Text-to-Speech: Connecting the Vision Impaired Online

Vision impairment is considerably among the most challenging disabilities a person may have as it involves loss of one of the important human senses, which is the sense of sight. Adding to the long list of things that a visually impaired person may have limitations in doing is accessing the Internet. Some parts of the blind community have been cut off from the rest of the society particularly in the online community because of the lack of tools that allows a spontaneous interaction. Fortunately, developments in technology made the impossible possible for the blind to be connected online through the use of Text-To-Speech software.

Real life stories of individuals who dedicated their resources and knowledge in making the Internet accessible to the visually impaired through TTS sent waves of inspiration to many software developers such as Chris Maury in Silicon Valley, California. Yasmin Parry and Will Ockenden of ABC News tell the story of Chris who is a startup entrepreneur that was diagnosed with Stargardt macular degeneration, which slowly taking his eyesight away. Time is running out for Chris and this sense of urgency led him to devote his time and focus on improving Internet accessibility by the visually impaired.

I want to be able to use any app that’s on my iPhone without taking that phone out of my pocket and being able to do so conversationally with my voice,” – Chris Maury

        The first step in the TTS app startup initiated by Chris is the development of a voice-enabled shopping app called SayShopping. The app works intuitively like Siri in Apple iPhone does, but Chris hopes to overcome the limitations that Siri has in order to improve the developments of the TTS app. For starters, the SayShopping app enables users to use their phone when shopping online just by telling the phone what they are looking for and the app will tell the user what products are available.

If the user wishes to buy the product, they just say “purchase” and the transaction is processed. – Chris Maury

Although the shopping app is still in the development phase, its future deployment marks a fairly huge step for the majority of the visually impaired to come closer in fully accessing the Internet. TTS encompasses a wide range of possibilities for the blind not only limited in accessing the Internet using a computer but also through smartphones. The TTS App is a potential time saver for the visually impaired users because the website navigation, which is practically a challenge for the blind can be done with ease as Chris and his team are working to integrate various accessibility formats.

And so where navigating websites has become more difficult, once I’m able to find sources and get them into an accessible format, which is easy through things like RSS, I’m actually able to consume more than I did before. – Chris Maury.

Much is still in progress in terms of completely making everything on the web available for the TTS app implementation. However, for people slowly losing their vision, the completion of the TTS app is a notable achievement, particularly for the blind community because it represents a greater opportunity for them to be fully immersed in the online environment.

I want to be able to use any app that’s on my iPhone without taking that phone out of my pocket and being able to do so conversationally with my voice,” and I don’t think that’s technically impractical. I think we can do that with the technologies that we have today. It’s just putting them together in the right way. – Chris Maury

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Read more: “Being Blind Online: Race To Make Internet Accessible For Visually Impaired” by Yasmin Parry and Will Ockenden


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