Robot Bedtime Stories (Browser Read Aloud + Accessibility Thoughts)

I was in high school and college in the early 2000s and 2010s. These were the golden ages for emo and 500 Days of Summer-esque indie music, respectively.

This was also a time when success in school relied heavily on being able to sit and read for long periods of time. I remember “skimming” and missing important details, or feeling tired after reading just one chapter. Or just zoning out and thinking about other stuff while reading a page. I remember thinking it was an endurance thing that I had to master. And I remember an older dude telling me about how he learned to speed-read and how it changed his life, basically. That seemed super overwhelming, though.

I have started a new role and I am currently learning a lot about, well, learning. I know that I need a lot of instructions and checklists, for instance, and that dual monitors are a God-send. I also know that I retain more information when I’m listening to it, while doing an activity – walking, knitting, cleaning, stretching, or anything else.

I recently decided to do some learning on Salesforce’s Trailhead about a Github, a topic that is new to me, and I found myself getting disoriented and fidgety. However, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately, and it inspired me to ask myself, “What if I could listen to this page?” So I did a quick Google search and found that I could have my Chrome browser read aloud to me.

How, you might ask?! Here’s how!


  1. In the Chrome browser, highlight the text you want to read aloud. Right click.
  2. Under Speech, click Start Speaking.

And that’s it! The browser’s robot voice will read aloud to you.

This was a good start, but the reading was kind of fast. I Googled again and found this Chrome extension which allows users to change the voice, speed, pitch, and volume. Game changer!!

“Read Aloud” app logo

So, some reflections on this:

  1. Accessibility features benefit everyone, including people without disabilities. If you are on a tech-learning journey like some of my readers are, make sure to invest time in learning about accessibility. This course on LinkedIn Learning, for instance, really changed how I think about how I build tech-y things.
  2. I definitely, 100%, retain more information from listening to a robot read to me than from “skimming” a chapter or article in a book.
  3. As mentioned above, this has me reflecting on “academic success” and how much of it boiled down to my classmates’ and my ability to sit still and read blocks of text for hours.

    What if I had known about these resources and tools in college? Would it have cut down on burnout?

    How many “C” students my age would have been “A” students with accommodations? How would the “A” students have set themselves apart, then? And why were we always put in competition with each other, with class rank etc., in the first place?
  4. On a similar note, I grew up thinking that everything had to be hard to be worth it. If I was on a fitness kick, I had to be doing weight training that made me so sore I couldn’t move. If I was studying, it had to hurt my eyes, or I wasn’t doing it hard enough. Even leisure reading had to be work: in my head, listening to audiobooks was cheating. And I honestly felt shame around not wanting to push myself that hard, even though I was the one who imposed these rules on myself!

    But what if learning can be passive? What if it can fit in the crevasses of life?

    How much space and energy would that leave for the things I love to do, like dreaming, connecting ideas, and relating?

Anyway, that’s all for now. Hope you are enjoying this (somewhat unintended) series on neurodiversity.