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Make your computer read out documents

Computing for the partially sighted

If you have poor eyesight and need to have documents and web pages read out to you, our Helproom Expert can help.

QUESTION Does such a thing as a scanner that reads out the contents of a document exist? My eyesight is very poor and ill health means I'm reluctant to bother my wife with reading things out to me. Sparkly

HELPROOM ANSWER Many solutions are available, depending on your requirements and budget.

If you want to read documents away from your PC or laptop, and you can afford the relatively hefty price tag, take a look at the Intel Reader. This is a portable device, which incorporates a digital camera, an LCD and a speaker. It can photograph and store many pages of text, then read them aloud.

Because it's portable, you don't need to be near your computer to use it. Its camera also means you can read objects that can't be easily placed into a scanner, such as packaging and wall signs. At the time of writing, Amazon was selling it for £662.

Another costly alternative is the Optelec ClearReader+ (£2,394). This device is small enough to move around, but designed to operate in a free-standing mode. This lets you place a document on the table in front of you and capture it from above.

If your budget doesn't stretch this far, scanners often come with optical character recognition (OCR) software that can make sense of captured text. You'll need a separate program that offers text-to-speech to adapt this to your needs.

Windows 7 includes Microsoft Narrator. This utility can read out onscreen menus and text, but it requires you to learn many keystrokes and is basic in functionality.

Microsoft Word 2010, meanwhile, has text-to-speech built in. It can read the text in a document scanned using OCR software.

Add the Speak command to the Quick Access Toolbar to enable the feature. This is located at the top left of the screen. Click the down arrow and select 'Customize Quick Access Toolbar', More Commands. Change 'Popular Commands' to 'All Commands' in the 'Choose commands from' field. Scroll down and select 'Speak', then click Add.

You can now select any block of text and click the Speak icon to hear it read aloud. Similar functionality can also be found in older versions of Microsoft Office.

Adobe Reader features a 'Read Out Loud' function, but this won't work if a document hasn't been correctly formatted and tagged.

Another option is NaturalSoft's NaturalReader.

Highlight text and NaturalReader can read it aloud to you. A free version is available.

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