Text-to-Speech Software: Kurzweil

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Have you heard of Kurzweil? I use a lot of different text-to-speech (TTS) software, but Kurzweil 3000 is the most powerful and sophisticated program I’ve tried. It’s designed for educational purposes, and I wanted to post about it here particularly for those who might be experiencing low vision beyond their school days.

Kurzweil can recognize text—meaning you can scan almost anything and it can be read aloud. This includes everyday items that aren’t available as audiobooks or that can’t be read by more basic TTS programs. Plus, the software is multilingual, so it can recognize and read texts in many languages. Though I use it mostly for reading, you can also do word processing, and it’s also possible to download the audio and listen to the text on the go.

I’m a graduate student, so I was able to get free access to Kurzweil 3000 through the disabled students program at my university.

For those not connected to a learning institution, you can download Kurzweil as an independent user—what Kurzweil calls its “single subscription” option. The subscription for single users on the web version costs $500/year, and the subscription gives you access to Kurzweil from different devices. Another option is to do a one-time purchase of the stand-alone version to be used on the specific computer its downloaded to. This version is $1395.

So, it’s by no means inexpensive. But it can be invaluable if you are someone who needs to read through a large amount of material that is not readily available in audio form. They offer a free 30-day trial, at least, so you can test out the program to see if it will meet your needs.

One caveat: if you’re using Kurzweil to read hard-copies, you’d need to have access to a scanner. For small scans, I recommend the app GeniusScan, which you can download for free on your phone. It uses your camera to make a quick, clean scan of whatever text you’re taking a photo of.

More posts on other types of TTS software coming soon, but Kurzweil is one you might want to try for professional or educational purposes.

Have you already tried Kurzweil? I’d be interested to hear about your experience!

Phone Flashlight

1200x630wa-1One of the functions of my iPhone that I use often is the build-in flashlight. It comes in handy for a number of tasks, from reading menus in dark restaurants to using keys at night to setting the temperature on my oven. In a pinch, I’ve also used it to illuminate a dark sidewalk. It’s not the strongest flashlight, but it’s certainly better than nothing—and it doesn’t require carrying anything more than your phone.

I used to have a separate flashlight app, but Apple has added the function to its swipe-up control menu. Though I’m talking about the iPhone here, it looks like other smart phones, such as the Android, have this function as well.)

If you have an iPhone, to access the flashlight all you need to do is swipe up from the botton of the screen to the control panel. You should see a screen that looks like this:

Tap the flashlight icon on the bottom, left-hand corner to turn it on. Make sure to tap this icon again when you’re done, because the flashlight function uses lots of the battery. (Once, I left it on accidentally, put it in my bag, and my phone was dead the next time I checked it!) 

Just a little trick to get some extra light.

Cooking with Low Vision

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Low vision can make cooking ‘exciting,’ with all of the chopping, heated surfaces, and clear glass items just waiting to be knocked over. Below, I list a few ideas that help me in the kitchen, if you’d like to see:

1) Less glass and ceramics.

I’ve broken so many glasses and chipped so many ceramic dishes. Once, I launched a pyrex container full of black beans off the kitchen counter and boom—an explosion of beans and shards across the floor. I try to avoid buying new glass items—especially clear glass—and I’ve accepted that anything made of this breakable substance will likely meet its demise at my hands. On a related note, I also keep a dust pan handy.

In lieu or glass, I’ve found some stainless steel items that are working great, including these drinking cups. And I’m a fan of these durable an inexpensive dishes for daily use.

2) More light.

I do any chopping right in front of the brightest light in the kitchen, which sometimes requires me to move things around. Chopping anywhere else, though, would be risky at this point. 

3) A heavy-duty oven mitt and pot-holder.

I got these babies (oven mitt and pot holder) and they work pretty well. Not the most aesthetically-pleasing kitchen accessories, but they’re like silicon armor. I like mitts, just to ensure that every part of my hand and lower arm is covered.

4) A dang flashlight so I can see the dang temperature on the oven.

My oven (shown above) is OLD and the numbers on the dial are not only teeny, but they’re also faded. I keep a flashlight in the drawer next to the oven (and sometimes I just use the flashlight function on my phone) to make sure I set the oven to the right temperature.

5) Some items to make chopping easier. 

  • sharp knives (if hand-chopping is still an option)

  • non-slip cutting boards

  • mandolin for big chopping jobs (this is the mother of mandolins)

  • this funny avocado tool (it’s a little overkill, but I use it to take out the pits when the avocado isn’t as ripe as i had hoped)

I’m also buying some pre-cut items, especially vegetables. The problem is that pre-chopped items tend to cost a little more, plus they tend to be wrapped in lots of plastic, so this is neither the most environmental or economic option. I figure if it keeps me from chopping off my fingers and helps me to eat my veggies, it’s an okay solution for now.

6) Hands-free timer.

Some phones have an option to access your timer with your voice. For instance, with my iPhone, I can say “OK Siri” and then tell it to “Set the timer for 22 minutes.” Devices like a Google Home or an Amazon Echo do the same, provided they’re the kind that are always ‘listening’ and not touch activated.

7) Recipes

Does anyone have solutions for easy recipe reading? I like to read on back-lit screens, so I’ll view recipes on a phone or iPad. I really like youtube videos for recipes, as well.

8) Take it slow.

I try to remind myself not to rush, that it’s no big deal if it takes me 8 minutes longer to chop something. Putting on music or a podcast can help. And, of course, I ask for help when I need it, or I go with an easier meal.

What other solutions have helped you to cook with low vision? I’d love to hear.