What is a screen reader?
A screen reader allows people who are blind or have low vision to use their computer or device. It uses a synthesised robotic voice to read out loud the text and items on a screen.
How do they work?
A screen reader reads out loud all the text on screen. Blind and low vision users can use it to navigate websites, applications and games by using a few key strokes or hand gestures.
The user can decrease or increase the speed of the speech.
You can ask the screen reader to:
- read or spell a word
- read a line or full screen of text
- find a string of text on the screen
- read out menu items on a website
- announce the location of the computer’s cursor or focused item
Some screen readers can also be used with a Braille display.
Are they easy to use?
Nearly all computers, tablets and smartphones have a screen reader function built in.
They are easy to use and only require learning a few basic shortcut keys and touch gestures.
Advanced users are able to interact confidently and cut down the time it takes to source the right information. It only requires a small amount of training to become an advanced user.
The main screen readers
- JAWS for Windows
- NVDA for Windows
- Narrator for Windows
- VoiceOver for Apple devices
- Talkback for Android devices
The most popular screen reader is JAWS, as it has been regularly updated since 1995 and designed by software engineers with vision loss. VoiceOver for Apple products and NVDA for Windows are also top preferences.
The table below compares the cost, platform and best browsers for the screen readers.
|Platform||Windows||Windows||Apple devices||Android devices|
|Best browser||Chrome, Firefox||Chrome, Firefox||Safari||Chrome|
|Price||$1,730 (JAWS Home Edition)
$2,600 (JAWS Professional)
|Free||Free (just cover the cost of the device)||Free (just cover the cost of the device)|
|Where to get them||Purchase JAWS via Vision Australia’s store||Download NVDA from their website||Turn on VoiceOver through accessibility settings on device||Turn on TalkBack through accessibility settings on device|
Other screen readers
Other screen readers include Windows Eyes, SuperNova, System Access and Thunder. There is also an excellent screen reader built into Chromebooks called ChromeVox.
All screen readers have limitations and it is important to consult with the technology specialists at Vision Australia to work out the best solution for what you need.
Useful contacts and links
Vision Australia's Access Technology (AT) team can help set up and teach you to use your screen reader.
The team is available Monday to Friday between the hours of 9:00am and 5:00pm (Eastern Standard Time) to troubleshoot your issues.