NZ voice wanted in text to speech

Blind-Sight co-director David Allen, of Dunedin, with the tools he could use to convert text to speech in many accents but New Zealand's. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Blind-Sight co-director David Allen, of Dunedin, with the tools he could use to convert text to speech in many accents but New Zealand's. Photo by Craig Baxter.

Blind New Zealanders are losing their identity by listening to foreign accents on text-to-speech programs, Dunedin Social Services community co-ordinator Rob Tigeir says.

Mr Tigeir said American accents came as standard on text-to-speech conversion programs.

Mr Tigeir said the Scottish Government funded the Scottish Voice, a free computer voice program with Scottish voices ''Heather'' and ''Stuart'' to read text from formats including electronic books, PDF files and Microsoft Word.

The program could also create audio files with a Scottish accent.

The Scottish Voice website said the program was funded by the Scottish Government because of the ''strong cultural and educational imperative'' for pupils, students and people with disabilities in Scotland.

Mr Tigeir said the creation of a New Zealand synthetic voice would protect the New Zealand identity.

''I think it is important we get a Kiwi accent, and people's own cultures are represented and don't get lost in a standardisation.''

Blind-Sight co-director David Allen, of Dunedin, said he was born blind in the mid-1960s.

''When I was first made aware of computers in the early 1980s I was told to stay away from them, by people who couldn't appreciate that the computer would open doors for me that would otherwise be closed.''

He attended School for the Blind in West Virginia and it was ''hugely important'' to listen to an American accent to understand what was being taught.

Australia had a synthetic voice created in English about six years ago, he said.

Mr Allen had heard synthetic voices in the English language with accents from Wales, Ireland, India and South Africa.

South Africa had several official languages but just one South African synthetic voice in English, he said.

Disability Issues Minister Tariana Turia said she was unaware of any disabled people wanting to hear a synthetic New Zealand voice and the disability sector had never raised the issue.

A Blind Foundation spokeswoman said blind people in New Zealand were listening to mostly American and Australian accents and there were no plans to create a New Zealand synthetic voice.

shawn.mcavinue@odt.co.nz

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