The CAST eReader
by Dr. Merle Marsh
Some word processors - various versions of Microsoft Word for example - have the ability to read back to you what have written. In computer parlance, this is called text-to-speech. For people with a variety of reading issues, this facility can give them a chance to hear exactly what they have written and promotes better communication skills. But trying to extend this capability to read documents from other sources, Web site text, or research data, for example, can mean a series of tedious copying, cutting, and pasting maneuvers on the computer. And even when these maneuvers are executed correctly, there is no guarantee that things will work when dealing with different kinds of computer files in a variety of formats. Worse yet, for struggling young readers, with short attention spans, this kind of file juggling just doesn't cut it.
Now the people at CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology) are offering a new version of their eReader software that offers text-to-speech with a greatly improved user interface. Not only can a struggling young reader/writer type what they want to express and hear it read back to them but they also can easily access all kinds of other text, too. In the browser window of eReader, for example, a young researcher can open a Web site, highlight a portion of the text to be read - a single word, a sentence, a paragraph or longer selection and hear it read back to them clearly and distinctly. Even better they can open two or more other windows to reference other additional documents at the same time or take advantage of "drag and drop" note taking. This gives struggling readers a chance to not only take advantage of what the Web has to offer, but also the ability to independently manipulate text, hear what they have captured, add their own thoughts to their notes and then hear the whole compilation read back to them. eReader now also supports RTF files (that means that most any file from any application can be read), HTML files (which covers text on the Internet) and DAISY 2.02 files (which are digital talking books, which use human voices on MP3 files). In short, what all this technical jargon means is that most anything you have on your computer or get from the Web, the eReader can read out loud.
EReader is the first tool of its kind to be able to use both synthetic speech and natural voice to navigate the wide range of digital materials now available online and on CD. It also provides a less expensive alternative to the WYNN and Kurzweil 3000 text-to speech readers. CAST, the developer of eReader, is also well known for developing and introducing the concept of Universal Design for Learning. Universal Design for Learning is a framework for teaching, learning and assessment, drawing on new brain research and new media technologies, to respond to individual learner differences. eReader, orginally named Ultimate Reader, was introduced in 1996 and is presently used by over 80,000 students and adults to support reading as well as assist in research performed on the Internet.
To learn more about the activities of CAST, as well as try a 30-day demo of eReader, visit their web site at http://www.cast.org.
Win98/Me/2000/XP and Macintosh (although the Mac version has fewer capabilities
$229 for a single user - see the CAST site for school pricing
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