Text-to-speech in digital accessibility services

June 28, 2022 marks a new milestone in digital accessibility France needs to convert the European Accessibility Act into national law.

Businesses must comply with the expected accessibility rules for their websites in EU member states.

Why is digital accessibility important?

1 in 4 European adults has a disability. In France, out of 12 million people with disabilities, about 2 million visually impaired people face a worrying reality every day: 90% of websites are inaccessible, according to the Valentine’s High Association. It ranks France 19th out of 27 countries in the European Union in terms of accessibility to online services established by the European Commission.

What is the European Accessibility Act?

In 2019, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union passed the European Accessibility Act (EAA). The purpose of this directive is to improve the effectiveness of the internal market for accessible goods and services by removing the barriers created by deviating from the rules in different member states. Each EU member state must thus pass legislation in accordance with EAA guidelines on June 28, 2022. In other words, the EAA standardizes accessibility law to ensure consistency in an open market.

Do you have to comply with EAA?

In addition to creating a more inclusive European society, standard accessibility rules will create benefits for businesses: lower costs, easier cross-border trade, more outlets for their accessible goods and services, and so on. But, to take advantage of these benefits, businesses need to redesign websites and other digital services. However, there is no need to panic. The EAA will take effect on June 28, 2025. However, every business now has many reasons to work towards greater digital accessibility: inclusion, a wider audience, and a better experience for all users.

4 Basic Principles of Digital Accessibility

The EAA clearly outlines four basic principles of digital accessibility. According to this policy, web content must be:

  1. Understandable. Content and user interface should be presented in a way that all users can understand. This usually requires a multimodal presentation (for example, text and audio), because not everyone uses content with the same feeling.
  2. Manageable. Everyone should be able to use a navigational interface or element, whether they use a mouse, keyboard or accessory device to interact with a digital system. This requires careful web design.
  3. Understandable. All users must be able to understand the content and navigation features.
  4. Sturdy. Websites must be technically compatible with a variety of assistive technologies, such as screen readers, eye tracking devices, and text-to-speech tools.

These policies come from the Web Content Accessibility Guide (WCAG), the world’s top standard for accessible web design.

Text to Speech, a useful tool for making web text content more accessible

Speech synthesis (also called text-to-speech technology) lets you listen to a text displayed on the screen, read aloud by a synthetic voice. This tool offers text reading options for users with visual impairments, reading disabilities or illiteracy. However, accessibility of a website is not reserved for persons with disabilities only. Many people prefer to listen to a text instead of reading it, because in this way they assimilate a text more easily. In education, for example, two-modal learning (presenting information in audio and visual formats at the same time) has been shown to improve student outcomes regardless of skills. A recent study, titled Multimodal Campus Project 8, conducted by the University of Barcelona, ​​evaluated the usefulness and added value of integrated reading aids on its learning platform. Significant progress has been made in memorizing and understanding the text. So creating a better experience benefits people with disabilities just as much as it does a much larger group of users, known as the “carb-cut” effect.

In addition, the degree of mastery of a language may change if it differs from the mother tongue. Speech synthesis promotes digital inclusion of people from immigrant or refugee backgrounds by making text web content accessible in the language of the host country, which these people do not speak or speak badly. In fact, the textual content of the web can be translated, then read in their mother tongue by a synthetic voice.

And answer the digital grip question

For many people, online browsing is not intuitive. Adding a text-to-speech element helps bridge the gap between users of all ages and different levels of the digital experience. In addition, the quality of synthetic voices, including artificial intelligence and deep neural networks (or deep learning), has improved considerably. They are able to express emotions, such as enthusiasm, joy, sorrow, regret, etc. These are available in different tones and many foreign languages. Artificial voices thus gain naturalness and even blend in with human voices.

So text-to-speech helps make any online text content more accessible, in line with the European Accessibility Act.

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