Roger Ebert’s Computer Voice Will Break Down Barriers

Film critic Roger Ebert  accompanied by his wife Chaz, accepts a career-achievement award at the theater-owners’ convention ShoWest in 2009. [Source: Ethan Miller/Getty Images/NPR]

I was very pleased too hear Roger Ebert speak via voice synthesizer yesterday on NPR. I listen to the same kind of machine voice day in, day out. That’s how I read, how I write and edit the words you’re reading now. It isn’t weird or the stuff of science fiction, like 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s no big deal. Like disability itself, it’s an everyday fact of life. Ebert’s comfort level with his surrogate voice will help a lot of people to get used to that kind of accommodation, too.

Although Melissa Block’s interview was a little long on medical explanations from my perspective, and it didn;t refer to disability or accessibility, I appreciated the way she built an explanation of Ebert’s access strategies into the story:

Ebert still churns out half a dozen reviews every week, and typing has become his means of speech. “This is ‘Alex,'” he explains, “a voice that came built into my computer.” Alex is part of a text-to-speech program; Ebert types, Alex speaks the words. The words flow at a remarkable rate, given that he laboriously hunts and pecks with just two fingers across the keyboard. … I came to talk with Roger Ebert about his life as a film critic and his life with illness. Because typing is a long and exhausting process for him, we agreed that I’d send some questions in advance. Listen/read more.

See Roger Ebert’s Journal. You can hear his use of the voice synthesitzer in a CBS interview (no embed available), and this CBS clip explains how it was developed:

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