Reading Blind: The Best Screen Readers for the Visually Impaired

Reading Blind: The Best Screen Readers

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.

screenreaders-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.

screenreaders-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.

screenreaders-chromevox1

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.

screenreaders-nvda1

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!

10 comments

  1. from Make Tech Easier blog article at:
    https://www.maketecheasier.com/best-screen-readers-for-visually-impaired
    Oops, you spelled Visually wrong in your headline, or at least in the email that I got and the link I shared. Ironically enough, I used a screen reader to find that out because I’m totally blind and have been a Window-Eyes user for about 18 years. Which brings me to my next point, you did not include the Window-Eyes screen reader. It’s the old “chicken or the egg” conversation about which is better, JAWS or Window-Eyes, but as far as paid alternatives go to JAWS, Window-Eyes has always been next on the list. That’s not to say that both JAWS and NVDA don’t have their uses and good points. I have all three to do software and accessibility app testing with. Oh, I also have an IPhone 6 with Voiceover. Personally, I find the Voiceover interface on the Mac itself and OSX to be pretty clunky, but I honestly haven’t had nearly enough practice with it as with the PC-based readers. But I did pick an Iphone because of the integration with Voiceover and the fact that I didn’t have to pay for a 3rd party reader. In the past, mobile phones had to have 3rd party software to be accessible. There is some out there still, and it is well-made, but the free readers are definitely a plus in the mobile world. Braille display support has also come a long way in the mobile department and I find myself using braille more than the touchscreen. This brings me to another point which is that ANY app or website should be tested with a screen reader of some sort to make sure it is usable by a blind/visually impaired person. I realize it’s not easy to do if you are a one-person business or just someone designing an app or website, but much like the ADA provides guidelines for physical accessibility, the WCAG and Section 508 documents outline standards for web and app accessibility in broad terms. It is also essential that big companies like Google and Microsoft have blind/visually impaired people on staff to test software. Microsoft has an accessibility center in Washington. Not only would it provide much needed employment for the 90% of us who are unemployed in the U.S. It would also provide a company with the “real deal” as far as providing valuable feedback for accessibility and usability of the product. This situation is akin to when a housing developer begins a new project; they should be placed in a wheelchair for a day or week and go through the plans of their development to make sure that the ADA requirements are not only met, but exceeded. Again, like the ADA, screen reader accessibility is something that allows for a better design for everyone, not just those of us who depend on it. Evernote, I’m talking to you specifically here, because your software is far below accessibility standards and desires. Unfortunately, they are an example of a company who hsn’t quite figured out the untapped market they would have if they made some simple UI/keyboard shortcut changes to their desktop and web interfaces. . On the other hand, the IPhone app AnyList took my feedback and implemented it directly (and expediently) into their app and it is now fully accessible and my go-to app for grocery lists. So, I apologize for the very long comment, but I feel that these are valid points that need to be made to facilitate an open discussion on a myriad of topics that could always use more exposure. I thank you very much for reading.

  2. You hit the four that we use the most. Though we are more likely to put NVDA on a computer than JAWS. NVDA has features that allows a totally blind person to use a mouse and it is also good for people with dyslexia. Our newly blind clients can use it a lot more quickly than jaws. JAWS is actually what we teach people who already have it or have a specific need for something that JAWS supports better.

    • I was mostly focused on desktop applications, but thank you. Apologies for not discussing mobile solutions as well.

  3. You didn’t even consider Knoppix Adriane, the Linux free system for blind people. Knoppix Adriane is completely portable and can be installed on a thumb drive with additional space to store data. It can be used on any ’86 computer. My semi-blind friend uses his thumb drive on the computer at the library. He is helping me to learn how to use it so I can set up a computer for another blind person.

    Another Linux program for blind people is Vinux. I am researching that now.

  4. Hello nice article. I use Google’s Talk Back, as well as an Ipod with Voice over, Orca, which is what this comment is being written with, on Arch Linux, Speakup, which is a console based screen reader for Linux, built into the Linux kernel, and for windows, to save space and cause I’m cheap, I use NVDA when I do use windows, and I do like chrome vox.

  5. I forgot to mention, NVDA Remote, which just was recently release, no its not a screen reader, per say, but it’s free, and I believe it’s going to open a hole lot of new doors to those in the tech support/IT field, as a no cost alternative to jaws, etc.

  6. I run both JAWS and NVDA here, (not at the same time, of course!) I also use VoiceOver on my iPhone.

  7. I also like the Window-eye for office a Free program for office ten and abve users Carl Benap of regon.

  8. Claroread is the only one that works for me, Windows & OsX, it reads everything the mouse touches, I have it on my PC, my laptop and also an usb version if I need to use another pc.

    The voices are also really natural :-)

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