Text-to-speech app aims to help people with disabilities to read
By: Miranda Perez
Honored as one of 12 winners worldwide in Apple’s Design Awards, a text-to-speech app created by Arlington-based Voice Dream aims to provide an idealistic solution for users who are blind, visually-impaired or face learning disabilities to read.
The company was founded by Winston Chen, who runs the company with just one other co-worker. Prior to founding Voice Dream, Chen worked as chief technology officer of Kalido, which has since then been purchased by private equity as Magnitude Software.
After feeling like his time as CTO came to a standstill, Chen says he was inspired by a TED Talk to take a sabbatical for a year and reconnect with himself. Chen and his wife went to Norway, and it was there that Voice Dream was born.
“I spent three months writing this app and made it very simple. You can load up your favorite web pages and the app will then read them out loud, with very few controls,” Chen said.
After getting the app into the App Store, Chen got praise from teachers who used it to help students with dyslexia take exams. It was then that Chen realized that the app works for plenty of non-traditional readers.
Gary Aussant, director of Perkins Access Consulting, helps companies make their digital products and services accessible to people with disabilities.
“We’re very focused on inclusive products. When we see companies like Voices Dream, it's very exciting to see their mission and to understand that they're trying to make reading accessible for different people,” Aussant said.
While text-to-speech software has been around for some time, Aussant says most traditional software is very robotic. Because the software sounds like machines, they don't operate at the conversational function that traditional users are used to. Compare Siri or Alexa reading something out loud versus a pre-recorded audiobook.
In audiobooks, proper pace and pronunciation is prioritized. In many text-to-speech softwares that attention to detail is not.
“Like anyone else in this age, blind or visually-impaired readers are trying to find information quickly. We don't have time to sit and have a screen reader read a web page from the top to the bottom for us,” Aussant said.
Voice Dream can process any data in print or online that users with “unusual requirements may not be able to process 12 point black font on a white paper,” Chen said.
The company has generated between $600,000 and $700,000 in revenue a year, and was founded in 2011. It has been self-funded since its inception.
Moving forward, Chen wants to figure out a curriculum training program for anyone to learn how to read fast.
“Blind people can read about two-to-three times the speed of a regular person using text to speech. It's not like the blind people have the super superpower that everybody else doesn't. Everyone should be able to read two-to-three times in normal meetings,” Chen said.