Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Thing #354--Talk To Me

Did you know that your computer can talk? I didn't until today, when I used the Microsoft Narrator utility on my computer.

Narrator is a basic Microsoft accessibility option that uses Text-to-Speech (TTS) technology to read what is displayed on the screen. It allows people with little or no sight to use computers that have Windows operating systems.

I had to do two things before Narrator could start vocalizing to me. First, I had to set up the speech properties for my computer, and then I had to configure Narrator itself. I found the Speech Properties folder in the Control Panel (because I still use Windows XP). In the text-to-speech tab, there were three voices to choose from-I picked "Microsoft Sam", and set him to speak at a normal rate of speed.

Narrator was in the Accessories menu, under the Accessibility category. Once you open the Narrator, a dialog box lets you select from several different TTS functions that include, among others:
  • Announcing events on the screen, where the narrator will read aloud new windows, menus, or shortcuts when they are displayed
  • Reading typed characters (including every keystroke you make, like shifts, spaces, backspaces, and deletes).
The Voice Settings box lets you adjust the speed, volume and pitch of the voice you've chosen. When the Narrator settings configured and the volume turned up, it was time for me to put Microsoft Sam to the test. I opened a Word document and started typing.

I found Narrator very annoying. It would probably be helpful to someone who couldn't see well, but the voice was way too slow-paced for my typing rate; it tried to keep up, but it couldn't, even when I put it on the fastest speed. When I tried to end the program, it asked if I was sure I wanted to exit; I didn't have to think twice before I clicked "Yes".

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