Prattville – When City of Prattville Webmaster Teresa Lee attended the National Association of Government Webmasters conference in Galveston, Texas last September she was introduced to several cutting-edge technologies, one of which (ReadSpeaker) piqued her interest.
“I spent more time with the ReadSpeaker folks (Voice Corp) than anyone else because I could just see that it was an amazing product. They were so proud to demo it,” Lee said. “So I took their card and gave them all of my information because they told me they could do a demo page for me once we all got back home.”
Voice Corp (www.voice-corp.com), a web technology company formed in Sweden in 1999, was co-founded by Fredrik Larson, a blind math major, who worked with screen reading software. ReadSpeaker is Voice Corp’s main product.
ReadSpeaker is a speech-enabling tool that reads text on a website aloud to the readership. The main purpose of the product is to make websites more accessible by offering an extra layer of assistance to dyslexic, low vision, foreign-born and poor readers.
“Our product helps to close the so-called ‘Digital Divide’, the gap between those that are able to use computers/internet and those that are not,” said Joop Heijenrath, CCO and co-founder of Voice Corp. “The Internet can become the big ‘equalizer’ if we do it right: equal access to public information for all people. However, due to reading difficulties, many people do not have the access.”
“ReadSpeaker is a tool that helps to make the information more accessible.”
Currently there are more than 5,000 websites utilizing this innovative technology. A short list of the more prominent users: The City Of San Francisco, Nestle, New York Life and Siemens.
“Of the overall customer base, the largest segment is municipalities, which make up roughly 25% of our client list,” Heijenrath said.
A few days after Lee returned home from the conference she received an email from Voice Corp stating they had created the demo page and asked her to review it at her leisure.
“So I did the demo and loved it,” said the City webmaster. “I went over and talked to the mayor about it and showed it to him and he told me to see what I could figure out and I just went from there.”
Lee – a native of Richmond, Virginia, with nearly six years experience as the City’s first webmaster – had already formulated several reasons to employ Voice Corp’s ReadSpeaker product into Prattville’s newly reformed municipal website, www.prattvilleal.gov.
“It was obvious to me that there was a need for something on our site to help with accessibility,” Lee explained. “You first think of vision impaired folks – they already have a reader. It’s the people who can’t read very well or have a learning disability like dyslexia … or maybe English is not their first language that I thought this product could help.”
The implementation process was fairly straightforward and relatively quick according to Lee, and only a few adjustments were necessary to get things up and running as expected.
“Tweaks and all, it took about a week and a half to employ ReadSpeaker,” said Lee. “It didn’t know how to read Prattvilleal.gov in an email address because of the @ sign, mispronounced the mayor’s name … little things like that. I thought it would have trouble with Autauga, but no, I didn’t have to adjust that. So it’s really very intuitive.”
Lee was surprised by the sheer speed in which ReadSpeaker operates.
“It’s really amazing how it works because there is traffic back and forth between us and it’s instantaneous,” Lee said. “You would think if it was parsing it in real time that there would be a little bit of a delay. And there’s not. The mayor was real funny because he was like, if you put up this press release right now can I hear it or do I have to wait? I said, ‘no … watch.’ He hit the button. It’s just amazing.”
The cost to the City of Prattville for utilizing ReadSpeaker is $1,600 a year.
“For providing this service to all of the different groups of people that it can help, I think the price is pretty minimal,” Lee said.
With web technology innovators like Voice Corp and municipal webmasters who display the forward thinking of Teresa Lee, the web is indeed becoming a better place.
Article by Marc Parker
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