New Found Tools for OCR with Auditory Feedback and Phonetic Word Prediction (FREE)

Microsoft OCR with Immersed Reading

office-lens-iconIn a bid to continue supporting struggling student, Microsoft has introduced OCR functionality with the added benefit of Text to Speech (TTS) to its document scanning app, Office Lens . Office Lens works in tandem with your other Microsoft apps and requires an account. At this time, users do not need a Microsoft 365 subscription and can use a free outlook.com account.

The scanning app is straightforward to use and provides options to scan a business card, photo, document, or whiteboard.  Automatic page detection is available however the user still needs to press the camera button to capture the image.  The next step is to select the “Immersive Reader” option. The app will then OCR (Object Character Recognize) the image and produce a screen with the text extracted from the image.

Some standout features of this app include its simple user interface and the option for “Wide Text Spacing” which increases the line spacing for easier reading.  TTS is easily activated through the play button and reading speed is adjusted through a slider in the toolbar.  While reading, the screen is grayed out while the word being read is highlighted. This allows for easier scanning and reading. On tried scanning, the OCR accuracy proved significantly accurate.

Drawbacks of the app include limited ability to modify the font style and color options. Additionally, navigating through the text is a bit cumbersome. Original formatting of the document is removed from the scan which might be disorienting to readers.

See the video below for a quick walkthrough:

Phonetic Word Prediction Using Google Input Tool

Word prediction has become a commonly available tool on current mobile devices used to increase typing speed using the onscreen keyboard. This functionally, however, has been used by students with dyslexia for many years especially using flexible spelling or phonetic spelling predictors. Most operating system and mass market word prediction rely on the context of the writing versus phonetic spelling patterns and often do not support students with significant dyslexia.

Google’s  Input Tool is both a setting and a Chrome extension that helps support this spelling pattern. The traditional use of this tool is for keyboarding in multiple languages with transliteration available for some languages. This support, for example, allows a Hebrew writer to keyboard “shalom” using the roman keyboard while the Input Tool will then translate the entry to “שלןם”. This same support can be used while writing in English within Google Drive apps.

To activate this support:

  • Visit: My Account- Input Tools
  • Click “Select Languages”
  • Select English from the checkbox menu and save the settings
  • To test: open a Google Doc, upon loading you should see “En” icon at the end of the toolbar to the right of the “Tx” icon. Select the suggestion icon.
  • When typing, you should begin to see a suggested word list that follows the cursor and adapts to the letters being written.
  • To enter the desired word, either click on the word or enter the corresponding number.

The accuracy of this support for phonetic spelling has been  fairly accurate for longer words.  It falters however for homophones or shorter words. These, however, can often be corrected by Google Doc’s built-in spelling and grammar checker.

There is a bit of a lag between when the tool is enabled and the time it shows up within the Google Apps. An additional workaround to try is adding an additional language and then removing it once the tool is available.

See the video below for a quick walkthrough:

Using Table of Content Add-ons to Support Executive Skills in Google Docs

More schools are beginning to integrate the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) tools into their curriculum and instruction which is a great step forward for students who use assistive technology. No longer are these students the only ones keyboarding in class, having to modify classroom materials to meet their learning needs. While this is tremendously helpful, some of these students continue to struggle with organization and executive skills. Having a Drive full of random documents is slightly better than a backpack full of misfiled papers. Much the way that students are unable to put away physical papers into correct folders the same begins to happen in digital form.

Microsoft’s OneNote platform is able to provide students with a binder equivalent of file managment. The student only needs to open one file (Notebook) and all the subjects for that semester are laid out in tabs and pages. This is a tremendously helpful system for students who struggle with organization by giving them one central location for most of their writing. This organizational support however is lacking (hopefully only for now) for students on the GAFE platform.

Binder layout with subjects and pages
OneNote Binder Layout

There is however a workaround using Google Doc’s Table of Contents structure and available add-ons which place the organization structure in the tools tab on the righthand side of the document. Currently, there are two add-on available Table of Contents and Document Navigator. If students are able to use the heading structures effectively in Google Docs, these tools provide easy navigation across one document for multiple subjects. Here is a starter doc where the classroom subject holds the ‘Heading 1’ formatting and each classroom task holds the ‘Heading 2’ formatting. Subsequent dated entries can hold the ‘Heading 3’ formatting and so on. Color coding can also be applied by subject.

Google doc with color coded heading and organized outline in tools
Google Doc with Table of Contents Add-on

Good luck!