is large enough to be distinct
  • Any information conveyed in colour or through images is also described

How to transfer Quick Styles easily

  1. Open up a document that has the style set incorporated
  2. Select save as Quick style set
  3. Name this Quick style and save it

How to remember the keyboard shortcuts?

We were encouraged to create cue cards which I did, but I found, that when I needed them while working on different computers around the school, I did not have these on me.  I have now created cue cards on the most essential shortcuts in a smaller format and laminated these in so that the cue cards are protected.  Once I have learned these shortcuts I will move onto the next level of shortcuts.

To get myself up to scratch with keyboard shortcuts, I purchased Rocketkeys, a software that provides reminders of keyboard shortcuts that are beneficial to know.  It works with all the MS Office application, Outlook and gmail.  Overall, I found it quite surprising how hard I found it to get rid of the habit of using a mouse.

I have just realised that part of the reason for not easily adopting keyboard shortcuts is because I touch type.  I find using some of the keyboard shortcuts quite disruptive to my writing as I need to use  both hands to enable a shortcut whereas I only need to move one hand to use the mouse.  However, there are certain keyboard shortcuts I have always used and will continue to do so:

Ctrl C, V, B, N, Y, Z

One of the new shortcuts I really find useful within Word are:

Ctrl >,<

Ctrl ],[

For Windows:

WIN     Home

WIN    + / –

Going over all the units of the Load2Learn course is useful as it gives everyone the chance to reflect back on items that we already had covered and hopefully discover some of these in a new light.  For example, I realised that I prefer using my bluetooth keyboard when using my laptop as the layout of this other keyboard  is more user friendly.  The reason for using an extra keyboard was to improve my posture as it allows me to have the screen level with my eyes. It clearly highlights that when working with pupils we should pay attention even to little thing such a keyboard in order to improve how they use technology.

Alternative ways of accessing print

I found the experience using text-to-speech initially very irritating but have since learned to use it to my advantage.  I use TTS now for proofreading which is invaluable.  I have also started using TTS to listen to reports being read out while driving or cooking .  It provides my eyes with a rest period when I have read for a long time on the computer and I just can listen to a document being read out.  Additionally, this allows me to make notes at the same time which I cannot when I am reading the document; this keeps me focussed on listening but also allows me to remember the content better.  Two birds with one stone kind of idea.

Unit 6 Hardware for reading

I have found a good review of the latest ereaders on http://ebook-reader-review.toptenreviews.com/ and the outline below gives an overview on ereaders that support TTS.

Additionally, to the ereader listed above, the Kindle Keyboard 3G and Kindle Touch enable TTS.

However, while TTS facility may be essential for some users, others may take other criteria into consideration when choosing an ereader, such as weight, dimensions, battery life, cost and other functionality.

Unit 7 Print disability: Theory and Practice

This unit was helpful in clarifying the rights and responsibilities for making material accessible.  One realisation that particular stuck out for me was that you cannot simplify the material and/or extract certain parts to simplify it for the student.  I am sure we all have been in a situation that you have provided a student with a digital copy of the material and then realised that the print-disability is not the only reason why the text was not accessible to him/her.  Simplifying the digital copy is not allowed under the CLA School Licence or under any other licence.  However, since we have the duty to make curriculum material accessible to pupils we still can provide supporting documents written by us to explain the topic.

Learning stations provided a good overview

The learning stations reminded us that a pupil

  • may have difficulty reading aloud although it can read
  • may be able to read fluently but do not understand what they read (comprehension is part of reading)
  • alternative ways of reading are just as valid

Jenny’s clear explanation of who is print-disabled

A person is print-disabled if he/she is blind, partially sighted, dyslexic or has a cognitive disabilities such as Autsim, Asperger’s and ADHD. A physical disability that prevents them from holding a print copy of the book. From the CLA Print Disability Licence: “A person who is visually impaired or is otherwise disabled and who is unable, by reason of their visual impairment or other disability, to read or access part or the whole of any Work being a person to whom the Licensee wishes to distribute Licensed Copies, including any individual employed by the Licensee and any teacher or carer of such a person.”

Some thoughts on eReaders

Kindle keyboard G3

I purchased an Amazon Kindle Keyboard soon after it was released, solely, to experiment with and learn about  the TTS options for dyslexic pupils in our school.  However, the keyboard does make the Kindle bigger and it is definitely not the most user friendly keyboard I have been working with.

The two voices on the Kindle Keyboard are pretty robotic, although the female voice is marginally better.  The voices can be activated by pressing “Aa” key and then activating the text-to-speech option. By pressing enter, the book is being read out. If you would like to change the speed and voice, press the “Aa” again and then option of changing the voice and reading speed appear.   I have chosen the faster option as, previously,  mention that I find listening to slower reading speeds quite distractive.  However, listening to a book with the faster-female voice setting, I found it difficult to actually hear the words clearly.  Additionally, the words are not highlighted while being read out.  As Jamie Munro highlighted this as a major drawback.  If this bimodal reading mode was available, it could increase comprehension by 20%.  Would it not be nice to be able to export Kindle books to another book reader that has better accessibility features?

I have tried Calibre to convert my Kindle books into epubs but with little success.  I have now discovered that there is DMR removal tools but I need to explore the legality of this a little further.

One of the features of the Kindle that I really like is the ability to bookmark sections and export these via http://clippingsconverter.com.  I have tried this and it works really well and it can be integrated into Evernote of which I am a huge fun.  Apparently, you should be able to access your notes via the Amazon websites, but unfortunately I have not been able to do so.

Kindle fire HD

This review was written by Jim Nuttall, a Qiat list member with his own blog, (http://jamesnuttall.blogspot.com/).

I am exploring the Amazon Kindle fire HD 8.9 inch tablet as I am interested in the Kindle Fire since Amazon Kindle store has many books that are unavailable from other sources.  The Amazon Kindle store also has many books for children at all levels. The Amazon Kindle fire HD will mostly be appropriate, I believe, for supplementary reading and not as a full pledge intervention device. So I have contacted Amazon Health and they sent me a list of features for the Amazon Kindle fire HD 8.9 inch tablet.

Kindle Fire HD 8.9” has the following accessibility features:

  • Voice Guide reads your screen actions aloud to assist with navigation.
  • Explore  by Touch enables special gestures you can use to navigate your Kindle Fire.

These features are exclusive to the Kindle Fire HD 8.9” model, and are currently not available on other Kindle Fire devices.

To turn on accessibility features:

1.   Swipe down from the top of the screen and tap More.
2.   Under Settings, tap Accessibility.
3.   Next to Voice Guide, tap On.
4.   If you want to turn on Explore by Touch, tap On.

From this screen, you can also choose to lock the screen rotation to make using accessibility features easier. Kindle Fire HD also features Text-to-Speech for reading books aloud.

With Explore by Touch, you can use special gestures to navigate your Kindle Fire:

  • Unlock your Kindle: With two fingers, swipe from right to left near the bottom of the screen.
  • Open the Quick Settings menu at the top of the screen: With two fingers, swipe down from the top of the screen.
  • Scroll through items in the carousel and content libraries on the Home screen: With two fingers, swipe to the left or right
  • Turn pages in a book: With two fingers, swipe to the left or right
  • Download or open an item: Double-tap
  • Make menu selections onscreen: Double-tap

Accessibility features are supported for navigation and for reading books only.

Voice Reader

After having started exploring this app, I had to be reminded how important structured documents are as I imported a lengthy pdf on visual stress which was not structured.  This meant I could not quickly get a feel for the document and the various sections within it as it is over 100 pages long.  If you have ever doubted the importance of structured documents, an experience like this will absolutely convince you.

I accessed the Gutenberg project and selected a German book so that I am able to test the German voices within Dream Voice and the German Ivona voices that I have downloaded for a trial.  The German Voice Andreas, an Acapela voice, which sounds Southern German, and therefore is very pleasing to my ears.  This aside however, I was so by impressed the Gutenberg Project that the book I had chosen could be obtained via Dropbox.  How good this! Additionally,  I am really enjoying listening to Andreas reading German.

Most importantly, bimodal reading is possible within this App.

My collection of free ebooks and audiobooks in form a pearltre

I have searched the internet, mainly using a search on Scoop.it and Pinterest to find the following links.

My pearltree on free ebooks and audiobooks

Adding the Daisy plug-in to Word

I downloaded and installed the Daisy plug-in to MS Word 2010 but the Accessibility tab did not show up.

Here are the steps to get the Accessibility tab to appear in Word 2010

1. Go to File and click on options, then the following screen appear

2. Click on Add-ins

Word for Add-ins 1

3. Select DAISY Addin and click go

Word for Add-ins 2

4. Select DAISY and click OK

Word for Add-ins 3

This should make the Accessibility tab in Word appear.

Comments on various TTS software

Dspeech

Dspeech is very easy to use TTS software which allows the export  of text as mp3 and wav files.  Installed voices on the computer are detected and can be used within the programme.  It also offers the additional benefit of  being portable and having speech recognition integrated into the same programme.  I have tried the speech recognition part but have not been very successful with this; probably due to my German accent and not having trained the speech recognition software.

FreeNatural reader

I think the clear, uncluttered user interface makes this free reader very attractive.  Unfortunately, the free version does not allow you to export audio files.

FreeNaturalReader

However having had a look at the paid versions, I found the Gold version including OCR of interest.  I have contacted the vendor and hopefully will be able to test the OCR facility. The paid version also enables add-ins into the major Microsoft software, which means an integrated TTS is possible without having to open another programme.

IvonaReader and Minireader

Although I am a great fan of the Ivona voices due to their high quality, improved intonation and ability to pause when reading text, I am less impressed with the TTS software IvonaReader itself.  Even though the reader provides an add-in into word, it always reads from the beginning when the speak button is activated.  The only way to circumvent this is to go to the temporary reader window and change the location in there.

The Ivano Minireader can be downloaded for free and it provides a floating toolbar which also can be used for reading out content of web pages.  Similarly to FreeNaturalReader no mp3 can be recorded with the free version and the text has to be selected before it can be read out.