Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Build Your Own Free AAC with Foretype, Natural Reader and Win XP

"What free programs for text readers come with word prediction?" a special education teacher asked on an email yesterday.
I had to answer that I didn't know of any off-hand, but that got me thinking, and so I thought I would spend some time researching what was available. One free shareware program stood out - Foretype. It utilizes Microsoft Word's Autotext capabilities to let you design abbreviations easily for your own quick words and phrases. Add a text to speech tool like the free version of Natural Reader, and you have a free AAC communicator right on a Word document - running on codes and abbreviations, which saves energy on typing.

Here's what I did:
I built some custom shorthand abbreviations for comments I wanted to make within the easy Autotext engine that comes with Foretype. You enter your abbreviation shortcut and in another window you enter the text you want it to type. You can also just write and use their word prediction. It doesn't come up as much as I would like, but definitely is nice with phrases, signatures, etc. you build in.
I tried: brb=be right back, nhp=I need help please, ml=maybe later.
I opened the miniboard in Natural Reader on my screen, and as I wrote the shortcuts, I pressed "enter" for the real text when it appeared in the box. Then the real text would be on the page. I highlighted text and pressed play on the toolbar and it said my phrase.
That's all there was to it!

Some limitations:
If you have someone who is orthopedically impaired, all the key shortcuts for highlighting text could be helpful as listed on . There is the free Click n type on-screen keyboard that can do scanning that could be a possibility to get to the keyboarding piece with a switch or just the use of a mouse/trackball/trackpad. Because there is a lot of navigation for the speech part with the highlighting and pressing of play with the text to speech toolbar, it might be inappropriate for certain individuals. I also did not see a version for Vista or for Mac OS.

This combination is especially ideal for someone who has lost their voice and has partial to full use of their hands to do regular navigation on the screen to write and talk - and is experiencing a tight budget.

All the best to you,


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