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Blind and partially sighted people in the UK could soon have better access to a wider variety of books and publications thanks to a prototype voice synthesiser developed by BT.

The software, dubbed Laureate, will work in conjunction with EasePublisher, an application that converts plain text to electronically navigable books, to create talking books and magazines.

Traditionally this process is very time and cost intensive, calling on the services of professional actors to record the text. While this is reasonable for blockbuster novels like Bridget Jones or Harry Potter, it is less practical for magazines or periodicals, BT points out. The company says Laureate's synthetic male and female voices can add enough intonation automatically for the production of audio versions of this more "work-a-day reading matter".

The technology is based on an industry standard audio mark-up language called DAISY that can combine text, audio and image files into a digital talking book. Text is highlighted in real time as the audio file is played back.

The project was run in conjunction with Dolphin Computer Access, the National Library for the Blind (NLB) and with the backing of the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB). The technology is currently being trialled by 400 people, and BT says the early results are "very encouraging". ®

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