SpeakOn is a free media suite program that runs on your personal computer which is a speech-enabled environment.
SpeakOn has applications for finding, retrieving, and listening to a number of forms of media and has been developed for people who are comfortable using computers.
The suite does not require either a magnifier or a screen reader, nor does it have a visual interface. SpeakOn does not require a screen at all! People use SpeakOn with a numerical keypad or a keyboard; SpeakOn responds with speech. Using a low-cost USB slim-line numerical keypad, people can operate SpeakOn with one hand from the comfort of an armchair. Every one of SpeakOn's applications function in the same manner. Once you learn how to master the interface, it is quick and easy to access the features it offers.
The latest version of SpeakOn, version 2.3.0, became available on September 20th, 2009. There are a number of new features - in fact, so many that this one article simply cannot contain them all.
Some of the new features include:
Downloads on demand for both audio and text media; media is selected and downloaded with a single keystroke. This download facility works for podcasts in the Media Center, Radio Time and VI Services applications. It is also implemented with the Seeing Ear library books and TNAUK publications audio and eText.
TNAUK eText publications can be automatically converted to HTML format for use with an external player or mobile telephone.
Variable audio speed while maintaining constant pitch.
SpeakOn contains four media applications: Media Center, Radio Time, Last FM, and VI Services. Media Center, Radio Time and Last FM are applications that provide mainstream media, while VI Services provides media being offered by special services for the visually impaired community. What follows is a description of each of these applications.
Media Center: The Media Center application provides access to CD Media. With this application you can play DAISY books, MP3 books, as well as CD audio music. Speaking of music, with Media Center you can play your own music, create play-lists and edit them as well. You can stream or download, on demand, thousands of podcast files through subject directories on the Internet. You can play podcast files that you have downloaded through an external application on your computer. The application provides links to favorites to include the BBC and public radio podcasts.
Radio Time: The Radio Time application gives people a Live and On-Demand player that is seamlessly integrated with the Radio Time directory. You can browse and search over one-hundred thousand stations and shows. You can play all common formats and preset your favorites. Radio Time is working with SpeakOn to make this all available to you - www.radiotime.com-
Last FM: The Last FM application is an accessible player for the Last FM website. Last FM is a service that tracks your musical taste and finds similar users, providing musical recommendations and personalized radio. Last FM gives you a specialized player program that you can use to download and install on your computer. While the Last FM player itself is not easily accessible to screen readers, the SpeakOn Last FM application provides you with a player that can be used through the usual SpeakOn interface, making it fully-accessible. Streaming Last FM music is available to you for a minor monthly subscription fee. Last FM provides you with the opportunity to have forty or so radio stations, each of which plays a different genre of music. You will have the ability to skip tracks you do not like while including the frequency of the tracks you do. You also have the option to ban a track you do not like. Last FM gives you the ability to listen to what amounts to your own personal radio station that plays the tracks you prefer and the tracks that people with similar tastes to you like - www.last.fm
VI Services: The VI Services application provides the ability to stream or download on-demand podcast files provided for the blind community such as, 'In Touch,' 'Blind Cool Tech,' and, 'Info Sound.' With this application you can listen to Internet radio that is available to the blind community such as ACB and Insight radio, or TNAUK, the Talking Newspaper Association of the UK. You can browse, find, as well as listen to streamed and narrated newspapers, magazines and networked guides. You can download on-demand audio publications to use with external players. The VI Services application gives people the ability to browse, find and automatically download and read books from the Seeing Ear Library. To use TNAUK you must be a subscriber, www.tnauk.org.uk. To use the Seeing Ear Library, you must also be a subscriber, - www.seeingear.org
The applications associated with SpeakOn can be customized. For example; you can create and organize your music into directories of your choosing. You can add your favorite radio stations and organize the links to your favorite podcast resources. You can also organize your favorite books and magazines. There is a comprehensive manual that includes a step-by-step tutorial available for SpeakOn. There is also a self-help SpeakOn group.
The people at a-technic are also working on a technological solution for the, 'technologically-frail,' called, 'Pipistrelle,' that is based on custom hardware. Pipistrelle might use some of SpeakOn's software and is a low-cost and easy-to-use computer for delivering spoken voice newspapers, periodicals, music CD's and additional audio content. The audience for Pipistrelle is persons who are visually impaired who do not possess computer skills. The goal of Pipistrelle is to give persons who are either blind or partially-sighted access to a variety of both informational and entertainment media through intuitive navigation features that permit them to browse large amounts of content.
Pipistrelle is a small, Linux computer with a built-in CD drive that is around the size of a cable TV box or game console. The unit can output audio through a television, hi-fi, or a stand-alone, powered speaker. Content for Pipistrelle is received through a broadband Internet connection or a CD. Plain text and non-audio content are synthesized into speech through use of natural voice speech synthesis.
There are a number of services that are expected to be available through Pipistrelle in it's first release, to include:
Downloading and speech synthesis of daily, weekly, monthly and periodical publications from the Talking Newspapers Association UK web site. This access is not restricted to the "edited highlights" traditionally available through Talking Newspaper cassettes. All internet access and site browsing is done 'under the covers' so users do not need to understand any of the computer concepts such as browsers, menus, windows, internet connections and so on.
Access to audible podcasts from a variety of popular web sites.
Access to a range of internet based radio stations with audible channel and program information.
Playback of DAISY format audio books.
Playback of MP3 files from a music library stored on the Pipistrelle hard drive, along with facilities to easily add new content to the library from audio CDs.
A key element of the Pipistrelle project, under development, is partnerships with organizations that are capable of providing people with content that is timely and online. Pipistrelle has intuitive controls for navigation of a publication. All of the tutorial and help for the system is audible. Because there is no visual display, the only printed manual is a basic hardware troubleshooting guide for use when the audio is not working. Both the manual and setup instructions are also provided in Braille, as well as on audio cassette.
Pipistrelle is anticipated to be made commercially available as a portion of a package that includes broadband access, initial setup, as well as a service that bulk uploads CD's onto the system. The Pipistrelle system is expected to cost less than five-hundred pounds. If you would like to be automatically notified about Pipistrelle developments, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org - www.a-technic.net/speakon.htm
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