Word and Text to Speech

There have always been third-party programs to have text read aloud in Microsoft Word (Text to Speech or TTS).  Word Talk, a free program from Call Scotland is one.  Read &Write Gold is a commercial product which not has text to speech but also comes with its own voices. These are all programs which are added to the Word toolbar rather than opening a document in its own window.

In the latest versions of Word, you have two options for TTS, Speak and Read Aloud. Both can be added to the Quick Access Toolbar as shown in the screenshot below.   Speak and Read Aloud are underlined.


Both can use the installed system voices.  The major difference is Read Aloud has a Control Panel and will highlight words that are being spoken. Reading in Read Aloud starts from the cursor position.  Speak will not highlight words as they are spoken and will only read selected text.

Read Aloud can also be used in the Read View under Tools.  Using it in Read View will allow access to a control panel with the standard controls plus the ability to change voices.

The video below will show both Speak and Read Aloud being added and in use.

Adding the AutoCorrect button to the Ribbon for Word 2016

When Microsoft created the Ribbon for Word, it was based on the concept of placing more options in the front of the user. Most of the options are now more readily available with only one click.

Unfortunately, the AutoCorrect option was buried fairly deep into the menus, requiring several clicks to bring up the Dialog box.

What we’d like to do is add a shortcut to the Quick Access Toolbar so AutoCorrect is quickly available with one click.

Start by going to the Quick Access Toolbar, clicking so the menu appears. On the menu, select More Commands.

Showing Word Document Quick Access Toolbar
Quick Access Toolbar on Ribbon

When the customize Ribbon dialog box appears, Click the Show Commands From box and select Commands Not in the Ribbon.

AutoCorrect Dialog Selection Box
AutoCorrect Dialog Selection Box


This will show all the command that are NOT on the Ribbon alphabetically in the left box and the command in the Quick Access Toolbar in the right box.
Scroll down to find the AutoCorrect Option – It will be the one with Lighting Bolt icon.

Click the Add button to place the AutoCorrect command in the Quick Access Toolbar. Then click OK.

AutoCorrect adding to Quick Access Toolbar List
Adding AutoCorrect Button to the Quick Access Toolbar

The AutoCorrect button with icon has been added to the Quick Access Toolbar


AutoCorrect is now only a click away.  You can see the steps in the video below.

Automating MS Word

I will confess that I am a lazy person.  I really should say that I’m always looking for an easier or faster way to accomplish tasks.  When I have a repetitive task that may be complex, I eventually begin investigating ways to avoid the task.  Enter Word automation or Word Macros.

Working with students, either with special needs or non-special needs, they have identified many of the tasks that they might automate.  A few simple skills can go a long way to improving a students’ writing experience. Reducing the number of keystrokes or mouse clicks can simplify life.


A simple form of automating Word is the Autocorrect feature to replace frequently used words or phrases. To simplify the number of keystrokes ( and errors) needed to enter phrases, titles and long strings of repeated text, Autocorrect is a simple solution.

In earlier versions of Office, Autocorrect was fairly easy to access under the Classic Menu.  It was located on the Tools drop-down list.

Starting with the Ribbon, accessing Autocorrect has become a multi-click process.  First in Word 2016, click the File Tab on the Menu bar (or Press the ALT key then F)

The menu tab with lots of choices will appear.  Select Options at the bottom of the list or if you’re selecting using the keyboard, press T.

A dialog box will appear showing the Word Options.  Select Proofing.

Select Proofing and AutoCorrect Options will be at the top of the choices.

Select AutoCorrect Options in the Window and the AutoCorrect Dialog box will appear.

Now we simply use the Replace With fields to substitute one character string for another.

In this case, if I’m writing a long piece on folk singer/songwriters who had an impact in the 60’s and 70’s.  I writing about Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. (Leaving On A Jet Plane) and at some point will misspell his name.  So I will choose a few letters to type and have it replaced with his full name.  In this case, I’ll use hjd in the Replace field and Henry John Deutschendorf Jr.in the With field.

The video below shows the entire sequence including how it works in Word.

One of the keys to using this is to choose a Replace string with characters that are not normally used.

If you plan to use AutoCorrect frequently, you might consider adding it as a button to the Ribbon.  That will be the next topic.

DSpeech – A Free Text to Speech Program

DSpeech from Dimio is a FREE Text to Speech (TTS) program for Windows.  It is one of two free programs I’ve found that can convert text to a digital audio file without having to upgrade to a paid option.

It utilizes the Speech Application Program Interface (SAPI) in Windows with the voices in the Operating System.  The voices you can access will vary by your version of Windows.  Additional voices can be added. There are several free voices which can be installed for use in the program.


The program does not need installation which means it does not need administrative rights.  It can also be made “portable,”

There are also  several simple methods to have multiple voices in the same text.  Both are demonstrated in the video below.  One is to go to the options on the menu bar, click Customize Voice in Quoted Text and complete the dialog box: checking the box for Use Different Box for Quoted Text and choose the voice.  Alternatively, the voice can be changed by using the tag #VOICE [Voice Name].  Using this option allows the use more than two voices.

Click here to go to Dimio’s website for the download


Disaster and Communication

With Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, there are thousands of people having to move into temporary shelters.

A number of these people will be unable to communicate with shelter staff because of a disability or language barrier.

For the deaf, oral interpreters will not be available and because of loss of phone lines and cell towers, the backup systems using translation services will probably fail as well.

A simple laptop or computer with a keyboard will do in a pinch, but a more dedicated solution such as an Ubiduo would be better.

CAVEAT: I have not used these.  The programs came from a variety of resources.

 For Translations Offline:

Google Translate allows downloading languages onto your device.

Bing Translator also allows downloading languages onto your device.

Amazon Kindle Fire Translator (offline)

Tourist language learn & speak (Android only)

Lonely Planet Offline Translator(iOS)

Portable Text and Speech Translator – QTranslate (Windows but does not require administrative rights).


Reading Level Gaps  – California Students with disabilities

Based on the English portion of the 2016 Smarter Balanced exam given in California, only 13% of students with a disability either met or exceeded grade standards for reading.

For those students without a disability, 57% of the females and 57% of the males met or exceeded grade standards for reading

The thrust of the data summaries is that male students of all ages and ethnicities score lower than comparable female students. Data for disabilities is also included.  The male/female gap is not as pronounced as it is in those without disabilities.

The summary data table (Excel Worksheet) can be found here:

Summary Data Tables

Balabolka – Speaking with Two Voices

So far we’ve covered the basics of Balabloka.  Let’s look at some of the extra things that can be done with Balabolka.

Balabolka Logo
Balabolka Logo

The speech engine for Balabolka relies on an API (Application Program Interface) built into the Windows Operating System.  The most current Speech API is SAPI 5.  SAPI4 and its voices could be installed on the computer but the voices are not as high quality.

Microsoft David and Microsoft Zira are the default US English voices in Windows 10.  Windows 7 had Microsoft Anna 64 bit. There are other voices which can be installed, some free and some purchased.  The bit rate, either 32 or 64 bit needs to be matched with the operating system bit rate.  Otherwise, the 64-bit programs might not be able to access 32bit voice.

The voice in Balabolka can be changed as we’ve seen, by going to the Menu option for Voice, selecting voice and selecting from the list of recognized voices.  This will change the speaking voice.  There is a way to change the voice and its properties for selected lines.  You can alternate between male and female voices.

Because SAPI5 allows the use of XML tags, there are a number of things we can change including a different voice, Volume, Rate, Pitch, Emph, and Spell.

For example the XML tag to change the voice is <voice required=”Name = voice_name“>.  The placeholder, voice_name, is replaced by the full name of the voice, such as Microsoft David Desktop.  The completed tag is placed before the line you want the voice to speak.  The full tag will look like this:

<Voice Required =”Name =  Microsoft David Desktop”>

The video below shows how this will work.

Have fun.

IoT and Disabilities

“The question won’t be what devices are connected – it will be what devices are not connected.”
Tony Fadell, CEO of Nest

I recently attended a symposium on the Internet of Things (IoT).  Depending on how you count, this is either the Second or Third Industrial Revolution or the second part of the information age.  Most likely, it is the merger of the industrial and information ages.  It will also be disruptive.

The major theme for IoT is Connectivity.

Everything communicates with everything else.

When your thermostat talks with your alarm clock and your alarm clock talks with your coffee pot and the candle stick dances with…. oops, that was another movie.   But everything is connected so when you set your alarm clock, the thermostat automatically sets the temperatures and the coffee pot time and orders the driverless car to arrive at the appropriate time. All you need to do is say to Alexa/Siri/Cortana is, “Get me up at 07:00 AM”

When this technology becomes widely available, it will be less expensive than devices that might be just for AT more mainstream.

What does this mean?

It’s a given that the US Population is aging.  From 2000 to t2010, the population grew at a faster rate in the older ages than in the younger ages. The over 62’s accounted for over 16% of the population.

With more AT available at a lower cost, the older population will be able to stay in their own homes longer with less physical monitoring needed.

Worried that your aging parents didn’t take their meds today?  Their medical bottle will tattle on them – not only will it be able to tell if the cap has been opened but can count the number of pills as well.

Worried about them falling at home and not being able to summon help?  Their floors and walls will be able to alert emergency services if they’re sensed not moving or in a strange position.  They won’t even have to tell Alexa/Siri/Cortana to call for help.

They’ll also be more mobile, with driverless cars, they won’t have to worry about keeping their driver’s licenses.

There will also be a reduced need for doctor’s visits since wearable technology will be monitoring their vital signs.

It’s going to be a connected world whether we want it or not. For those with special needs, it will be a boon.

August 2017 US Disability Unemployment

NOTE:  Since the majority of the data were collected before Hurricane Harvey, impact from the Hurricane is minimal.

August 2017


4.4% Unemployment No Disability

8.4% Disability Unemployment

31.2% Not in Labor Force – No Disability

79.5% Not in Labor Force – With Disability

13.5% Teenage Unemployment Rate


August  2016


4.8% = Unemployment No Disability

11.3% Disability Unemployment

31.2% Not in Labor Force – No Disability

80.2% Not in Labor Force – With Disability

15.4% Teenage Unemployment Rate


Bureau of Labor Statistic Logo

Tables A-1 and A-6 Bureau of Labor Statistics (Not Seasonally Adjusted)


15-20% Persons with Learning Disability

Up to 50% of the Prison Population has a Learning Disability

BALABOLKA – Low Vision Aids

There is research showing that using color patterns other than the traditional black font and white background can help not only low vision readers but those with dyslexia.

Text Customization for Readers with Dyslexia

Balabolka has a very simple dialog box to change the background color, the font type and color, the selected color and the highlighted color.

The short video below, show how to use these options.


It has been my experience, working with students with dyslexia and those with low vision, that the color choices are best left to the person using the program.