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Speech synth's, emacspeak, and Hal 95

(This message also posted to alt.comp.blind-users newsgroup.)


I have some questions about hardware and software speech synthesizers 
and assistive software for the visually impaired and appreciate any help 
you might be able to provide.

I have been researching the products that are out there using the 
internet for some time now and am getting a little bit flustered by all 
the different speech products and assistive technology products.

Here is a summary of what I have gathered so far about the assistive 
products and the speech synthesizers:

It seems that the best interface out there so far for a blind person is 
emacspeak, for use only with unix.  This is a complete audio desktop.  
Emacspeak only works with the following synthesizers: 
1. dectalk express 
2. dectalk PC2
3. software dectalk, which only works on a DEC alpha workstation
4. Doubletalk
5. braille-n-speak

For Windows, it seems there are an overwhelming number of assistive 
packages out there; however, Hal 95 seems to be one of the most popular 
and possessing the best reviews by users in terms of performance and 
price.  This works with many speech synthesizers.

Before I ask my questions, let me tell you about my situation:

I am not totally blind but experience severe eyestrain when looking at 
any computer screen or television screen or fine print.  So I am looking 
into assistive technologies which use speech synthesis.  Ideally, I 
would like to become projecient enough at a system to be a computer 
programmer.  I would like to have both a Windows/DOS interface and, 
since Emacspeak is so powerful, the Unix interface.

The ideal setup for me I think would be emacspeak for Linux, Hal95 for 
Windows, and the Dectalk Express speech synthesizer.  My hesitation is 
that Dectalk Express is very expensive: DEC retails it for $1195.

I understand that there are software-only speech synthesizers out there 
that will work with standard sound cards on intel-based PC's.  I have 
tried two of them so far: The demo of Listen2 and the demo of Dectalk 
Access 32.  The voice quality is quite good from these.  

The problem is that Listen2 and Dectalk Access32 are not compatible with 
Emacspeak or Hal 95.  

I am willing to pay the price for the dectalk express, but only if I 
know that this is my best option -- that is, if the speech quality of 
the hardware dectalk product is significantly better than the speech 
quality of any software-only product or another more economical 

Is there anyone out there who has compared or could compare the speech 
quality between the dectalk express, dectalk access 32, and Listen2?  I 
have found that the speech in Dectalk Access 32 is more humanlike than 
Listen2 but that Listen2 is a bit easier to understand.  My computer is 
a 486DX2-50.

Also, one software-only speech synthesizer which Hal 95 supports is Text 
Assist.  Text Assist works with a true sound blaster card, from what I 
have read.  I don't think that Text Assist requires the ASP/CSP sound 
blaster upgrade chip or any other upgrades.  I have just the basic sound 
blaster 16 card.  I have looked around for the text assist product but 
not been able to find a retailer selling it.  I have called Egghead 
Computer and DEC and neither of them are carrying it.  

Is there anyone out there who might be willing to send me a copy of the 
text assist software so that I can try it out and try out Hal 95 with 
it.  I would be greatly appreciative.  Again, I am willing to pay for a 
package, but I really would like to try the packages first and make sure 
that what I choose is the right one.  If you would be able to send it to 
me, please e-mail me and I will give you another e-mail address at which 
I can receive a large attachment.  At this e-mail address the attachment 
limit is 1 megabyte.

Sorry for the lengthiness of this message.  I have been researching this 
subject for a while now and have come up with many questions in the 

Another comparison question I have is the difference in quality of the 
Dectalk Express and doubletalk speech synthesizers.  Is there anyone out 
there who have used these two and might be able to advise me?  This will 
be a decision I need to make if I decide to go ahead and purchase a 
synthesizer to use with emacspeak.

Another question I have about emacspeak is, why does emacspeak not work 
with Dectalk Access 32, which works with Intel PC's and standard sound 
cards?  The emacspeak documentation says that it will work with what it 
is calling "software dectalk", which is only for a DEC alpha.

I am also interested in learning what types of projects and work blind 
programmers are able to or not able to accomplish in programming.  I am 
very fascinated and inspired by this.  If any blind programmers out 
there could reply to me or on this group I would appreciate it greatly.

Thanks very much for you assistance.


Note that I am not using my real name because I do not want to disclose 
my physical problems in public.  Thanks for your understnading.

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