Although OS X provides valuable assistance for those with sensory and motor impairment, some of which are more generally useful, there is little to help users with reading and word problems. Those can be formal dyslexia, more subtle issues (which are remarkably common), or those associated with ADHD and autistic spectrum disorders. That’s a substantial proportion of the population, and a very wide range of issues.
Thankfully there are specialist software vendors who have stepped in to tackle this. Among my favourites is AssistiveWare, with its unique portfolio of products for OS X and iOS (notably Proloquo2Go). This article covers one of their three products for OS X which has much to offer many Mac users: the word processor Wrise.
Wrise’s unique strengths are a suite of powerful tools for reading tagged text using OS X’s text-to-speech system, reading almost any text in other apps, and predictive word completion even better than that in iOS. These are built into a very pleasant, capable, and accommodating word processor.
Wrise opens plain text, RTF, HTML, Word .doc and .docx, and PDF documents. It saves in its own proprietary format (a binary marked-up version of text), and exports as RTF or plain text without markup tags. It can also export spoken versions of documents, using text-to-speech, to audio files or iTunes tracks.
Its document windows exist in two modes: reading, which includes Wrise reading out loud to you, or editing. The former shows a good, clean window unadorned with unnecessary furniture. The latter not only allows you to edit text content, but to style and tag it. User feedback in Edit mode can be spoken, where the app reads back what you have written as you type, and by way of its impressive PolyPredix™ predictive word completion.
PolyPredix™ is similar to word completion in iOS: once you have entered a word, it suggests the most likely words to follow it. If you select none of them but continue typing, it refines its selection accordingly. I engaged in a brief game to try to mislead it, by using what I thought would be unpredictable words, but it still managed to guess most of the subsequent words in two or less characters. It also analyses what you have already entered, and may suggest previously used phrases when it can. I am very impressed by its performance.
You can tag your text to use different voices, change speech rate and volume, add silences, and exclude sections from reading. To test this, I imported some conversation from Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, and quickly tagged up spoken parts using the different voices provided by OS X. You can further refine that by tagging sections to be read more slowly or quickly, and at different volumes.
Where regular text-to-speech conversion stumbles over words, pronouncing them incorrectly, you can use Wrise’s preferences to add exceptional pronunciations to its dictionary. Once you are happy, you can then export the whole spoken text for use as an audiobook.
Wrise can also be added as a service to other apps, accessible through those apps’ application menus, in Services. You can thus select text in a web page or in almost any other location, and have Wrise read it to you, without having to mess around with copy and paste.
It supports non-English languages well too, and the tagging of passages using different languages within multi-lingual documents, which can then be read using appropriate voices.
Taken together, Wrise provides tools which are strongly supportive of reading comprehension and the development of text documents for anyone, but most particularly those with reading or writing issues. It has a clean interface, and can readily be minimised to a simple window for text entry, if that is preferred.
Although I am not in the least dyslexic, after using its trial version I bought my own copy, and look forward to using it more.
Wrise costs £44.99, €59.99, $59.99, or AU$89.99 from the Mac App Store; a trial version is available from AssistiveWare.
Also available, for Wrise and OS X more generally, are additional voices covering a range of languages which are not so well supported by OS X, and offering superior speech to standard voices, developed by Acapela. These are provided using Infovox iVox and cost $€14.99 per voice. A list and examples are provided here.