Let all Georgia Public Library Personal Computers speak - for FREE!

Let all Georgia Public Library
Personal Computers speak
- for FREE!

Fair on the Square - Buchanan, GA - May 2004
(revised 9/2004 and 12/2005)

In only half a human lifespan, the cost of storing information or performing computations has literally fallen a MILLION-FOLD. Things which were unimaginable only a few short years ago are now not only possible, but virtually free compared to the benefits they bestow.

One example of this is so-called "text-to-speech" technology, in which the written word is rendered as speech by means of electronics. Today, all personal computers ("PCs") have more than enough power to synthesize understandable speech. They also routinely bundle the audio output interfaces needed to connect to external speakers or headphones.

For better or worse, the Microsoft Windows® operating system continues to dominate the desktop computer market. One splendid advantage of this fact is that virtually all PCs can run text-to-speech software which is TOTALLY FREE OF ADDITIONAL COSTS.

Here at the Buchanan-Haralson Public Library, Dr. Ron Feigenblatt has exhibited a method for delivering this benefit to PC users. Virtually any Internet-connected PC can activate this text-to-speech software, called "COPY2SAY", merely by leaving open the World Wide Web page one is directed to via:


The PC user need only highlight and copy the text which interests him, using the conventional means which Microsoft Windows® provides, and the text is rendered as speech using the free engine. It should be emphasized that virtually any text rendered on the computer screen can be read in this manner; it is by no means limited to content on the World Wide Web or other facilities on the Internet. And you don't have to come to the library to make use of COPY2SAY - let your child access it from an Internet-connected PC in your home and enable him to listen to the written word even before he can even read it.

Twenty-first century versions of Windows bundle text-to-speech engines needed for tools like COPY2SAY to work. Older versions like Windows 98 do not. If required, COPY2SAY automatically loads the missing Microsoft-published software required over the Internet, with the active approval of the PC user. Once the requisite Microsoft software is installed, one can even use COPY2SAY without any further active connection to the Internet, by means of a variant which will soon be published.

According to http://www.georgialibraries.org/gpls/gpls.html per the FY2002 GPLS Statistics & Annual Report,

"4,319 public access Internet computer workstations are available at Georgia's public libraries"

Yet as best we know, essentially NONE of them exploit FREE software like COPY2SAY to make the world of text accessible to the partially-sighted, the preliterate and the illiterate. This MUST be changed.

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, public facilities are required to make reasonable accomodations to address the needs of the disabled. Quoting:

"...no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity"

Free software like COPY2SAY is exactly what this legislation had in mind. Surely the public libraries in Georgia - and elsewhere - must deploy text-to-speech software on personal computers now, to accomodate the law.

So why hasn't this been done? There are small barriers - but barriers all the same. First, there is ignorance of how cheap and easy this can be. Beyond that are the logistics of deploying the technology and making the public aware it exists.

Libraries must provide headsets to patrons - or at least allow them to bring and plug in headsets which let them listen to audio output in a library setting. As it turns out, such hardware is very inexpensive these days, as shown below:

(Model in use at the Buchanan-Haralson Public Library through the generosity of Dr. Terrell McBrayer)

(A cheaper alternative to the unit at the left.)

Beyond hardware matters, it is a sad fact that user-wrought changes to the Volume Control panel in Microsoft Windows® can mute ALL sound output. Provision must be made to address this small but vital matter. The training required is minimal, but essential.

Another issue is that libraries typically "lock down" their computers for many reasons - some of them quite sensible. This can interfere with the installation of free needed Microsoft-published software which a facility like COPY2SAY requires. The important thing to note is that this installation is a ONE-TIME event - one which can be folded into the routine upkeep of PCs.

Finally, end-users need to learn the simple skill of highlighting text on a PC screen by "dragging" a mouse across it, followed by a copying operation (e.g. hold down the Control key and tap the letter C key) And they need an easy way to access COPY2SAY - like a simple Microsoft Windows® desktop "Shortcut".

By addressing these barriers, we can open up the world of text to preliterate children, the permanently illiterate and most of the legally blind. What more worthy accomplishment could any library boast? Vast free collections of written material already exist on the Internet - even copies of conventional books. (See for example: http://www.geocities.com/neohephaestus/links/books.html )

Would you like to help us make software like COPY2SAY available to the patrons of Georgia's Public Libraries? If so, please contact us either online via the Yahoo! Group hosted at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/copy2say or by postal mail to:

COPY2SAY c/o Dr. Ron Feigenblatt
Haralson County Historical Society
Courthouse Square
Buchanan, GA 30113

Surely this is an improvement all people of good will desire to see!