Let the computer read for you

by Rhodri Buttrick on 31 January 2011
For many dyslexics such as myself, reading can be an arduous task. I was unable to read a book until I was 15, I can still remember walking through the London Underground with my parents, not having a clue what any of the writing on the posters said.  Even now! I find large amounts  of reading extremely difficult.  If my brain was a computer it would use all its processing capacity decoding each of the words and leave little or no power to understand the meaning of the sentence.  In effect, when I try to read too much, I am in effect, reading individual unconnected words rather than sentences with meanings. Bearing this in mind, it usually comes as a great surprise to people that my A-level subjects were philosophy, history and English.  What surprises even more is I am now in my second year of university studying philosophy. During my A-levels, I would get my parents to read me my textbooks but I knew that once at university I would not want them hanging around my hall of residence! This situation called for some technology that even Inspector Gadget would be amazed at. Through my disabled students allowance I purchased a flatbed scanner to plug into my laptop and a piece of software called ClaroRead. ClaroRead is primarily a program that reads text from various applications on your computer. I have spoken about this software in previous blogs, mainly focusing on its predictive text feature and the screen reading ability. Amazingly I have not yet blogged about its most amazing feature. It has the ability to read books! After a trip to the library to find books for my essay, I come back to my room, plug my scanner into a laptop, open ClaroRead and scan the relevant pages. Once scanned into ClaroRead, this ingenious program can then convert the image of the printed  page into text. You can then save as text or even a Word document. Now you have your book magically snapped onto your computer screen as text, ClaroRead can do what it does best, read. I can sit there with my feet up and listen to the words of Plato spoken in a slightly robotic voice, excellent. Unfortunately, like everything in this world this process isn't faultless. Although the scanner I'm using is pretty fast, it still takes a while for me to scan a few chapters from a book, what with all the page turning and the button pressing. The program doesn't always run perfectly either and often when I have scanned in a large number of pages, it seems to be overloaded and fails to convert the pages to text. It acts as if it is completely forgotten you even scanned anything in the first place.  The accuracy of the character recognition is to be commended although it does sometimes insert one of these things: ¬ in the middle of words and most bizarre.  It also gets confused when people have written in the library books! All in all though a wonderful gizmo and my degree would be impossible without it.

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