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Last Updated: Monday, 19 April, 2004, 08:19 GMT 09:19 UK
Macs get their voices back
Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News Online disability affairs reporter

Apple says it is incorporating speech technology into new versions of its OS X operating system which will make Macs more accessible to users who are visually impaired as well as people with learning difficulties.

Photo of Apple Mac - courtesy of Apple
The Mac's new operating system will be more accessible
The company says that, unlike screenreaders for Windows, its software will be embedded in the operating system.

This, according to Apple, will mean that anyone who needs to use the speech facility will be able to move from one computer to another without having to install assistive technology on each machine.

The software, called Spoken Interface, will have a variety of voices so that users can select one for menus and other command functions, and another to read content such as documents or web pages.

The announcement has been welcomed by the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

"At the moment we have little information on this development," RNIB's Technology Access Manager, Steve Tyler, told BBC News Online.

"If the rumours are true, RNIB welcomes this initiative - accessibility built into mainstream systems is critical if we're to move forward."

Software guidelines

Apple has confirmed to BBC News Online that the screenreader will definitely be included in the new versions of OS X but was unable to say when this will be available.

Last year those needing a screenreader in order to use a Mac were dealt a blow when Alva - makers of the Outpoken speech interface - announced they were discontinuing the product from the beginning of 2004.

Given the preference for Macs in some areas of business - for example sound recording - blind and partially sighted people should no longer find that the technology is a barrier to job opportunities.

Apple says it will make programming guidelines available to other software developers so that they will be able to make their own applications compatible with it.

Spoken Interface is part of a bundle of accessibility features which include a screen magnifier, contrast enhancements and the ability to replicate mouse actions using the keyboard.

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