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Accessibility Matters

What’s a Screen Reader?

Note: As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn commissions on products that you purchase from the links provided in the post.

Screen reading software is in charge of reading everything that is on the user’s computer or phone screen. On mobile phones or other touch screen enabled devices, screen readers change how one navigates the screen. On desktop or laptops, the user primarily navigates the computer using a keyboard as opposed to the mouse. Several keyboard shortcuts are used to initiate different functions of the screen reader, from quickly telling the user the time and date, to reading the contents of a Word document from beginning to end.

Screen Readers for Windows

There is a number of screen reading software available. Freedom Scientific’s Jaws For Windows software not only reads the contents of the screen. It has a few additional bells and whistles built-in, such as the ability to quickly look up information in an accessible manner, and the ability to scan printed materials without buying additional software. One thing I like about the software is that as I am working on a word document, I am informed when an auto correct suggestion is provided, as well as being able to review inconsistencies with the document, such as too many spaces. Although the cost of Jaws may be expensive, Freedom Scientific allows you to test the software through a 40 minute demo. In addition, you can pay $100 for an annual license. Please note, this is only available in the U.S. at this time.

For those who simply need a screen reader without all the bells and whistles, there is a free alternative. It is called Non-Visual Desktop Access, or NVDA for short. Installation of the software is quick, and it even lets you put a copy of the software on a USB flash drive. What I like about NVDA is the fact it is free to use. I do not have to worry about purchasing anything extra to receive updates. However, one may miss out on extra features that may be needed to thrive in an educational or professional setting, like being able to quickly find issues with a word document.

For those who need speech right away for any reason, Windows has its own built-in screen reader called Narrator. To get it talking, all one needs to do is hold down the Windows and Control keys, followed by pressing the enter key. Within seconds, Narrator will start talking. For everyday screen reader users, Narrator may be more of an annoyence. I know it is a little annoying for me at times because sometimes it is difficult to navigate some websites while it is running as opposed to using NVDA.

Screen Reading on Mobile Devices

For those who own a phone or tablet, these devices have screen readers built in. In some cases, you can turn on this feature by using Siri or Google Assistant. For instance, on iPhone, just ask Siri to turn on Voiceover. On Android, just ask Google to turn on Talkback.


For iPhone users, there is a screen reader called Voiceover. It changes how the user navigates the device. For instance, tapping your finger on a home screen icon will read the name of the app out loud. To select the item, you will need to double tap on the screen. Instead of scrolling through a website with one finger, one must use three finger swipes to scroll.


Android users have Talkback, which sort of works like Voiceover. Again, a one finger tap reads what is on screen. Select the item using a double tap on the screen. However, navigation is not as intuitive as it is on iPhone. For instance, one must use two finger swipes to scroll through pages, which sometimes does not work as expected. On occasion, I’ve noticed Talkback randomly selecting items as I scroll.

What About Smart TVs?

Smart TVs have screen readers built in as well. Amazon’s Fire OS system, which runs on Fire TV devices like the Fire Stick (affiliate link), uses Voiceview, which is the most interesting screen reader of its kind. For instance, you are able to read by character, word, sentence, or paragraph, which is something I don’t see with many other screen reading apps on smart TV hardware. This makes entering on screen activation codes easy as I can navigate by word or sentence to find the code quickly.


In conclusion, screen reading software aids the visually impaired in navigating various interfaces. On desktops and laptops, one can download a screen reader of choice and start working. On other hardware, such as a phone or TV, built-in screen reading software can help with navigating various interfaces, from the home screen to streaming apps. Since just about every device out there has some kind of screen reading software built-in, one can simply give it a try to see how someone with a visual impairment navigates various software on a daily basis.


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