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New Chromebook accessibility feature aims to help people with dyslexia

Google adds smoother-sounding voices to its Select-to-speak feature, which lets your laptop read selected text aloud.

Asus Chromebook CX9400
Your Chromebook would like to read something to you.
Sarah Tew/CNET

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Google said Thursday that it's adding more "human-sounding" voices to its Select-to-speak feature on Chromebooks. Select-to-speak lets Chromebook users hear selected text on their screen spoken aloud. The new voices are aimed at making that spoken text more fluid-sounding and easier to understand. They're currently available in various accents in 25 languages, with more on the way, Google says.

Reading on a screen can be difficult for people with dyslexia, someone learning a new language or people who struggle to focus on busy text, the search giant noted. To develop the feature, Google worked with people with dyslexia, as well as educators who specialize in dyslexia. 

"They shared that hearing text read out loud enhances comprehension -- especially in an educational setting," the company said in a blog post. "By bringing natural-sounding voices to the feature, for example a local accent you're used to, it's also easier to follow along with the content being read and highlighted on screen."

To try the new voices, enable Select-to-speak in Chromebook settings and choose the voice you want. Then select the text you want to hear read aloud and hit the Everything Button or Launcher Key plus S. 

This update follows the addition of other Select-to-speak features earlier this year, including controls to speed up, slow down or pause the reading voice, and to easily jump to different sections of text. Users can also choose to have the words being spoken become highlighted and the background text shaded to increase focus. 

Over the past year, Google has also updated Chromebook's screen magnifier, with features like keyboard panning and shortcuts. The company also launched a free online training program with the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation & Education Professionals, covering Chromebook and Google Workspace accessibility features.