This article discusses the usefulness of scanners "OCR's" and scanning
software for the blind. It focuses on the product known as Kurzweil 1000
from Kurzweil Educational Systems, http://www.kurzweiledu.com".
For me, this product has been a real lifesaver when it came to doing work and
college related learning over the years. I believe the first version of the
product I had was version 3.5. I couldn't wait to install it onto my machine,
which was a "p2 machine". Back then (1996) it offered basic reading
functionality and certainly was ahead of its off-the-shelf rivals. Now after
years of improvements it has turned out to be a wonderful program in so many
What is Kurzweil 1000? It's a front end optical character recognition (OCR) package. Kurzweil 1000 is a PC-based
reading tool that makes printed material accessible to people who are blind
or who have limited vision. This product is easy to use for beginners, yet powerful
and flexible enough for advanced users.
Kurzweil 1000 converts the printed word into speech. You can scan books, articles,
bills, and advertisementsalmost anything that will fit on a scanner. The
system uses OCR to create a version of the page
that Kurzweil 1000 can read aloud. You can open and read almost any file on your
computer that contains text, as well as download and read electronic material
and books directly from the World Wide Web.
From within Kurzweil 1000 you can choose from numerous reading voices, set
the reading speed, look up words using an online dictionary, check for spelling
errors, and replace text. You can even use Kurzweil 1000 word processing features
to create your own documents and perform editing tasks.
Kurzweil 1000 is not, however, a screen reader; it does not read the contents
of other applications on your computer. It also will not help you make sense
of graphic images, nor will it replace a full word processor.
Someone with moderate computer experience should be able to install, configure,
and use the application. If you are new to computers, however, you may require
some initial training until you are comfortable with your system. It's important
to become familiar with your computer system and with the features of Kurzweil
1000 so you can get the most from using its many tools. (Ref: Kurzweil version 7 manual: Getting Started, pg 2)
Many people may ask, "why use such a piece of software which is non-standard
and most likely expensive?" I agree that it is an expensive piece of software
and certainly no sighted person would use it; therefore, not many people would
have experience in using such a product. But when you read about the tools it
has and how they help enhance the user's ability to read different documents,
some good quality print and others which are poorly printed and require the
user to call upon the tools at hand to help him/her to get the best possible
read from what it is they are trying to read, you can see where this item comes
into its own.
Let's take an example of how this package works and what it can do. In the
past many blind persons used stand alone reading machines. These machines were
expensive and out of range for many people to purchase. They only had one function
and that was to read. With the advent of such programs as the Kurzweil 1000,
all that changed. Now you have a computer that can do all the things that a
computer does, but can double its functionality up and turn it into a reading
machine by adding a good quality scanner and a software package.
I can scan in books, perhaps of a technical nature, and have them saved onto
my hard drive either in ".kes" format, which is the file extension
for K1000, or I can scan in the book or documents and have them saved as "Word
or Excel" files. There are a lot other formats to choose from, too.
Kurzweil also allows me to create mp3 files. No not music mp3's, but whenever
I scan can have the mp3 conversion. A utility within my scanning software converts
the file into an mp3 file. I can then save it and even burn it onto a CD so
I can play it on an mp3 player. Or, if I choose to convert to a ".wav"
format, I can run it on a standard CD player. I should say here that Kurzweil
has its own built in speech so that's what I hear reading the document back
to me. They have improved this speech over the years and now have two new digitilized
females voices that sound almost real to the ear. It is a product called Realspeak.
The quality of reading will depend on how well the scan understood the book
or document placed on the scanner. There are also various utilities within the
software that help enhance the quality of the read by altering brightness or
you can change the OCR engine, of which it has two, "File Reader"
and "RTK". File Reader is considered the best of the two, but takes
longer to scan a page.
Some PDF documents can also be opened and read. This is done via the implementation
of a virtual printer called the Kessy Printer Tool.
More on PDF files another time!