AT Tip of the Week: Text to Speech AAC on the Fly

Image of a squirrel say, "Please be patient while I type, I have something important to say."

If you have an Apple device, you can turn it into an instant text to speech, speech generating device.  Of course, AAC selection is a process and this instant text to speech is not a long term solution. But, it could be handy in a pinch for people with literacy skills who who find themselves in need of AAC.  This can work on the iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.

When is this useful?  It could be an important tool in an emergency situation. For instance, if someone is unable to speak, perhaps due to smoke or chemical inhalation.  It may also be an important tool for people on the autism spectrum, who may not be able to access to their voice in all situations.

How do we set this up?  First, go into device settings:

Settings → General → Accessibility → Vision

Image of the Vision related accessibility features in iPhone settings

Yes, this is an accessibility feature designed for people with low vision (who might need text read aloud).  Under Vision, tap Speech. Activate “Speak Screen”. You may also want to tap “Typing Feedback”. On this screen, you can activate “Speak Words”.  This will speak each word aloud as you type.

Once these features are enabled, open the Notes app.  You can tap the pencil icon to create a new note, so only new input is spoken.

Image of the start a new note pencil icon in the Notes app

 You could also write an introduction in advance. It will depend on the situation. Begin typing your message.  If you have enabled “Speak Words”, you will hear the text spoken on the completion of each new word. This may be useful to catch someone’s attention, so that they know you are trying to communicate with them.

Image of Typing feedback accessibility feature on iPhone

If you have only enabled “Speak Screen”, finish typing and then swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen. You will hear your text and also see a set of controls.  These controls allow you to slow down, or speed up, the rate at which your text is spoken.

Image of Speak Screen controls on iPhone

Since this is the Notes app, you will also be able to share your message by text or email.  You can also import a photo, draw a sketch, or share the note with a chosen group from your contacts list.  Communication can be multimodal.

In the short video below, you will see an example of text to speech in the Notes app.  You can see that I am not using the standard Apple keyboard. I have imported the SwiftKey app to my phone.  This keyboard allows me to use predictive text in different languages (I speak Swedish). It also allows for Flow typing.  I don’t have to lift my hand from the keyboard. This makes my typing & texting much faster (I am a klutz)! This could also speed up your use of Text to Speech. When it comes to communication, faster is often better.

Text to Speech video


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Kathryn Helland

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