For most people reading this page, I’m sure that losing your vision is a dreadful idea. Unfortunately, partial blindness and complete vision loss are facts of life for many people around the world, even those who use the Internet regularly. In fact, someone with visual impairments could be reading this article right now. If you or a friend or family member are visually impaired, or you just want a screen reader, stick with me, and I’ll recommend the best screen-reading applications.
While you will have all that you need to be reading blind you have finished reading this article, you definitely shouldn’t be grabbing just any old screen reader off the Internet either.
Best Microsoft Windows Screen Reader: JAWS
What would this list be without Freedom Scientific’s JAWS? It advertises itself as (and is) the most popular screen reader on the market and for good reason. The company that makes it is also prominent for making other products oriented toward the disabled, including magnifiers, large-print keyboards and even digital braille-centered devices. If you already use Windows and Freedom Scientific’s other products, buying JAWS is a no-brainer. Though, therein lies its downside: unlike some other programs on this list, JAWS is not free, though it has a nice trial for anyone who wants to take it for a test run.
Best Mac OS X Screen Reader: Apple VoiceOver
Also available on iOS, VoiceOver is Apple’s free screen-reading solution made for Mac OS X, and it’s probably one of the best on this list. In addition to having very deep, OS-level integration, VoiceOver also has features like braille support and functions tailored specifically to Mac hardware like a “Rotor” function mapped to the touchpad and gestures. If you’re using a Mac or iPhone, there’s no reason not to grab Voiceover.
Best Chrome (OS) Screen Reader: Google ChromeVox
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the best screen-reading solution for Chrome and Chrome OS is the one developed by Google. ChromeVox is a Chrome (OS)-centered solution intended to make Chrome and Chrome OS more usable for the visually-impaired. If you’re using Windows or another desktop OS, you may want to consider using a screen reader that works on an OS level. Otherwise, you should definitely look into ChromeVox. It can be performance-taxing, but it’s a fairly solid screen reader offered for the low, low price of free.
Best Free JAWS Alternative: NVDA
NVDA is a prolific, free open-source screen-reading solution for Windows, and as far as competition with JAWS goes, it’s probably the best thing you can go for. Plus, it’s free. NVDA comes with a multitude of features, including braille display compatibility, being able to be run as a portable app and having developer-suited features like reading the command prompt. As far as features and free dev support on Windows goes, this is your best bet.
I took a few screen readers for a test run (aside from the Apple solution), and I walked away with mostly positive thoughts. What about you? Do any of you use screen readers or have better recommendations? Sound off in the comments, and let me know if you do!