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Making Websites Audible

As economic developers begin to plan to make their websites compatible with accessibility laws, one of the first options they should consider is to make their websites audible. What this means is that a website visitor clicks on a button and the written text of the page is delivered in audio format. Essentially, it is read out loud to the website visitor using the computer’s speakers.

There are good reasons for making the website audible.  Two major types of disabilities that must be addressed by accessible websites are poor vision and an inability to manipulate a mouse effectively.  Both of these can be alleviated or minimized by a speech enabling solution, giving EDOs an opportunity for quick wins and noticeable ways to gain the approval of both regulators and investment audiences.

Speech enabling solutions are easy to implement and use.  They have been becoming ever more efficient since they were first introduced in 1999. A large number of municipalities have started offering speech enabling services to the public on their websites, but economic development organizations have been slow to follow.

They are missing competitive opportunities. In the creative economy, quality of life is a critical factor in attracting innovative people who can build businesses and create jobs.  Quality of life must apply to everyone.  Your community’s reputation will be enhanced if your website clearly indicates that inclusiveness is one of your business principles.

Speech enabling software helps you to reach:

  • Users with reading problems such as dyslexia
  • Users with some degree of visual impairment
  • Users on the go
  • Users in multitasking environments
  • All those that like to have the option to listen as well as read

Creating an Audible Website Channel

Speech enabling automatically creates an audio channel for economic development departments.  This is particularly helpful in reaching viewers who use mobile devices.  Users accessing content from small mobile screens often enjoy the convenience that an audio version presents.

It is easiest for viewers to use speech enabling software if it is distributed in a software-as-a-service format.  That way the viewer does not have to download anything, but simply activates an icon to have the text on the screen read to them by means of software hosted remotely.

This type of system provides maximum availability for users, who can access the speech version of the web content from any device with an Internet connection.

For an economic development organization, the software as a service format provides scalability of operations so the webmaster can cope with increasing usage and demand peaks.  Installation typically requires only three steps:

  • Add a short Java script to the website code
  • Add the Listen button using HTML code provided by the supplier
  • Define the reading area of the website by either specifying the content to be read out using the HTML ID attribute or by using HTML start and stop comments

Selecting the Audible Website Software Product

What criteria should you use in selecting one of the varieties of speech enabling products on the market?

Compliance should be your first criterion.  The software should enable compliance with the four accessibility principles of the WCAG guidelines published by the World Wide Web Consortium: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust (for details please see Tools and Tips for Accessible Websites, published September 7).

Is the text clear and understandable when read?  Can the user easily control the reading speed, and repeat any desired sections of text?

Test the software to see whether reading of the text can be activated both by keyboard and pointing devices so the user has full control over the interface.  The design of the interface is important, too. It should have a consistent look and feel and predictable behavior across different pages and sections of your site.

Finally, the software should be device independent, and flexible and powerful enough to be compatible with current and future technologies.

Your economic development organization will also benefit if the supplier offers:

  • Quick delivery time
  • A subscription model with a fixed price level, which facilitates budget planning
  • Agility and flexibility in proposing new features without the need to change the implementation

For example, software such as ReadSpeaker meets these criteria.

Conclusion

A speech enabling solution should be at or near the top of your priority list in making your website accessibility compliant.  Speech enabling makes it easier for many users among your audiences to better understand the information they are seeking in order to make investment decisions.

Don’t leave some of your viewers behind.  Being accessibility compliant is not merely a good defensive strategy; it can generate the goodwill that gives your community a competitive bounce.

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