Thursday, January 8, 2015

iPad Essentials: Speak Screen and Speech Options in iOS 8

Many people are not aware of the many assistive technology (and engagement-enhancing) features that are built into the brain of the iPad--iOS, its operating system. In talking to groups out and about, I am aware that many people have been afraid to update their iPad to iOS 8 for fear it will slow things down or perhaps explode. Yes, there are some hoops you need to jump through possibly to make space for the update, but I would really recommend it at this point, even for the iPad 2s (I assist with a fleet of them at a small school and have not noticed a difference in performance with the upgrade). The cost of continuing to wait is missing out on updated apps designed for the newest operating system, as well as the feature I will describe in this post.

iOS 8 has added a new iPad Essential- improved ease of use of text-to-speech tools. Text-to-speech, or the ability to have the device "read" text on screen, has been in the iOS for some time, but previously in a manner that required you to "select" the text, which requires some tricky tap-and-hold gesturing. iOS 8 has brought a new feature called Speak Screen, which is much more easily activated with a two-finger sweep.

First, you will need to turn on the feature:
1. Open the Settings app.
2. Tap General, then Accessibility, then Speech.
3. I like to keep my settings as follows, which allows me to access both Speak Selection and Speak Screen, at a slow speaking rate, along with Highlight Content (a feature that promotes literacy development).

iOS 8 also brought new choices under the Voices menu above, where you can now select the more natural sounding Alex voice (he takes breaths and uses more inflection). Be aware that the voice, if downloaded, takes up 869 MB on your device.

Speak Selection, and now Speak Screen, can be activated on any page that displays selectable text- so any webpage in Safari or other browsers, iBooks, Kindle, and some other apps. In Safari, it is helpful to use in conjunction with the Reader View. This view removes clutter (which could be "read" by the text-to-speech function and become auditory clutter) and displays only what is on the page. Note that this is not available for every webpage but only where the "lines" icon is displayed. 

So, tapping as shown above...

...transforms the page to a simpler view as shown above. Once Speak Screen is turned on in your settings, a two-finger sweep begins reading the page with your selected voice. Use the menu to decrease or increase the speed, rewind, go forward, or pause, and tap the X to dismiss it entirely. Note that if your iPad is Siri-enabled (iPad 3 or later, iPad Mini), you can also activate Siri and say "Speak Screen." 

These features are critical assistive technology for SLPs and teachers to know about, but also serve as therapy and engagement tools:
-Use text-to-speech within word processing apps or the Notes app to help students learn to edit their work more accurately. I know I am a better editor when I hear my text read aloud.
-When presenting text to students, use text-to-speech just to give them a break from your voice, or as an auditory comprehension activity. I know my students appreciate it when I shut my yap for a minute or 2!

Watch Luis Perez' quick video here for a step-by-step look, and see all of his great accessibility resources on his website. A quick view here also lets you see the gesture to activate Speak Screen.

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