BTexact, the research arm of BT, today demonstrated its natural-sounding voice technology designed to enable blind and partially sighted people to use text messaging facilities.

The technology lets a user forward a received text message from their mobile phone to a handheld device which then reads the message to them. It can identify common abbreviations and will phonetically spell out any words it doesn't recognise.

The idea was spawned by a group of partially sighted teenagers who visited BTexact last year. They told the telco they felt socially excluded as they could not receive text messages.

"Text messaging has become a necessary feature of most people's social, as well as business, life," Steve Tyler manager for digital technology at RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) told the BBC.

BTexact is currently looking for partners to develop the technology for commercial purposes. It hopes to shrink the speech engine chip even further so that it can be fitted directly into mobile handsets, negating the need for an extra PDA device.