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By Allan Wilson on Friday 31st July, 2009 at 4:34pm
Shortly after our recent comparison of text-to-speech utilities that can be used to read web pages, Reading the Web was released, we received an email suggesting that we have a look at the free CleanPage utility, free from ReadonWeb. We had a look at it and liked it, but it wasn't quite right. When you install CleanPage it adds a toolbar to Internet Explorer, which allows an 'uncluttered' version of a web page, without graphics and 'junk', to be created. The font and colours in the uncluttered version can be adjusted to suit the reader and it is also possible to have this text transferred to a separate text-to-speech window straight from the original web page. It seemed great for people with a visual impairment and those who just wanted to have web pages 'de-cluttered' or read aloud, but it wasn't so good for people who needed a little more support. We had three main issues:
- Sometimes people need the pictures! If you are looking at a web page with descriptions of various animals, it is helpful to be able to see the pictures while you are listening to the text.
- It wasn't possible to select only a part of the text on a web page, so if you only wanted the description of the zebra at the bottom of the page, you had to sit through the antelope, the bear, the chimpanzee, etc.
- It wasn't possible to change font and colours for text in the text-to-speech window - either you could have colour options in the uncluttered view, or text-to-speech - but not both.
We outlined our concerns in an email to ReadonWeb. Within 24 hours their President had replied, saying he would ask his team to look at our suggestions. Six days later we received another email saying that our suggestions had been implemented in a new version (184.108.40.206) of the program. Very impressive!
We've looked at the new version - points 2 and 3 have been fully addressed. Point 1 can be met by minimising the text-to-speech window and highlighting text on the original web page so that it looks as if it is being read directly from the web page. It doesn't quite match our ideal - to have text highlighted as it is read direct from the web page - but it comes very close!
For PC users with Internet Explorer, CleanPage should be the first option to consider - it may not suit everybody, but it is definitely the best of the free options. If you are using Firefox on a PC or a Mac, the best option is the free CliCk, Speak add-on.