Chromebook Select-to-speak upgrade adds more human-sounding voices

JC Torres - Oct 14, 2021, 8:06pm CDT
Chromebook Select-to-speak upgrade adds more human-sounding voices

The majority of today’s consumer tech products are unsurprisingly designed for the majority of people that don’t have physical or mental handicaps. That’s not to say, however, that these are the only people who deserve to have all that power at their fingertips. In fact, they should even be the ones whose lives are made even better by modern devices and software, correcting and augmenting what would normally be huge obstacles to leading functional and productive lives. Chromebooks are often portrayed as devices designed specifically for those purposes, and Google is presenting some features that make its Chrome OS platform more accessible to people with disabilities.

The most common disability that affects people’s use and enjoyment of personal computing devices like smartphones and laptops is often related to sight. These range from complete blindness, low vision, dyslexia, or even those just learning a language that’s unfamiliar to their eyes. The most common solution presented in this area is text-to-speech, and Chromebooks take it a step further with Select-to-speak.

This feature is part of Chrome OS’s built-in screen reader but with the added bonus of speaking out only the text that’s currently selected. With this month’s update, the voice that speaks out those words will sound more natural, complete with the various accents found in 25 currently supported languages. Google claims that it makes it easier to follow along and comprehend text, even for those with dyslexia.

This follows an earlier upgrade to the same text-to-speech system that gave users more control over how the words are said out loud. They can, for example, speed up or slow down the speech. They can even select specific words that are being spoken, and they will be visually highlighted by darkening everything else around the text.

Google is also taking the opportunity to promote the other accessibility features it has built into Chrome OS. Those include the typical screen magnifier to a built-in ChromeVox screen reader utility. Chromebooks even have Point Scanning for those who have a Switch Access device connected via USB or Bluetooth.

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