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Supporting disabled readers: Freeware - Assistive Technology

Subjects: Library Guides

Online Services

RoboBraille is a free email and web-based service capable of converting documents into a range of accessible formats including Braille, mp3 and Daisy. It can  be used to convert otherwise inaccessible documents such as scanned images (e.g. PDFs as produced by the libraries copying system) and pdf files into more accessible formats.

Assistive Toolbars

MyStudyBar: a tool which helps overcome problems that students commonly experience with studying, reading and writing. A set of portable open source and freeware applications, assembled into one convenient package. Designed to support learners with literacy-related difficulties such as dyslexia but available to all learners. lets you have all your favorite apps self contained to use from a synced cloud folder, on a local PC's internal or external drive, or carried on a portable device. Apps for accessibility and education can be found here.

Useful Links

University of Kent productivity tools list:  A good list of tools that increase your productivity.

Emptech: EmpTech is an independent resource in the field of disability, assistive technology and computer science. It aims to provide information resources on assistive technologies. The database includes product descriptions, links to manufacturers, suppliers with addresses as well as other related resources including advice and training guides where available.

AbilityNet: A leading authority on accessibility and assistive technologies for 20 years. Provides a range of free services for disabled people and people around them. Its goal is to help disabled people to achieve everything they can at work, at home or in education.

ATHENA Free AT Software Inventory: Created by the University of Athens Speech and Accessibility Lab the inventory is presented in an organized and systematic way. Applications were tested in the Speech and Accessibility Laboratory, University of Athens.

The innovative Educator: list of AT software collected by Lisa Nilson at the blog The Innovative Educator.

SPELD SA Archive for Free AT: list of AT collected by Specific Learning Difficulties Association of South Australia (SPELD SA) Software Advisors and Lecturers.


Before using any freeware, make sure your computer is protected with anti-virus software!

Colour contrast / Magnification

ScreenTinter is a free utility which allows the screen foreground and background colours to be changed at the click of a button. It help people with SpLDs, visual impairments and anyone who prefers a different background colour. It is available from the website. It was created by Thomson Software Solutions.

VuBar provides an on-screen slotted ruler to highlight and limit the field of view to an area as small as a single line. Useful for dyslexic users who may be distracted by adjacent text in the line of sight, VuBar can be locked to the mouse pointer for easy positioning and control over text on screen. VuBar can downloaded from

Virtual Magnifying Glass is designed for anyone who needs to magnify a part of the screen. Unlike similar programs it does not open a separate window for the output magnification but instead puts a movable magnifying glass on screen at the mouse position.


Balabolka is a free Text-To-Speech (TTS) program for use with installed voices, but with features to improve clarity and articulation. It has a high quality feel and is easy to use. Pronunciation can be adjusted. The on-screen text can be displayed how users prefer, then read aloud and saved in most popular audio formats, as can input from popular document formats and spell checkers.  It allows users to alter a voice's rate and pitch. Files can be split into more manageable ‘chunks’. When an audio file is presented with players on a computer or on modern digital audio players, the text can be displayed synchronously making it suitable for supporting reading skills.


Dspeech is also a TTS program. The application reads text aloud using any voices already built into the computer (such as the one in Windows) so starts quickly. Output files can be saved in many common audio formats. Text can be read back at a different pitch or speed (while speaking) for user convenience. Output can be saved as .WAV, .MP3 or OGG. Multiple voices can be applied to the same track to simulate dialogue. Text is pasted into a window or read directly from the clipboard. Pitch and speed are variable for user preference. Dspeech has integrated Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) to recognise commands

Screen reading

Non Visual Desktop Access (NVDA) allows blind and vision impaired people to access and interact with their computers by providing feedback via synthetic speech and Braille. NVDA supports web browsers (particularly WebbIE), email clients, internet chat programs and office suites. The built in speech synthesizer supports over 20 languages.  NVDA has no additional hardware requirements beyond those of the operating system and requires less than 50 Mb of disk space. Textual formatting can be announced such as font name and size, style and spelling errors including automatic announcement of text under the cursor and optional audible indication of the cursor position. NVDA is written in the Python programming language, to allow for rapid development.

Thunder is a free screenreader available in eight different languages. It can navigate through lines and individual words with the keyboard cursor keys. It works well with Windows 7, Vista or XP and integrates with Microsoft® Word for word processing and WebbIE for web browsing. Runs from a memory stick (portable application). It uses SAPI5 standard voices only and there are some problems or delays with certain anti-virus software.

Audio recording/editing

Audacity is a free tool for editing and creating audio files in many formats. It is most often used to improve the quality of audio files (eg.lecture notes) by removing the background noises, gaps, and irrelevant content. It has a visual interface to assist with selecting the sections of content by ‘clipping’ wavelengths.  Accessibility uses include providing audio alternatives to written text as audio tracks, e.g. feedback; creating podcasts for on-demand learning; creating speaker audio tracks to presentations; speed-up and slow-down audio; combining content from different sources; improving audio quality and providing for alternative devices to be used to access information.


FreeMind is a graphical mind-mapping tool which provides a simple interface into creating diagrams to connect concepts and ideas – a useful ‘brainstorming tool’.

XMind is a mind-mapping tool for individual or business needs. It offers alternative appearance templates to Freemind which might suit some users. Sharing maps (private and public) works through website options. Portable version for memory stick.


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