It’s summer. The IT and network team move into overdrive to upgrade, improve, refresh. If you haven’t already done so THIS is the time to install free high quality text to speech across your networks.

Three good reasons

  • They are free – they supplement the built in Microsoft or Mac voices and give learners good options for listening to text that they struggle to read or would prefer to listen to.
  • They are a reasonable anticipatory expectation under the Equalities Legislation and support your ethnic minorities as much as your print impaired learners. If you are in England, Wales or Scotland your taxpayers funded the voices to be developed for learning providers. How would you justify not installing them?
  • They work with a wide range of free or inbuilt tools and can speech-enable websites, virtual learning environments, documents and e-books.

Why now?

  • Learners are becoming increasingly aware of what technology support they are entitled to by virtue of free tools and services. Multiagency guidance supported by the National union of students is going to thousands of learners via different advocacy groups, encouraging them to ask for and expect to find network wide quality text-to-speech among other services.
  • Installing free voices and text-to-speech tools over the summer means they are ready for induction so learners can find out about them and use them from the beginning of their course.

Who has a part to play?

learning support/disability teams need to

  • inform learners of their rights to free high quality voices and tools,
  • promote the opportunities text-to-speech give print impaired learners and
  • become familiar with the tools themselves.

library/learning resources teams need to be aware of the potential for text-to-speech to be used with online resources such as e-books, PDFs etc,

network/IT teams need to

  • install free high quality voices across the network,
  • ensure mainstream tools such as Word and Adobe Reader have text-to-speech options enabled,
  • install free text-to-speech software such as Balabolka, Dspeech and Orato.
  • Install appropriate browsers/plug-ins to speech enable webpages.

E-learning and staff development teams need to provide training or awareness raising activities for staff and learners.

What are the technical ingredients to make it happen?

  • VOICES – This depends on where you live. In England, working with post-16 learning providers,download and install the JISC TechDis voices across the network. In Scotland download the Scottish voices from  and in Wales download the Welsh voices from
  • TOOLS – download and install on a memory stick, network or personal computer the following free text-to-speech tools:
  • Orato reads any text that has been copied to the Windows clipboard,
  • Balabolka will
    read any text that has been loaded into it (file>open)
    read any text that has been copied into it (copy, paste)
    save any text as an audio MP3 file
  • SPEECH ENABLED BROWSER – download and install the Google Chrome browser (either on a network or memory stick/individual PCs) and install the ChromeSpeak plug-in.
    • Set the default Windows voice to be TechDis Jess or Jack
    • In your default template for Word ensure the “Speak selected text” option is available from the Quick Access Toolbar (Word 2007 and above).  From this point on any Word document can speak in a high quality voice by selecting some text and clicking the Speak button. Alternatively install the WordTalk plugin for more voice options.

    With these ingredients in place, it is possible to speech-enable the vast majority of the documents, e-books, websites and other electronic resources your learners use.

    But please don’t forget to

    1. tell them about it and
    2. let them know that these voices are also available for their personal home use – we estimate the TechDis voices are available to some 4.6 million post-16 learners in England. We need you to help us tell them…



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