That is a question – surprise, surprise – we get asked from our prospects! The context of this question can come from various angles:
- I have made my web site accessible so why the need for a web-based audio version of it?
- Visitors to my web site can download text-to-speech software that will read any content so why bother?
In terms of accessibility, we encourage and are supportive of engaging all our customers to make their web content accessible. That starts with looking at the code of their web sites and making sure it is in line with international or national accessibility guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 from the W3C. Once the web content is accessible, assistive technologies can be used efficiently because the right markup will have been put into place. Assistive technologies will only work as well as the quality of the foundation they are being used on. ReadSpeaker works better when the web content is accessible. It’s a virtuous circle and there is no debate there. The WCAG 2.0 in its third principle about making information and the operation of user interface understandable actually refers to alternative technologies such as ours:
3.1.5 Reading Level: When text requires reading ability more advanced than the lower secondary education level after removal of proper names and titles, supplemental content, or a version that does not require reading ability more advanced than the lower secondary education level, is available. (Level AAA).
We have referred in this blog at how many people across the globe have limited reading skills and for who supplemental content such as the audio version of a Web page does provide a solution to access online written content.
However many users will not invest in assistive technologies because they don’t have the same need to do that than others for who it is a must-have to be able to access content. Assistive technologies such as a screen readers are needed by blind users to access all web content and software applications they use, not only content available from the browser. On the contrary, take the example of a child who is learning English as a second language and who would like to listen to online courses to improve his or her skills. Take the case of a user with a mobile device for who it just might be more convenient at some times to listen to online news than to read it on a smaller screen. Or what about the multitasker who can listen to online updates while working on something else. This temporary type of usage will not need the investment – sometimes costly for the end user – in assistive technologies. In this case, it is the content owner’s responsibility to find solutions that will easily benefit their users’ needs.
This leads me to the second point made at the beginning of this post regarding downloading software instead of using online text to speech solutions like ours. We believe in the two words content owner. The owner of a web site, or mobile app, should be in control of how his or her information is communicated and delivered. With our speech services, web content owners can decide exactly how they want their online text to be read aloud. They can customize the reading experience for their users in the best way possible. That is not possible if they rely on their end users to access their content with text-to-speech software.