Screen readers are an essential tool for blind and visually impaired individuals. Computers and smartphones are integrated into the everyday lives of modern society. Technology is used in almost every workplace and has replaced many face-to-face and phone-based social interactions with text on a screen. The internet and software, in general, have made great strides in recent years to be more and more accessible to people of all types of disabilities.
For visually disabled people, these strides in accessibility are experienced through a screen reader. Screen readers most commonly use TTS (text-to-speech) technology to read text and elements on the screen out loud and integrates keyboard commands for user navigation.
There are a lot of screen readers on the market. Some are incredibly robust, and some are quite simple; many are rather expensive, while some are as inexpensive as free.
Here’s a breakdown of the top best screen readers on the market.
NVDA stands for Non-Visual Desktop Access. NVDA is an open-source screen reader that is simple to use and reliable. The software is light and won’t bog down your computer. It also can be easily installed on a flash drive for use on the go.
NVDA works on most major Windows programs and allows for easy navigation around the operating system, including the sign-in screen.
The best aspect of NVDA is their commitment to ethics. The software designed specifically for visually-impaired users and is provided for free, as they believe that no one should be denied access to technology because of their differences.
Price: Completely free and available for download on their website.
Job Access with Speech, or JAWS, is an incredibly powerful screen reader created by Freedom Scientific. This software features both speech output and also supports Braille readers. JAWS is the most widely used screen reader in the world and has earned this customer-base by creating a solid, useful product.
JAWS allows for simple keyboard navigation and integrates easily with most common computer apps.
Price: $90/year for home use or $1,000 for lifetime use. Get it here.
Dolphin ScreenReader is a flexible screen reader for Windows that features realistic, human-sounding voices and Braille reader output. Dolphin ScreenReader also offers access to an extensive selection of eBooks and periodicals in their built-in selection of library partners.
Dolphin ScreenReader works with all major word processing, web, and email programs. The software is also customizable and allows users to save their preferences on if they want Braille or text-to-speech for any particular programs.
Price: $795/per license, get it here.
VoiceOver is the built-in screen reader for Mac OS. It is integrated right into the operating system, which means it works well with built-in Mac or iOS apps. Apple also highly encourages developers to utilize its accessibility tools, which means finding third-party apps that support VoiceOver is also quite simple.
VoiceOver provides support for Braille displays, simple on-screen navigation, and detailed audio descriptions. VoiceOver also features rotors, which are virtual controllers that are used by rotating fingers on the trackpad for easy navigation.
Price: VoiceOver is built into modern Macbooks and iMacs.
Narrator is the built-in screen reader for Windows. Narrator allows you to select how much detail you will hear from the screen reader—just the article text or full descriptions of images and headings—for simple customization. Narrator also offers a Read by Sentence feature that allows for taking in documents line-by-line.
Narrator also features Braille reader support, as well as text to speech output.
Price: Narrator is built into Windows 10 devices.
Windows Eyes’ claim to fame is the sheer amount of operating system it supports. If you run an older computer, like models on Windows Vista, Windows 8 or if you run an older version of Word like Word 2007, this app would be a perfect fit.
This software features the traditional text to speech and Braille support. It is powerful, customizable, and easy to install.
Price: $895, get it here.
Serotek System Access
With Serotek, your license is good for two computers and a flash drive for on-the-go. Their system is affordable and intuitive, with custom packages available. Their screen reader is available as a standalone computer application or cell phone app, or you can purchase the two together. This reader is simple to use for both beginners and advanced users.
Price: $895 for both PC and cell phone app; $399 for PC only; $499 for cell phone only. Download it here.
ChromeVox is a Chrome browser plugin that offers text-to-speech screen reading throughout the web. The great thing about ChromeVox is that it can be used on Chromebooks. Chromebooks are normally limited on-screen reading options, so ChromeVox fills in this gap.
Price: Free, install it here.
WebAnywhere is a free screen reader that can be run on any computer with internet access. Simply visit their website to access the service. As long as the computer has a sound card and speakers or headphones, you can use WebAnywhere on it.
WebAnywhere is open-source and offered for free. It’s a great option for on-the-go needs.
Price: Free, visit their website.
Linux is an open-source operating system, and while it isn’t widely used with casual computer users, if your career is in technology, it is more likely you’ll run into. If your workplace requires the use of the Linux or you’re just passionate about computer technology, Speakup is for you. This open-source software is specifically for Linux users. Speakup bridges the gap and allows for visually-impaired users to enjoy programming for and utilizing Linux.
Price: Free, download here.
While it looks like NVDA is the best screen reader in terms of ease of setup, features out of the box, and price (free!), it isn’t the solution for everyone. Every user is different.
Choosing a screen reader is a big decision. Many of these programs offer similar features, but their operations all vary. It’s important to test out a few readers before committing to a large purchase. Who knows, you may find that a free reader suits your needs just fine. You may also find that some of these big-name readers have earned their reputation through unmatched quality. At the end of the day, the decision is personal.