Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ray Kurzweil: Assistive Reading and Writing Software


by Rachel Anderson

Happy Disability History Week! To celebrate this week, we will be highlighting the history of a few different AT devices.  

Many of you may be familiar with Ray Kurzweil’s reading and writing software, but do you know how and when it was first developed?

Ray sitting at a desk with a large printer-like machine
Ray Kurzweil & the Revolutionary Reading Machine
Ray Kurzweil developed the world’s first reading system, the Kurzweil Reading Machine, back in 1976. The Reading Machine was revolutionary in that it was the first machine that could scan and speak text. Kurzweil had also  already developed a powerful optical character recognition system (OCR) which was the first program to be able to read the typical font types that were used in publishing at the time. He then invented the CCD flatbed scanner and the voice-synthesizing technology to read the scanned text aloud. Each one of these innovations continues to play an important role in much of the assistive technology (AT) products that we use and enjoy today.

Kurzweil first developed these technologies to assist people who are blind or have low vision, but many others soon found the technology particularly useful as well. Kurzweil's innovations were also adapted to different software programs to be used by people who have learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dysgraphia and attention defict disorder, as well as English language learners. Kurzweil’s inventions continue to assist many individuals in reading and writing.

The two main software products that exist today from Kurzweil Educational Systems are Kurzweil 1000 and Kurzweil 3000. Kurzweil 1000 is for people with vision loss to help them gain access to web-based, digital or scanned print materials through its OCR and text to speech features. It provides easier access to most printed forms and presents the user with the fields, labels, boxes, and text areas in the appropriate reading order.

Picture of Ray Kurzweil's face next to his most recent book cover, How to Create a Mind
Kurzweil 3000 is an AT software which provides a reading, writing and study platform aimed at people with disabilities that make reading or writing difficult. Kurzweil 3000 is used to support those learners in school, higher education, at home and in the workplace. It reads aloud web-based, digital or scanned print material and converts these materials into mp3s to provide audio files to listen to on the go or through its firefly web app that can be used on a tablet.

Kurzweil has won numerous honors and awards for his incredible accomplishments. He has written five national best-selling books and continues to design and create technology for the future.

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