Centrelink site adds text-to-speech to help visually impared

Welfare agency increases Web site assessibility with ReadSpeaker feature

National welfare agency Centrelink has launched a new speaking feature on its Web site for the visually impaired.

The ReadSpeaker feature, developed by VoiceCorp International, allows users to stream or download a spoken version of the site’s text, regardless of bandwidth and without additional software installation.

Chris Bowen, the Federal minister for Human Services who answerable for Centrelink, said that the new service represented the government’s will to increase access to information for all Australians.

“The new text-to-speech technology will allow customers with low vision, lower levels of literacy or those for whom English is a second language, to access Centrelink information,” Bowen said.

“Centrelink eServices, speaker verification technology and the installation of an increased amount of self-service PCs at Centrelink offices are part of a concerted effort to improve the convenience and information for customers.”

ReadSpeaker technology has been available since 1999 but launch is the first implementation of a reading facility by any Australian government agency. Centrelink’s online services include income reporting facilities, which is required for welfare recipients to receive their fortnightly benefits.

Michael Simpson, Vision Australia Policy and Advocacy General Manager, supported the development as a step in the right direction.

"If this feature became a feature of all Web sites it would make information access much easier for people with low vision,” Simpson said.

“Web sites need to meet Web accessibility guidelines as it is important to ensure that the site is also accessible for people who are blind - who need to use assistive technology such as synthetic speech screen readers to access the web.”

Centrelink delivers welfare services to 6.5 million Australians and receives 140 million page views on its website each year.

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