Making Web Pages Talk

An interesting article appears in the eGov Monitor (A UK-based service covering technology and e-government related news) concerning technologies to speech enable web sites.

The article is written by Carin Lennartsson of ReadSpeaker, a company that provides a service to voice-enable ordinary web pages. The article has some interesting statistics on challenges facing certain groups of web users in the UK, and correctly points to the responsibility of governments to find ways to provide web-based services accessible to them. There is even a link provided so that users can hear the article read back to them using the RedSpeaker TTS technology. (The quality of the TTS is very good in my opinion, and I really like the English accent!)

Finding ways to speech enable web content for the disabled and other challenged constituencies is a critical component of successful e-government efforts. Without knowing a whole lot about the technology involved in the ReadSpeaker service, I’d say that most governments would be well served by taking some common sense steps toward this goal:

  • Have a plan. Efforts to speech-enable web content should be part of a comprehensive e-government strategy, and should have the sanction (and encouragement) of the government body responsible for overseeing e-government activities. As more vendors and solutions enter this space, there is the very real potential that efforts can become fragmented and counterproductive.
  • Keep your eye on the (standards) ball. The growing body of web standards aimed at supporting government efforts to speech-enable their web content is the key to vendor independence and future interoperability. Governments should insist that solutions marketed to help their constituencies achieve greater access be based on these standards.

As more solutions are developed in this area, it is time for government leaders to stand up and take a leadership role in setting the direction of future innovation.