Tag Archives: aural

Claro ScanPen for iOS and Android

Claro ScanPen logo Broadly speaking, there are two types of apps:

(1) those that have lots of features to accomplish lots of different things and

(2) simple apps that do one or two things.

Claro ScanPen fits in the second category. Do you have dyslexia and occasionally end up with a piece of paper in front of you that you really wish could be read aloud? This may be the app for you.

Open Claro ScanPen and you’ll see what looks like the usual camera interface for your phone or tablet.

Screenshot of camera view of Claro ScanPen

Take a photo of your document. Swipe the line you want read aloud to you and the app will read it out loud. The app draws on your system voices or allows you to purchase additional voices for a small fee.

Screenshot of Claro ScanPen reading aloud text that has been highlighted after swiping

That’s it! It’s easy to use from the first time you open the app.

Now, let’s say you want to get fancy. You can change the settings to have the entire page or just a word read out loud. Also, from the system settings, you can set the app to allow cropping or to allow multiple images to be saved and swapped between.

Claro ScanPen settings screenshot

One caveat is that, as expected, poor image quality and/or small print will adversely affect the optical character recognition and result in gobbledygook speech output. As such, this app is best used with high quality documents, decent-sized print, and a steady hand.

For example, below is a photo of an article in the process of being cropped. Claro ScanPen nicely recognized that the “Take Action” column on the left was separate and it didn’t try to read it at the same time as the rest of the article. However, it did fumble many of the words while reading aloud, likely because of the fairly small print.

Screenshot of Claro ScanPen cropping a page

Claro ScanPen is free for Android and $6.99 for iOS. If you use Android and ever need a document read to you, I recommend you check it out. If you use iPhone or iPad, you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the money for this quick and simple app or if you’d rather stick with a free, but clunkier, option – OfficeLens in combination with a full-feature app like Voice Dream or the built-in iOS text-to-speech.

@Voice Aloud Reader

Megaphone logo for @Voice Aloud Reader A student recently introduced me to a text-to-speech app that he’s been using on his Android phone. @Voice Aloud Reader is free and he pointed out that it gets better reviews that Voice Dream’s Android app, so I knew I needed to try it out myself. I found that it’s a useful and simple text-to-speech app that anyone with an Android device who wants to listen to text should give a try.

Like many text-to-speech readers, users can copy and paste text into it. I was most interested, though, in how easily a user can take a PDF off of cloud storage and listen in @Voice. It worked quite well.

Below is a PDF open in the OneDrive app.

Screenshot of PDF open in OneDrive app

Tap on the three dot button on the far left to reveal the menu that allows one to “Open in another app.”

Screenshot of first page of PDF with sharing dropdown menu visible

Choose @Voice Aloud Reader.

Screenshot of choices of which app to open PDF with

It will then open directly in @Voice and begin reading. While it will not highlight each word while reading, it will highlight each sentence.

Screenshot of PDF opened as text with a sentence highlighted that's being read aloud.

As seen above, the image of of the PDF is lost, as the file is converted to just text. As long as the PDF is properly formatted, this shouldn’t present much of a problem.

Settings allow one to easily change the speed and the voice. Voices do not come directly with @Voice, as it works with the built-in Google Text-to-Speech Voices. If you’re not happy with the default voice, @Voice’s settings will allow you to easily find new Google voices or will refer you to other vendors to purchase additional high quality voices.

There are other ways to get readings into @Voice. It will sync directly with Dropbox. A desktop/laptop Chrome extension allows a user to add an article to an @Voice list to listen to later. And saved Pocket articles can open easily too.

@Voice Aloud Reader is a great option for those looking for a free text-to-speech Android app. If the ads on the screen bother you, they can removed for $10. While it will allow for the creation of mp3 files of articles, it doesn’t have as much functionality as Voice Dream, our go-to text-to-speech app. The word is that Voice Dream for Android is a bit buggier than the iOS Voice Dream app and does not have all of the same features, although we’re hopeful that a recent update improves things. Of course, there is not a free version of Voice Dream, so those of us watching our money may wish to try the free @Voice Aloud Reader first.


Google Text-to-Speech Voices

There are a number of ways to use text-to-speech on Android devices and they typically rely on the built-in Google Text-to-Speech voices. But how can you change the voices?

First, go to your device settings and tap on “Language and Input.” From there, choose “Text-to-Speech Output.”


Next, tap on the settings wheel next to “Google Text-to-speech.”


And then choose “Install voice data.”


A number of voices are available. Choose your preferred language and dialect. image(3)

Then select the voice and tap “OK.”

image(4) Choosing a new voice will take up memory on your phone, but you may find it worth it.

Screenshot Reader

As more and more professors assign online homework, we will occasionally come across sites that are not accessible. Rather than offer homework in a standard text format, a publisher may present words as part of an image, in a video, in Flash, or in a format that allows students to drag and drop homework answers. Unfortunately, standard text-to-speech software used by students with dyslexia often cannot read words presented in these inaccessible formats.

Read&Write, however, has a tool that can recognize any text on the screen and read it aloud to the user. Screenshot Reader allows users to draw a box around inaccessible text on the screen and have that text read aloud. And if you are SUNY Cortland student, faculty, or staff, you can get Read&Write for free.

See the below videos on how to use Screenshot Reader on Mac and Windows PCs. As always, give us a shout if you need further assistance.


Using Read&Write to Recognize Text in a PDF

At SUNY Cortland, our faculty are responsible for providing accessible electronic readings for all students who need them for equal access. I’ve worked closely with the faculty on this for several years now and I’m pleased with the number of faculty who post quality accessible files on Blackboard.

Nevertheless, a stray inaccessible file will occasionally be posted. Maybe a student hasn’t identified yet or maybe a professor just forgot to check to make sure that one PDF is searchable. In cases like this, we ask students to call the matter to the attention of the professor so they can fix the error and let me know if the situation repeats.

But what if you want to just read that one document and be done with it? If you have Read&Write installed on your computer, you have the tools in front of you to make that PDF accessible.

Open Read&Write, go to the drop down menu next to the Scanner button and choose “Scan from file(s)…” (The below screenshots are from Windows, but Read&Write for Mac will work similarly.)

Image of toolbar with Scan feature drop-down menu

Then hit the big “Scan” button. It will prompt you to open a file from your computer. Find the file you want to read and choose it. If it is a file with multiple pages, Read&Write will ask you to choose which pages to recognize. When ready, hit “Scan.”

Multipage document detected notification

Read&Write will show you the progress of recognizing each page of the document. It takes a second or two to recognize the text on each page.

OCR in Progress notification

The document will then open in PDF Aloud, allowing you to listen while the words are highlighted.

Screenshot of a document being read in PDF Aloud

This will work if you want to use Read&Write to read a paper document as well. Just take a picture of it with your phone, transfer it to your computer, and follow the above steps. (If you use OfficeLens, though, it will recognize the text on its own.) If you have a scanner, you can scan the paper document as this video demonstrates.


Read and Write


We are excited to announce that SUNY Cortland has purchased a site license for Read & Write, a suite of reading, writing, and study tools for PC and Mac. The suite can be installed on any college computer and students may install it on their own computers.

Read & Write opens as a toolbar that hovers over everything else open on your computer or can be locked to the top or side of the screen, as seen below.

Screenshot of Read & Write toolbar locked to the top of a screen.

The toolbar allows the user to access the 30 or so features of the suite. It can be customized to allow users to focus on the handful of features they find most helpful. These features includes the following apps:

  • A text-to-speech app that highlights text while reading it aloud;
  • A scan and read app that allows the user to create searchable PDFs and other documents that can be read aloud;
  • PDF Aloud, an app that opens PDFs and reads them aloud;
  • Screenshot Reader, an app that allows the user to take a screenshot of part or all of the screen and then have it read aloud. This will be handy for students who want to have online homework read aloud and have been stymied by inaccessible Flash-based text.
  • A DAISY reader that allows students to read Bookshare and other DAISY files;
  • Speechmaker, an app that creates mp3 files out of text.
  • Study tools that can be useful for those doing reading and research with electronic documents, including several colors of highlighters and an app that inserts voice notes;
  • Writing tools, including a word predictor and an app that helps the writer sort through homophones and other confusable words;
  • An app that allows the user to graphically  organize ideas;
  • And more…

The toolbar includes drop-down menus to customize each app and view video tutorials of each feature, making them relatively easy to learn. That said, we will highlight some of the most useful features of Read & Write in future posts.

You may learn how to obtain a copy of Read and Write for your college-owned computer or your own computer at no charge by contacting Jeremy Zhe-Heimerman. In the future, we hope to publish a link that will allow any member of the SUNY Cortland community to download the software directly.


NaturalReader for PC and iOS

NaturalReader app logo

NaturalReader has been one of our most popular free apps for students with dyslexia for years. Students with PCs have found it especially useful, as Windows does not have a user-friendly text-to-speech tool built into it like that found in Mac OSX. But in recent years, NaturalReader apps have become available for Mac, iOS, and Android as well.

This post will focus on the PC and iOS apps, as those are the ones that we’ve worked with the most. I’ve found that the Mac app has not been updated as regularly as the PC app and doesn’t work quite as well. And since OSX has its own text-to-speech capabilities built into it, there’s not as much of a need for it on that platform. We don’t have access to an Android device to test that app, but student reports indicate that it is similar to the iOS app in design, strengths, and weaknesses.


NaturalReader for PC has two interfaces. One, the Floating Bar, hovers over whatever window is open on the screen. The other is a traditional app that opens up documents to be read aloud.

The traditional interface can open RTF, Text, PDF, Word, or ePub files. The files are displayed as text only, so all images are stripped out and much of the formatting is lost. Users may then click the play button to begin reading wherever they wish.

reg interface

The free version picks up whatever voices are already on your computer. The user may easily adjust the speed without leaving the main interface. One may buy additional voices separately, or spring for one of the paid versions with other additional features.

As seen in the image above, the speech output syncs with highlighting on the screen.

When a user clicks on the “Floating Bar” button seen in the bottom right of the above image, the app shrinks down to a bar that hovers over whatever window is open on the screen.

Floating Bar

The user then must select text to be read aloud by dragging the cursor over it. When one clicks on the play button, NaturalReader will read the selected text aloud. There is no synchronized highlighting here unless the user clicks on the little arrows on the bottom right of the bar. That opens up a box that displays the selected text and highlights the words as they are being read aloud, as seen above. Clicking on the settings wheel allows the user to change the voice and the speed.

Students use NaturalReader differently based on personal preference. Some stick with the Floating Bar for all of their readings. It works for everything, whether a searchable PDF with lots of images, an HTML article, or a Word document. Others like the highlighting in the traditional interface and will open text-heavy documents there. When a document has lots of images, though, these students will typically rely on the floating bar so as not to lose all of the formatting that’s lost in the traditional interface.


NaturalReader for iOS currently is free for 100 minutes, at which point it becomes all but inoperable. If one wants to keep using it, NaturalReader Pro is $9.99 as of publication. Just make sure you don’t buy the old NaturalReader with the teal logo which, for some reason, is still available on the app store even though it is quite buggy.

It’s relatively easy to open files in NaturalReader, as one may link a OneDrive or Dropbox account or open a webpage. If a file is open elsewhere on your device, a user may also tap the button to open it in another app, one of which will be NaturalReader.

ios open

Files then display and are read aloud as the text changes color.


The below images demonstrate how a web page article can be found in NaturalReader and converted to text for reading aloud.

ios web article

After tapping on the “Listen Now” button, the article is converted to text as such:

ios read web article

There are three major shortcomings to this app that make me unable to recommend it over our favorite mobile text-to-speech app, Voice Dream Reader, which also costs $9.99 and is now available in Android in addition to iOS.

First, it’s not easy to navigate through a file to a particular spot. Voice Dream users can double tap on any word and text-to-speech immediately begins at that tap. With NaturalReader, one either taps the play button and listens to the file from the beginning or one taps the arrow at the bottom right of the screen to bring up a menu to scroll to a place in the document. It’s not always easy to find the exact spot, though. The image below demonstrates how I’ve moved the switch horizontally to navigate to page 5 out of 9.


Second, Voice Dream syncs with more cloud services. Besides Dropbox and OneDrive, users may sync their Google Drive, iCloud, Bookshare, Evernote, Box, Pocket, and Instapaper accounts. This makes it easier to open files in Voice Dream than in NaturalReader.

Finally, Voice Dream is more rich with features for customized reading and note taking. I’ll be writing another review of Voice Dream Reader in the near future that spends more time on these features and the improvements made on the app since my first review.

The Takeaway

NaturalReader for PC is an excellent choice for those looking for a free text-to-speech app for windows. NaturalReader for iOS is worth trying out and keeping an eye on, but it’s not at the level of Voice Dream Reader, which is available at the same price.

Please let us know your own experiences with NaturalReader and other text-to-speech apps.

Siri and Dragon Dictation for College Students

Many of us know about how Siri can allow a user to give your iOS device voice commands. People with visual disabilities and limited mobility rely on Siri quite a bit, as they can’t interact with their devices as readily in other ways. But Siri and dictation apps like Dragon Dictation are also quite valuable for college students who want to write notes or papers on their devices.

dragon      siri

Many students think better while speaking than while writing or typing. Students with dyslexia or dysgraphia might find it especially difficult to concentrate on content, style, or structure when it can be a chore just to get the words out properly by hand. If you are such a person, you may wish to take notes or write papers by dictating.

Dragon Naturally Speaking, by Nuance, is an application that has been available for PCs and Macs for years. It’s voice recognition capabilities have allowed busy people like doctors and lawyers as well as people with disabilities to dictate their writing to their computers. In the past, Dragon Naturally Speaking required a lengthy training process for the software to learn the voice of the user. High quality microphones needed to be used in consistently the same way for accurate results. Voice recognition has come such a long way, however, that recent versions of Dragon Naturally Speaking and similar apps on mobile devices are highly accurate (although not perfect) upon first use.

Dragon Dictation is Nuance’s iOS app. It’s essentially a bare-bones note-taking app. When starting a new note, one taps the red button and dictates the note. It’s best to speak relatively close to the microphone.

Commonly used voice commands are found by tapping the “i” icon at the bottom right.


One may bring the keyboard up to edit the note within the app.


When finished, one may email, cut or copy, Tweet, or Facebook the note, allowing one to export the note into other apps for further editing or publication.


While Dragon can only be used within its own app, Siri allows one to dictate seamlessly into most any app that allows text input. When the keyboard comes up, just tap the microphone button next to the space bar and dictate away. Tap done when finished and edit using the keyboard if you wish. Here it is in Microsoft Word.


While accuracy wasn’t perfect for me with either Siri or Dragon, it was good enough to give me a first draft to work with.

Since Dragon Dictation is free, Siri comes built into iOS, and both are easy to use and learn, it’s worth trying these out to see if they work for you.

Have you dictated notes or papers? Do you have any tips for others to do the same?

Mac OSX Text-to-Speech

Many don’t realize that OSX includes a very useful text-to-speech tool. This one minute video nicely demonstrates how to use it.

This is a great tool to keep focus on reading a PDF when it’s hard to pay attention to the text. Or maybe you are writing a paper and need to hear your words read back to you while editing. There’s no need to seek out and purchase an app when this is built right into your operating system.

This feature is limited in that one must repeatedly select text and hit the keyboard shortcuts to listen. Additionally, each word is not highlighted while being read aloud. But it’s a perfectly adequate text-to-speech function that many of my students have been satisfied with over the years.

Prizmo for iOS

Prizmo for iOS is a leading scan and read app that may be useful for those of us with dyslexia or visual impairments. The user takes a photo of a document, the app converts it into text, and then it allows one to hear it read aloud or save it as a searchable PDF.

An older version of Prizmo is reviewed with similar apps in this article from a couple years ago that focuses on blind users. Since I’m most familiar with our students with dyslexia, I’ll focus here on its applications for them.

One can easily think of the times this might be useful for a dyslexic student. A professor hands out an exercise or reading in class and you need to listen to it? Open up Prizmo, snap a photo, and plug in the headphones. Stuck with a reading on paper rather than listening to accessible e-text? Use Prizmo page by page. Maybe your instructor posted a reading as an image PDF rather than a searchable one? Open it in Prizmo and make it accessible. (Please note that our students should always be able to get accessible e-text. Just see Jeremy. But this could work in a pinch.)

So this app sounds great, but how well does it work? How good does the image quality need to be for the optical character recognition (OCR) engine to accurately translate the image into text? How well does it read? How easy is it to export the documents to other apps or cloud storage? I put Prizmo through its paces and here’s what I found.


Let’s start with a nicely scanned PDF that a professor may have put on Blackboard without running OCR herself. Will Prizmo be able to make it readable with few to no errors?


Pretty good, I’d say. You’ll see the cursor on the page and the keyboard along with it. That’s to allow one to fix any errors if need be. It was also quite easy to open that PDF up from Dropbox, so I would guess that one should be able to open PDFs or other image files from other sources as well.

Now we’ll move onto those documents you might receive on paper in class. Here’s how Prizmo converted the first page of a syllabus. The syllabus was flat on the desk and the light quality was decent and slightly shaded for my iPad Air’s camera.


Not perfect, but not bad, eh? And if the image quality doesn’t make for the greatest readability, one may adjust the contrast and brightness before running the OCR. Here’s another handout:


And yes, the OCR engine goes beyond English to  recognize 10 common languages and allows one to purchase many others.

What about an article from a journal that is not laying completely flat on the desk?


Hmmm….some major problems here.

It looks like Prizmo is acceptable  for use when one is starting with a high quality scan or photo. But it’s not a cure-all for documents that aren’t prepared well to begin with.


Prizmo includes built in voices and in-app purchases allows one to buy many others. Here’s what it looks like when Prizmo is reading a document. You’ll see the word highlighted as it reads, although it does not have all the features one finds in Voice Dream.



So maybe you want to open that accessible PDF you made in Prizmo in Voice Dream or on another device. One can easily export your document to other apps or to cloud storage. Here’s the above PDF in the original layout view in Voice Dream after exporting.


Final Assessment

Prizmo could be well worth its $10 price to someone often wanting to be able to listen to paper documents and willing to put up with some imperfections. However, its limited accuracy when image quality is less-than-perfect means that we as a college need to continue to provide students with accessible readings that don’t require students to run their own OCR.

Have you used Prizmo? How have you liked it? Have you come across other affordable scan and read apps that have worked for you?