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BrowseAloud Program Helps Visually Impaired, ESL Surf the Web

BY MELANIE WADE –

The Polk County Library in Mena has implemented a new software program on their computers that will assist people with visual impairments, dyslexia, reading difficulties, and English language learners. BrowseAloud is an online tool that will read internet pages to the listener, giving them broader access to resources they may not otherwise be able to take advantage of.

Brenda Miner, Director of Library Services at University of Arkansas Rich Mountain, also oversees the Ouachita Mountains Regional Library, which includes all library branches in Polk and Montgomery Counties. She explained that the Arkansas State Library System had implemented BrowseAloud into their system and when it became available, she felt it would only benefit the local community so she too downloaded the program.

With BrowseAloud, a user can sit down at a library computer, put on a pair of headphones, highlight text on the screen, and listen. Not only does it read the material to you, it can translate it into 40 languages audibly. It can also translate the text into 99 languages that can be printed in written word.

The program also includes an on-screen text magnifier that helps users that have visual impairments. An MP3 generator can convert text to audio files that can be saved on a device, such as a jump drive, for later offline listening. Miner said a key feature is the screen mask, which blocks on-screen clutter, such as ads that line the sides of websites that are often distracting to web viewers. The screen mask allows readers to focus on the text being read.

Miner said the program has been installed on the library computers in Mena and at the Montgomery County Library in Mt. Ida. The Polk County Library plans to purchase new computers soon and will donate the used ones to branch libraries throughout the county. Cove and Hatfield Branch Libraries can expect to soon receive the BrowseAloud program on their computers as well. Miner said that branch libraries at Big Fork, Shady, and Board Camp do not have internet access, just yet, so they will have to wait.

The program downloads are made possible through the Arkansas Library System and a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences. Miner said the legislation had considered cutting the program from the budget this year, but she is glad they did. “It will expand the services we can offer at our local libraries and I believe there are many people here that will benefit from what BrowseAloud has to offer.”

If you have any questions, or would like to use the BrowseAloud system, visit the Polk County Library in Mena or the Montgomery County Library in Mt. Ida.

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