July 2016 Issue  Volume 17  Number 7

Access to Education and Reading Books

Accessible Reading on Multiple Devices with Capti Narrator

Back to school means lots of reading, both in classroom and at home. Vision-impaired students now have a number of ways of accessing everything from textbooks to teacher handouts. Among my particular favorite is Voice Dream Reader, which I originally reviewed in the August, 2013 issue of AccessWorld.

Voice Dream Reader will import any number of document types, including Bookshare books, then read the text aloud using either one of the device's system voices or a high-quality third-party voice available via in-app purchase. Voice Dream Reader also offers a number of features designed for large print and dyslexic print readers. If you are primarily an audio reader and learner, however, there is another audio reading platform, Capti Narrator, that is worth a look--especially since it's free for individual use, and includes features teachers of print-impaired students will appreciate.

A Capti Narrator Overview

Capti is short for "capture information." In the last section I referred to it as a platform, instead of an app or web service, because Capti Narrator can be used on your own PC or Mac desktop, on a shared computer, a Chromebook, an iPhone or iPad, and, soon, an Android device as well.

Capti accepts the following document formats:

  • Adobe PDF (.pdf)
  • Microsoft Word (.doc, .docx)
  • Microsoft PowerPoint (.ppt, .pptx)
  • Plain and Rich text (.txt, .rtf)
  • EPUB books (.epub)
  • OpenDocument (.odt, .odp)
  • DAISY books (.zip)

Note that Pages and Keynote files are not currently supported, but with the company's latest ventures into the Mac platform I would expect this will change soon. Also note that neither Capti Narrator nor Voice Dream Reader can access Kindle or iBook titles.

You can add files to your Capti Playlist from multiple locations, including your computer file system, and, assuming you have an account, from Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Instapaper, and Pocket. Capti also offers direct links to both Bookshare and Project Gutenberg. Additionally, Capti offers a small bookmarklet that will add any browser page to Capti, where it can be read stripping away much of the clutter. Both Playlist and reading locations can be synched between devices, so you can add a file and begin reading a long document on a school Chromebook, pick up where you left off on the bus ride home using your iPhone, then finish on your home Mac or PC.

I tested Capti Narrator using an iPhone, a PC, and a Mac. Here's what I found.

Capti Narrator on iOS

After downloading the app and creating a free account, you can double tap the "Menu" button to add books and other documents from your Dropbox, OneDrive, or any of the other accounts listed above. You can also direct email attachments and web pages to the app via the Share sheet "Copy to Capti" option. Additionally, Capti Narrator offers an embedded browser with an "Add to Playlist" button near the bottom of the screen.

Using the "Menu" button to return to the Capti Home screen, double tapping any title begins playback using the device's default voice. You can add additional reading voices via the Menu's Voices option. Device system voices are all available. High quality premium voices from IVONA, Acapela, and NeoSpeech are also available for purchase.

There are two ways to set voice speed. You can set the default speed from the Manage Voices screen. Also, while listening to a document, there is a button labeled "Normal" at the extreme lower right of the screen. Double tap this button and the default reading speed will toggle up by 40 words per minute. This is a handy feature if you wish to breeze through some passages and slow down for others. Unfortunately, you cannot link a particular voice to a specific file, or save different speeds for different voices (though you can do so for different languages).

Document navigation is handled via Capti Narrator's Text view. Here is where things got a bit confusing for me. I was told you could double tap and hold any word in the text and that would open the navigation menu. Only I could find no words to tap. It turned out I was opening books by double tapping them and listening in what Capti calls the Playlist view. To open the same file using Capti's Text view you need to use the Action Rotor--which is to say: highlight a title, then swipe up to the Open option. This needs to be made more clear. At the very least the "Open" option should be renamed "Open in Text view." Even better would be a Settings option to open files in Text view by default.

In any case, once in Text view I was able to access the navigation options, which included a "Jump to" option, a Table of Contents if available, and a set of buttons you can set to previous and next page, heading 1, heading 2, headings 3-6, paragraph, sentence, or word. Unfortunately, indexing is not an option. If you double tap to pause speech, the last read word, or even the last sentence, is not easy to locate using VoiceOver. Also, it's not possible to create a bookmark for later reference, or to enhance or otherwise manipulate text for low vision access.

Capti on the Web

You can create an account and use Capti from the Capti Narrator website. There, you can add documents, eBooks, and other files the same as you can on the iOS app. You can also use the "Synch" button to add and retrieve titles to and from your Playlist. To sync titles to the iOS app, highlight a title and then do a double tap and slide down refresh gesture.

The Capti website was well formatted for both Windows and Mac screen readers. The only access issue I noted was that many of the buttons could not be accessed with the spacebar using Window-Eyes--I instead needed to press Enter.

There are a number of low vision options in the browser version, including the ability to change colors and to adjust the font style, size, and width.

Again, it's not possible to create bookmarks for later reference on the desktop version. Nor can you use the premium voices you purchased in the iOS app (system voices are the only voices available).

The Capti Narrator Desktop App

A Capti Narrator app is available for both Windows and Mac desktop and laptop computers. I tested the app on a Windows 7 PC running the latest version of Window-Eyes. The app leaves a shortcut icon on the desktop that opens your default browser and loads the Capti website. At least in theory. the desktop app enables you to access your Playlist and read documents offline. I am not sure if it was my browser security settings or another issue, but Firefox would not always connect and Internet Explorer sent up a notification that required user approval to allow scripting on the site (the app uses scripting extensively).

Capti also offers a bookmarklet that will clip a webpage and add it to your Capti Playlist. Unfortunately, by default you need to drag the bookmarklet icon onto your Favorites bar, then do a mouse click whenever you wish to use it. I was told an alternate way to install and use the bookmarklet is to navigate to the icon, then use the Applications key to create a bookmark. Then, whenever you wish to clip a page, you simply call up your Favorites list and invoke the shortcut. For me, at least, this did not work. Whenever I navigated to a website and then invoked the shortcut, I was taken to the Capti website, only at that point I was asked to provide my login credentials again, despite my having clicked the "Stay signed in for a least a week" button. Even if I had a logged-in Capti window open in one tab and then tried to add a webpage from another tab, I was required to log in. And no matter how I tried to add a page, on both Firefox and IE the page refused to accept my password--the very same password I used to log back into the site after restarting the browser and returning to the Capti page without attempting to add a clipped page. Perhaps this is a screen reader conflict, or user error, but to be perfectly honest, the effort simply did not seem worth the result--especially when I could accomplish the same task with a few taps on my iPhone.

Capti Premium

Capti offers a premium plan priced for individuals at either $2 per month or $10 for six months. Here's what you get:

  • Multiple Playlists that you can share with other Capti users.
  • Text searches that can span your entire Capti library
  • Larger maximum file size. The free version has a 10 GB limit; the premium plan accepts files up to 100 GB.
  • Document image viewing from within Capti.
  • Translation services. Any word or phrase can be translated into any of twenty languages.
  • Word Challenge. This multiple-choice language game offers a selection of words for translation.

Capti for Institutions

Along with individual plans, Capti Narrator offers a special education plan. With this plan, teachers can create reading lists and push them out to their students. A teacher dashboard also enables the instructor to monitor a student's Capti activity, including how long a student spends reading, which documents the student has read, and how well the student does on the Word Challenge game.

Does Capti Narrator Captivate?

As a free document reader, I think Capti Narrator definitely has its place, particularly on iPhones or other iOS devices. Myself, I will probably stick with Voice Dream Reader, primarily for the ability to set different voices for different documents and its well-integrated bookmarking and text selection features.

For others, Capti Narrator may nicely fill a need. Language students would definitely benefit from the translation feature and Word Challenge game. Students who are not allowed to use their mobile devices at school will also be pleased with the ability to move from desktop at school to mobile device at home. Also, if you need to access a lot of .PDF and eBook files on your desktop, Capti Narrator may do the job better than other readers.

Currently, I feel Capti Narrator is still missing many features and requires bug fixes that would make it more useful for screen reader users. However, the developers are quite actively improving the product. Indeed, this review was delayed many months because new features were constantly being introduced. Consequently, by the time you read this many of my issues may have been addressed. Happily, you can start with a free account and conduct your own evaluation.

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