Web to text to speech to CD to my mother

My mother is blind. This is a source of great frustration to her, because despite her age and her disability, her mind is as sharp and energetic as ever. She listens to the radio, and books on tape/CD, and subscribes to various audio journals; however, in many cases the only feasible approach is to ask someone to read to her. This is time-consuming and frequently inconvenient, and because she feels it to be an imposition my mother often decides not to ask.

Today we were talking on the phone, and she mentioned that she’d been listening to a piece from the New York Review of Books by Thomas Powers in which he reviewed four books about J. Robert Oppenheimer. Someone (my brother, I think) was reading it to her, but it’s a long piece, so he was doing it in several sessions.

After I got off the phone, I decided that there had to be a better way. First I bought a copy of iSpeak It and installed it on my PowerBook. I gave it the URL to the Thomas Powers article, waited while it downloaded the piece, edited the text a bit to clean up extraneous navigation links and so forth, and instructed iSpeak It to transfer it to iTunes. A few minutes later I had a 55 minute AAC track in my iTunes library containing the article in OS X’s Bruce voice. The quality is not wonderful, but it’s quite recognizable. I burned a CD-R, and tomorrow I’ll mail it to her in England.

It’s no great chore to do this for my mother once or twice a month, but I wish there were a more straightforward solution. Of course I could set her up with a DSL connection, buy her a Mac mini, and set up a few Automator scripts for her, but I’ve tried similar approaches in the past without success. What I want is a big USB-connected control unit with a dozen big keys with glyphs that can easily be recognized by feel, and yellow on black for maximum contrast….