No…I’m not talking about the “inner voice”, the famous personification of intuitive understanding that leads to moral or spiritual epiphany, but an artificial and definitely monotonous voice that shadows every keystroke I make on my PC’s input system.
Like many relationships we have, my bond with the Text To Speech (TTS) system, that helps me work on the computer with almost equal ease of someone who could see, is fraught with mixed feelings…. Love and hate, to be precise.
At the core of a blind person’s ability to work on the computer there is the TTS, the larynx that picks up the content on the screen and reads it aloud for the benefit of the blind person.
This voice is part of a software system called screen reader that identifies textual content on the computer monitor and converts it into voice. The screen reader is created so intuitively that I can not only find my TTS reading the content as I type, it also reads every word or sentence the curser picks up as it moves across the screen. Depending on my familiarity with the software, I can customize it any which way I want. For instance, I can make it read only sentences continuously or mute the keyboard echo that mercifully can stop the PC blabbering as I type a sentence or a word.
This is one technology the blind has made for the blind and so, it is not only dependable on most applications like word documents, Excel spreadsheets, webpages etc, but has transcended the PC and works even better on Smartphone’s and tablets.
Of course, the effectiveness of this technology depends on the friendliness of software/tools used to develop third party applications functioning on the devices or the content developed by news portals or email services which are governed by Web Access Guidelines (which most people comply with).
Those of you who wonder how a blind person could have worked on an article (as a journalist) and written his book, the screen reader is my secret; the one tool that makes me feel equal with everyone who had discovered the magic of words.
Of course, with every advantageous technology come a few annoyances. Like the mobile phone for instance. In pre-cell phone days, a marketing or sales executive could have disappeared from her workplace the moment her shift gets over and relax in the knowledge that there wouldn’t be a call from her boss until the next morning. That’s no longer the case as mobile phones and laptops have bulldozed into our personal space. Yeah…we hate them a bit for such levels of intrusion, but in the same breath, we all could relax when our children get stuck in schools and their teacher or fellow parents send us a text message informing us about their safety.
The same way, albeit in a lighter vein, I often think of the intrusion the TTS has made in my own life. Imagine the constant babble of a non-human voice that sounds varyingly from mocking you to irritating you?…almost like a child that throws up tantrums. Candies won’t work here.
The TTS, while helping me compose reports, stories or documents, would also rudely cut into my thoughts and recollections. Think of this artificial voice repeating the request “hide wider space, hide wider space”, going on while I struggle for a word or a phrase to complete the idea or narrative. Squeezing the larynx is out of the question as you know.
Since most TTS systems are made in American or British accent (or at least the ones I use), the way they read Indian names, including my own, would evoke laughter in anyone who happened to listen to it for the first time. The problem for regular users though is the lack of learning the correct pronunciation of some names. After all, there are some rare names even in our own cultural traditions, which could change with the way they are spelt. For instance, consider the name Jaswinder…Listening to my software read this name several times, I’m bound to forget the original pronunciation and end up remembering it as Jazz Winder!!
Laugh or frown at the voice, it’s harder to live without it.
**The Association of Persons with Rare Eye Diseases (APRED) has been formalized as a group under the Organisation of Rare Diseases India (ORDI). Please visit the organisation’s website at apred.ordindia.org for further information and to become members/volunteers.