What is a screen reder?

In most cases a screen reading package runs as a third-party application on an operating system (OS) such as Microsoft Windows. Screen readers can also be built into the OS, for example, Narrator. In the case of ChromeVox for Google Chrome, it is run as an extension in the browser. These packages communicate with the OS on a low level as to translate screen output in two ways:

  1. Via synthetic speech output to a computer's sound card;
  2. Braille output via a USB or Bluetooth connected refreshable Braille display.
Most people with a visual impairment use screen readers with speech output exclusively. Some users combine speech with refreshable Braille output, which is handy when working with figures or program code. Persons who are deaf-blind are dependent on screen output via a refreshable Braille display.

picture of a refreshable Braille display

Screen reading softeware enables people with a visual impairment to follow careers as, amongst others: Persons with a visual impairment also use screen reading software to:

Windows screen reader packages

The table below lists nine screen reading packages available on the Windows platform, with a description quoted from their respective websites.

NAME DEVELOPER DESCRIPTION FREE / PAID SOURCE
NVDA
(Non Visual Desktop Access)
NvAccess
NVDA provides the key to education and employment for many blind people. It also provides access to social networking, online shopping, banking and news.
Free Download NVDA
JAWS
(Job Access With Speech)
Freedom Scientific
(VFO Group)
JAWS, Job Access With Speech, is the world's most popular screen reader, developed for computer users whose vision loss prevents them from seeing screen content or navigating with a mouse. JAWS provides speech and Braille output for the most popular computer applications on your PC.
Paid
(40 minute demo per session available)
Download JAWS
SuperNova Dolphin Computer Access
SuperNova Magnifier's crystal clear magnification and a complete screen reader delivering unparalleled access to Windows
Paid
(30 minute demo per session available)
Download SuperNova
COBRA BAUM Retec
COBRA converts important information from the computer screen into speech, braille or magnified form.
Paid
(30 minute demo per session available)
Download COBRA
System Access Serotek
At home, in school, and on the job, System Access is your key to popular applications.
Paid
(14 day trial available)
Download System Access
SA2Go Serotek
AIR Foundation: Accessibility is a Right
Free
(internet access required)
Open SA2Go page
ChromeVox extension Google
ChromeVox helps you navigate websites while your desktop screen reader navigates the rest of the Chrome interface.
Free
(only works inside Google Chrome browser)
Install ChromeVox extension from the Chrome web store)
Narrator Microsoft
Narrator is a screen reader utility included in Microsoft Windows
Free Built-in on Windows OS

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