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WordAloud version 2.1 (evaluation version)

Word Aloud Home Page:
http://www.wordaloud.co.uk/

Created by: Cloudworld Ltd.
http://www.cloudworld.co.uk/

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - June 30, 2001

WordAloud is an assistive reading program that can read any text or html file that is found on your PC. The program assists the user to read, by displaying the chosen text, one word at a time. It also includes an option that enables the program to also read the text to you, as it is displayed. Technically, this program is primarily intended for use by individuals who are learning to read English as second language, and for individuals with learning or reading difficulties. However, this program may also be of value to many people who have low vision. If you don't have a fair degree of usable vision, you may need the assistance of a sighted individual to help you set it up, and learn how to use the program. Once you are familiar with how the program works, it can be operated using just keyboard commands.

This program comes with a range of customizable options. For instance, you can change the background and text colors of the display. You can change the font, and the font size of the text, and the speed at which the text is displayed. As well, WordAloud comes with a wide selection of voices, both male and female, to choose from. As well, the reader's voice can be tweaked by changing its speed, volume, and pitch. WordAloud also comes with two very handy files, a demonstration module that shows you some of the uses of the program, and a help file that teaches the first time user how to set up and use the program.

WordAloud is easy to use. You simply open the program, select the file you want to read, open it, and select the 'play' button. As the text is read, it is displayed, one word at a time. You can elect to have the program pause after each word, this option requires that you click on the forward button to proceed to the next word. You can also have it read one full sentence before it pauses, or you can set it not to stop until the entire file is read. The program can also be 'told' to spell out a given word in the text, which it will do, one letter at a time. You also have the option of pausing the reading at any point, and you can move forward and backwards within the text that you are reading. As well, if you are using the 'text' only option and come across a word that you cannot read, all you need do is pause the program and have it read the word to you.

While this program can be used by individuals with minimal sight, I'd only recommend it for individuals with moderate vision loss. I make this recommendation based upon the fact that I found it difficult to navigate the user interface, even after I learned the keyboard commands, without occasionally peaking. Plus, without the ability to still see your computer files, it would be difficult to search out the files you wanted to read, without the assist of other programs. This said, I do feel that many individuals with moderate vision loss, who are looking for a program to read the occasional document, would find this program of use.

Another reason that I am only recommending this program to individuals with low vision who are only looking for a reading program for occasion use, is that the WordAloud voices are a bit 'rough'. Although the program comes with a variety of voices, they are all very mechanical sounding. I had to play around awhile with the various settings before I could find a voice combination that I was comfortable with. While this voice was understandable, I would not want to have to listen to it for hours on end (such as reading documents all day at work), but I found that it was just fine for reading one or two documents at a time.

Although this program does have some rough edges, it is still a wonderfully useful program. If you want a program with all the bells and whistles, and a better speech synthesizer, you can, of course, find such programs, but you will find that you will be paying a premium for such a product. While this program does not take the place of a screen reader, it will be of benefit to many with low vision.

Please note that this review is based on the evaluation version of WordAloud. This program shows great promise, and according to the documentation on the WordAloud webpage, the makers of the program are continuing to work and expand upon the programs capabilities. Consequently, I expect that future versions will not only sound better, but that they will also be more accessible to individuals with vision impairments.

System Requirements:
The program runs on Windows 95, 98 and Windows ME, and requires,
100 MHz CPU or greater
4.5 megabytes of free hard drive space
16 megabytes of RAM.

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