Best Screen Reader for Visually Impaired or the Blind

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People who are blind or who have low vision can utilize computers thanks to a screen reader. The primary screen readers that users can use with their computer or mobile device are described in this article. It offers summaries of the operating system-integrated screen readers and other free or paid solutions in order to assist individuals in deciding which is the most suited for their requirements. No one size fits all when it comes to assistive technology, so people may find it helpful to test out a few different ones before choosing their favorite.

What exactly is a screen reader? 

With the use of a screen reader, persons with vision impairments may access and use digital material including websites and applications via audio or touch. People who are blind or visually impaired are the major screen reader users. 

How do screen readers work? 

Users may customize the technology to meet their own needs, such as slowing down the voice or switching the language. The technology reads aloud what is on the screen. People can use voice output from screen readers to navigate around websites and applications. A Braille display can be used in conjunction with some screen readers. 

Is it simple to use them? 

You must become familiar with a few shortcut keys or touch motions before using a screen reader for the first time. While it is possible to become an expert user after learning just a few commands, it does need some time and effort to get comfortable with their additional capabilities in order to become an advanced user who can interact with confidence. Training is beneficial. 

Which screen readers are offered? 

Various screen readers are available. Almost all laptops, tablets, and smartphones come with a screen reader feature preinstalled. For Windows PCs, JAWS and NVDA, VoiceOver for Mac and iPhone, and TalkBack for Android are the most widely used applications. Which option is ideal for you depends on: 

  • Your choice of PC and/or mobile device. 
  • The browser of your choice; certain browser and screen reader combinations function better than others. 
  • The apps you use; while most may access the web, email, and basic office programs, you may only be able to use a screen reader that can be programmed to operate properly with a particular app if you need it to. 

Two common Windows screen readers: 

JAWS 

The desktop screen reader JAWS (Job Access With Speech) is compatible with Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox browsers. One of the first screen readers, Jaws, debuted in 1995 for Windows 1.0. Jaws are frequently used in the office and are highly well-liked, and it can be written to interact with apps. Although JAWS is a premium screen reader, you may download a 40-minute trial to try it out first. 

JAWS is one of the most widely used screen reading tools, and for good reason. It’s more reasonable than some of its rivals at $90 annually, and the license permits you to install JAWS on three different PCs. Additionally, JAWS works with Windows and the majority of refreshable braille displays. We also enjoy JAWS since it enables online browsing, email drafting, and reading through refreshable braille or text-to-speech.

NVDA 

Windows systems may use the free, open-source screen reader NVDA (Non-Visual Desktop Access). Similar to Jaws, it is the second-most popular desktop screen reader and is compatible with all major browsers. As more programs move inside the browser, NVDA, a free, very effective screen reader, has grown in popularity. Install NVDA. 

Windows and Apple’s included Screen Readers

Windows Narrator 

The screen reader that comes with Windows is called Narrator. The Edge Browser and Microsoft Office both function fine with this. To activate or deactivate Narrator, press Windows Logo + Control + Enter (Windows Logo + Enter for Windows 10 versions older than the release in the spring of 2018). On their website, you may get the Microsoft training manual for the narrator. Although Narrator has historically had a poor uptake, there has been significant progress in recent months, and it is now a highly viable screen reader with the spring 2019 upgrade to Windows 10. 

Apple devices with VoiceOver - screen reader for visually impaired

Apple devices with VoiceOver 

The screen reading software for the visually impaired for Apple products, including Mac computers, iPads, iPhones, the Apple Watch, and Apple TV, is called VoiceOver. It is especially liked for the iPhone since it functions nicely with the internet (using Apple’s Safari browser) and millions of applications. To install VoiceOver, nothing has to be done. You may discover VoiceOver and a variety of other effective alternatives on your Apple device by going to settings and clicking or tapping on accessibility. 

For Android devices, Talkback 

Additionally, TalkBack is a highly popular screen reader. It may be found on Android smartphones and functions well with most apps and the internet (Chrome as the default browser). On the majority of Android devices, there is no need for a download; but, on others, the Google Play Store installation process is necessary. Go to settings and click on accessibility to activate TalkBack (note that on some phones it may be called VoiceAssistant or Accessibility Suite). TalkBack performance varies between manufacturers, with Google and Samsung’s smartphones displaying the best performance.

Other Premium Screen Readers

ZoomText

With a screen magnifier that can increase the screen’s size by up to 60 times, ZoomText is an application for reading on a computer screen. One of the finest programs for those with limited vision who need to zoom in on text and photos to properly view them. ZoomText additionally features a speech synthesizer that reads anything on the computer screen and touch screen functionality. An $875 one-time licensing charge is required.

  • Windows® 11, Windows® 10, Windows Server® 2019, and Windows Server® 2016 2.0 GHz i7 dual-core CPU suggested 16 GB recommended 2 GB with more space needed for extra voices, SSD drive recommended 
  • Windows-compatible sound card with compatibility for DirectX 11 or later and a separate video/graphics card (for speech) 
  • Display with five touch points for touch screen compatibility 
  • Support for ZoomText Camera through USB 2.0

Dolphin Screen Reader 

Due to the variety of functionality it provides, the Dolphin Screen Reader is a favorite. You may purchase Dolphin’s premium features, including a configurable human-sounding OCR (optical character recognition) that says characters as you write or input instructions, and a unique cursor that lets you locate visuals and text, for a one-time cost of $795. We appreciate that it is compatible with Windows and that you may opt to utilize text-to-speech and a braille display concurrently. Dolphins may also be used on desktop and portable computers.

Cobra

Another popular screen reading software for the visually impaired is Cobra, whose one-time cost varies based on the version you choose, from $749 to $849. Cobra, like the majority of screen readers, is compatible with a variety of braille displays, enabling you to create emails, browse the web, and use a wide range of computer programs. Cobra’s application has a screen magnifier that enlarges graphics on your computer screen to 32 times their original size, which is one feature we especially like.

Compared to COBRA 9.0, version 9.1 is much quicker. It provides a fresh, integrated tool for gaining access to the Internet that is simple to understand. For web browsing, choose between Internet Explorer and Firefox. Additionally, COBRA 9.1 has a potent screen magnification capability and offers complete compatibility with Windows 7 (32 or 64-Bit). COBRA 9.1 has numerous new additions and enhancements, and it is now compatible with a wider variety of Braille displays than ever before. Additionally, it offers more comprehensive and reliable support for Microsoft Office.

System Access 

System Access was selected due to its features and accessibility. They provide a number of packages that include capabilities like text-to-speech synthesizers (OCR) that sound like people, the capacity to compose papers and emails, browse the web, plan your calendar, and more. System Access doesn’t charge you extra for updates or technical help, unlike a few other products. There are several ways to obtain System Access, including a one-time payment of $400 to $500 or a monthly membership costing between $20 and $40.

EZ Reader

This is one of our favorites because you get so much more for the price than just a screen reader. It also has over 75 apps within the software to help you do many tasks. EZReader is unique in that it offers multiple ways in which the content of a screen can be captured and read to its users.

EZ Reader - screen reader for visually impaired

In the EZ Reader applications which display electronic text content, such as the book reader, email, contact list, and text editor, EZReader can directly read the content to the user.  The speaking speed can be adjusted to meet the user’s needs.  A male or female voice can be used for speaking.  Spoken words are underlined and the text is scrolled to ensure that the words are visible.

For words displayed by other applications, EZReader can capture the entire screen and use OCR to extract the text into electronic format. The words can then be read out loud by EZReader.  This includes the ability to do full-screen capture of documents. 

In addition to a full-screen capture, EZReader also allows the user to easily select only a section of the screen from which text will be extracted.  Once the extraction begins, the user touches the screen at the upper-left and lower-right corners of the text to be extracted, at which point the text will be captured and displayed for reading out loud.  This is particularly useful where OCR success is affected by the presence of formatting structures, such as columns and images.

Where the screen displays small text, EZReader can apply a lens magnifier (around the mouse) to help the user isolate the area containing the text to be captured.

EZReader does not read the text in real-time as the user moves the cursor across the screen.  From our experience, users find this staccato voice repetition to be an irritation rather than a benefit. So the strategy is to extract text during times of mouse inactivity, allowing the user to see and hear without interruption.

Once the text has been captured, EZReader can change the text foreground/background colors as well as various font settings. This doesn’t affect how the text is spoken, but it does affect how easily it is for low vision users to visually identify the section of the screen that contains the text they want to capture.

The selection of an area whose text is to be captured is also supported by the EZReader camera application.  The camera video can be frozen and from that image, the text can be extracted and read to the user. 

In all cases, the words being read will be underlined and the text scrolled to ensure that the words are visible as they are spoken.  Likewise, speaking speed and voice gender can be applied in all cases.

EZReader has the further capability of saving the captured text for repeated reading or for subsequent use by the user.  Captured text can be placed on the clipboard for insertion in other documents, including those opened in non-EZReader applications. The captured text may also be saved to a file for review and reading at a later time.

EZReader software, including its speech capabilities, uses minimal computer resources, roughly about 10% of an i5 level processor and yet text extraction takes place almost instantly.  EZReader works with both Windows 10 and Windows 11 PCs.  

Other Free Screen Readers

WebAnywhere 

Another screen reader program that we adore is WebAnywhere, especially because you can use it with any computer from anywhere. You can check emails, view documents, browse the web, and much more using WebAnywhere. In addition, customers may utilize WebAnywhere on any computer, operating system, or browser.

Orca 

The Linux operating system, one of the most adaptable systems available, is used by Orca and can be downloaded onto practically any computer. Not to add, you can use many Linux apps with Orca and it is compatible with many refreshable braille displays. 

BRLTTY 

Another screen reader application that runs on Linux is BRLTTY. It largely functions through a display that can be refreshed. BRLTTY has recently added a few text-to-speech functions.

Conclusion

Depending on your visual condition and your specific tasks and needs, different applications or software programs may be better suited for you. Hopefully, we’ve provided you with enough information to make a well-educated decision or at least be able to find more information about each of the programs that are available to you.

FAQ’s for screen reader for visually impaired

FAQ’s for Screen reader for visually impaired

What is a screen reader for the visually impaired?

It’s computer software or app that reads the text on your computer or another device to you.

Is there a free screen reader?

Yes, a few are mentioned above.

WebAnywhere, Orca, BRLTTY, NVDA, and the ones that come on your devices.

Is the screen reader compatible with your computer’s operating system?

There is a Screen reader that is available for almost all major operating systems.

Does it work with the applications you plan to use?

More in-depth research will have to be done if you have more specialized apps than what is mentioned with each Screen reader above.

Does it work with your braille display?

Most of the programs mentioned above work with braille displays.

About the Author:
Dr Shaun Larsen

Dr Shaun Larsen

Dr. Shaun Larsen is an optometrist who specializes in low vision services and enhancing vision with contact lenses. He has a passion for making people's lives better by helping them see well enough to read, write, or drive again. He always keeps up with the latest technology so he can help people regain their independence.

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