After running last weeks Public Sector Digital Transformation & Channel Shift in Customer Services WALES event and spending a bit of time speaking to Texthelp’s Paul Fox, I thought that it would be useful to revisit the functionality of Browsealoud, which is so much more than a Text Reader. Here is a piece by Susanna Laurin, CEO of Funka, an Accessibility company and also a piece by Sean Douglas, Director of ‘Extraordinaire Digital Media Ltd’ and Co-founder of ‘The Codpast’ – a website for students and adults with Dyslexia giving their thoughts on Browsealoud


Browsealoud: a real game changer – Susanna Laurin, CEO of Funka

The name Browsealoud does not cover all the help that end users get from this service from Texthelp. It is much more than a tool for reading digital content aloud. Helping all kinds of individuals coping with the massive amount of information that falls upon them all in the form of digital text is a crucial task.

When we chose to partner with Texthelp back in 2008, we did so because the national organisation of persons with reading and writing impairments in Sweden were first asking and later begging us to develop assistive technology for their members. Really, the problem is more political than technical, because the visually impaired do get screen readers, but for some reason, other target groups that have problems reading or writing get far less attention and support. This ought to be a scandal in Sweden, a rich country with high social standards.

We were well aware of the situation, but we are not a product-orientated company, we are accessibility consultants. So we started looking for a partner that offered smart technology with a broad language offering.

We thought to ourselves, surely someone must have thought about this somewhere? And that is how we found Texthelp and their Browsealoud tool. We took it to Sweden and carried out large scale user testing with all kinds of end user groups. The result was crystal clear: we had found a solution that end users appreciated – a lot.

We firmly believe that user testing is vital in assessing new products and the benefits they deliver. The recent facelift of Browsealoud will mean another round of extensive testing and end user involvement: that’s how we work.  User testing is always interesting and we learn a lot from these sessions. But testing assistive technology, such as Browsealoud, is possibly the most rewarding.

We meet end users from different backgrounds and abilities including those who are completely new to technology. I am not suggesting that assistive technology can solve everything, far from it. But it’s wonderful when you witness a person who stops focusing on the problems and instead starts being curious, happy and creative in the digital environment.

As we undertake user-testing we don’t ask for testimonials, we are living the experience with the testers. There are other products that read out text aloud to you, but the functions that the end users we meet really appreciate in Browsealoud are the more clever ones. For example, the screen mask is probably one of the more popular functions, clearly helping many users with concentration issues, cognitive difficulties or dyslexia.

The fact that Browsealoud now has a mobile-optimized version is an important development, particularly in today’s increasingly mobile world. There will always be limitations to what you can do conveniently on a small screen, but the larger click area is an important improvement and on the whole the new mobile interface works well.

But don’t take my word for it, try out Browsealoud yourself – or better still, watch someone with a print impairment as they use Browsealoud to open the door to the digital world and see how it helps in their life.

Access All Areas: the redesigned Browsealoud – Sean Douglas, Codpast

Being Dyslexic myself, I’ve always found reading a struggle. In the last few years I have found ‘text to speech’ software that has helped me significantly.  ‘Text to speech’ reads the text on my screen for me, meaning reading large documents takes me minutes instead of hours and the stress and frustration of proofreading written work has vanished with the click of a mouse. It struck me that building this kind of functionality into our site would make it truly inclusive for our audience.

To my surprise there were quite a few options on the market to give our website this capability. However the Browsealoud solution provided by Texthelp seemed to fit the style and function we wanted for our site. It was able to read back text automatically or when selected, simplify and strip down pages to just the most important information, change the colour of the text and background for those with visual stress, translate and read pages in numerous languages and was able to create mp3 versions of text to be listen to at a later date or on the move. In addition the software worked with both desktop and mobile browsing.

For the last few months Browsealoud has been helping our online audience to fully engage with our site. So we were surprised when they announced a re-design, “what more could be added to the software?’ we thought.

On demonstrating the new-look Browsealoud we realised that under the surface not much has changed, but the updates have undoubtedly made the software more accessible. Much like our own website, the thought and attention has largely focused on making the user experience as seamless as possible.

The redesigned Browsealoud has a new clean and intuitive metro-style interface. The toolbar has bigger and more functional buttons, which are an asset when using the toolbar on a smaller screen or in a touch-screen environment. There is also the addition of a help button which provides visitors with a clear explanation of the toolbars many functions.

Even though the toolbar is now bigger, it can now be positioned anywhere on the screen, furthermore the toolbar is hidden behind the launchpad making it less obtrusive.

Things get even more interesting when we look at the new mobile interface.

The new mobile toolbar feels much more like a native part of your phone’s operating system. It is now fixed to the bottom of your screen and acts a bit like the dock or taskbar on your desktop. You can now see more of your content especially when the dock is hidden. Hiding the toolbar leaves a small unobtrusive Browsealoud tab visible at the bottom of the screen; reassuring you that if needed, help is only a click away.

With the help of Browsealoud, the content on our site is now available to the widest possible audience. With 10% of the UK population dealing with dyslexia (NHS Choices), 1.7 million UK adults struggling with low levels of literacy (National Literacy Trust), not to mention those with English as a second or third language, you quickly start to build a picture of how an inclusive approach can expand your website’s reach.

Browsealoud LG Case Studies

At your service – Browsealoud helps Coventry City Council offer a friendly online experience Case Study here
Better access to Croydon Council services Case Study here

For more information regarding Browsealoud, go to: Browsealoud Functionality and Benefits