Accessing text by audio

There are two main types of software that provide information as audio – screen readers and text to speech applications.

Audio is a useful way of accessing information.  Many learners like information as audio files, as they can listen repeatedly to consolidate and reinforce their learning without the additional stress caused by reading the text.

Screen Readers

Screen readers are useful for users who have little or no functional vision, to access information from a computer or tablet in the form of speech.  This will include all the instructions and ways of manipulating the text as well as the text itself.  There are a number of screen reader applications.  The most popular one is JAWS (Job Access With Speech)  which is paid for, and NVDA (Non-Visual Desktop Access)  which is open source and free to download and use, though a contribution is suggested.

Text to Speech

Text to speech (TTS) applications simply do as their name suggests. If a user highlights and copies text from a website or document, the text to speech application reads out the copied text.  There are a number of simple text to speech applications.

ClipSpeak is a very simple application that reads out the content of the clipboard.  So if a user highlights text and then presses CTRL + C the text will be read out loud.

Balabolka is a more comprehensive TTS that can highlight the words as they are read aloud.  It also can provide the audio in the form of a mp3 file that could be accessed from a mobile device or similar.

Increasingly, Microsoft is adding new inbuilt accessibility features. Microsoft Word has a ‘speak’ button that can be added to the Quick Access toolbar, enabling a user to highlight the text and simply click the button to hear it read out loud.

On the ‘File’ tab, select Options and then in the left hand menu select ‘Quick Access Toolbar’. Follow steps 1-4 in the dialogue options and when finished, then OK.

How to add the Speak button to Microsoft Word

The process involved in adding the speak button to Word
Adding the speak button to Microsoft Word


  1. Click on Quick Access Toolbar on the left hand side
  2. In the drop-down box, select All Commands.  There are a lot and are in alphabetical order.
  3. Select ‘Speak’
  4. Click the Add button and the Speak option will appear in the box on the left hand side of the box.

Once complete, the speak button will be available in the quick access toolbar at the top left of the screen. From now on, if you select text using your mouse or the keyboard and then press the speak button, that text will be read out loud.

Image showing the location of the speak button in the quick access toolbar.
Speak button