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What is a screen reader?

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Screen readers are an essential part of assistive technology that makes the lives of people with disabilities much easier. Learn more.

What is a screen reader?

In just the past century, the technological advancements that have been achieved have changed our world immensely. One of the areas that has witnessed huge progress is assistive technology.

The development of high-tech assistive technology has made the lives of disabled people much easier. Screen readers, in particular, are now of tremendous help to the visually impaired, blind people, and those with disabilities.

In this article, we’ll examine the basics of this helpful piece of technology, how it works, and some of its benefits.

What is a screen reader?

A screen reader is software that helps people with different visual impairments use technology. This is why the most common use of this assistive technology is through operating systems, mobile devices, and web browsers.

Screen readers are connected to your computer’s Operating System (OS). They provide the necessary information on anything and everything on your desktop: icons, keyboard shortcuts, dialogues, boxes, menus, folders, and files.

It’s important to mention that screen readers are not exclusively meant for blind or visually impaired individuals. This assistive technology is also useful for people who have learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

How does a screen reader work?

Basically, a screen reader relies on a TTS (text to speech) engine. It works by translating on-screen information into speech, which is heard with the help of earphones or speakers.

There are two ways in which a screen reader provides feedback to the user:

  1. Refreshable braille display
  2. Speech

All screen readers depend on a variety of keyboard commands that are responsible for handling different tasks. These tasks can include reading documents, navigating web pages, opening and closing folders and files, etc.

What are the best screen readers on the market?

Screen readers that provide the best user experience include the following:

BRLTTY

BRLTTY is a background process that ensures access to the Linux/Unix console. This process is meant for blind people using a refreshable braille display. It works by driving the braille display while providing complete screen review functionality.

BRLTTY can be launched at system startup, and it’s highly-functional.

Some BRLTTY features include:

  • Complete implementation of usual screen review facilities
  • An application programming interface
  • A cut-and-paste function for the cursor, capital letters, and highlighting
  • Support for numerous braille codes
  • Basic speech support
  • A preferences menu
  • The ability to inspect character highlighting

JAWS (Job Access With Speech)

Job Access With Speech (JAWS) is one of the world’s most popular screen readers. It is designed for computer users with low vision, which prevents them from seeing screen content properly and navigating with a mouse.

This tool also provides both speech and braille output for some of the most popular computer applications on your PC. It enables users to navigate the internet, read and write documents, read emails, create presentations, etc.

Some of JAWS’s most popular features include:

  • Two multi-lingual synthesizers: Vocalizer and Eloquence Expressive
  • Drivers for popular Braille displays
  • Zoom Text, Fusion, and OpenBook Scanning and Reading Software and compatibility
  • Microsoft Office, Google Docs, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc
  • Skim Reading and Text Analyzer

NVDA

NVDA is a screen reader that allows vision-impaired and blind people to access and navigate the Windows Operating System and its third-party applications. It works on Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10, and all other operating systems that start from the Windows Server 2008 R2.

Some NVDA features include:

  • Application support for web browsers such as Mozilla, Firefox, Google Chrome, Microsoft Word, Excel, etc.
  • Reporting of textual formatting where it’s available
  • Automatic text announcement
  • The ability to run entirely from a USB flash drive or other portable media
  • Announcing controls and texts while interacting with gestures

Apple’s VoiceOver and Android’s TalkBack

VoiceOver is Apple’s feature that reads aloud what is written on your screen. Its major benefit is that it gives Apple users complete control over their devices without having to see the screen.

In simple terms, it works as an intermediary between your iPhone app’s interface and the user’s touch. When Apple’s VoiceOver is turned on, users don’t have to worry about accidentally deleting their contacts or posting something online. This tool works for both iOS devices - iPhone and iPad.

On the other hand, TalkBack is Android’s version of a voice assistant that helps low vision and blind users navigate their smartphones. With TalkBack, the names of the functions depend on the software version, but the functions themselves are the same.

Speechify

Speechify, is one of the best screen readers on the market. This text to speech reader is available as an Android, Apple, iPhone, iOS app, and Chrome extension for your PC.

Instead of relying on a screen magnifier or a zoom text app, users with impaired vision and learning disabilities should try using Speechify to help them accomplish their daily tasks.

Speechify – a versatile screen-reading software

Speechify is a leading text to speech software and the No. 1 app in its category. It’s available for download on all devices, and its user-friendly interface guarantees 100% customer satisfaction.

With Speechify, you can listen to any physical or digital text read aloud. Speechify’s speech synthesizer also includes high-quality voices in over 20 languages. Additionally, Speechify’s text to speech voices are more fluid than any other AI readers, making it easy for the user to understand anything.

Users can choose between the limited Speechify free version or Speechify Premium.

If you’re looking for a dependable screen reader to help you with your everyday activities, achieve more, and read almost anything, you should try Speechify for free.

FAQ

What does a screen reader do?

A screen reader helps people who have trouble seeing manage nonvisual desktop access.

How can you tell if someone is using a screen reader?

You can’t tell whether someone’s using a screen reader. As far as visiting a site (your own, for example), you won’t be able to tell if someone’s using a screen reader to navigate web content.

What is the difference between a screen reader and a screen magnifier?

A screen reader is a software that helps users with web accessibility, information processing, and navigation. A screen magnifier, on the other hand, only enlarges the font on the screen to make it easier for people to read the text.

What does a screen reader do for people with disabilities?

The purposes of screen readers include:

  • Navigating the computer screen, data tables, etc.
  • Organizing list links in alphabetical order
  • Searching for keywords
Cliff Weitzman

Cliff Weitzman

Cliff Weitzman is a dyslexia advocate and the CEO and founder of Speechify, the #1 text-to-speech app in the world, totaling over 100,000 5-star reviews and ranking first place in the App Store for the News & Magazines category. In 2017, Weitzman was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list for his work making the internet more accessible to people with learning disabilities. Cliff Weitzman has been featured in EdSurge, Inc., PC Mag, Entrepreneur, Mashable, among other leading outlets.