Screen readers

What is a screen reader and how can it help?

Dolphin Supernova Access Suite | © Dolphin

A screen reader is a piece of software that converts English text into spoken English. Some screen readers also provide alternative languages to English.

Screen readers are often used by people who cannot see the screen well enough to be able to read text, although they are also sometimes used by people who are dyslexic or have trouble reading.

Braille terminals commonly use screen-reading software to detect and navigate the text to be converted to braille. Additionally, some hardware devices such as CCTV systems and scanners have screen reader software built into them.

Talks 62365 zoom mobile | © Sight and SoundScreen reader software generally only works with writing that is stored as text and not with writing in pictures and image files. For screen reader software to understand writing in pictures and images it will need to do something called optical character recognition (OCR), and although this is not routinely built into screen reader software it may become a feature in future products.

What should I look for when buying one?

There are some free screen reader programs and demonstration versions available and it makes sense to try one of these first.

An important aspect of screen reader software is how it navigates around the screen. Which software works best for you may be down to personal preference so, where possible, try the software out before buying.

Thunder free software | ©

Remember that you will need to use it to navigate the whole computer so try simple tasks such as opening and closing some of your most used programs or opening a document from a memory stick.

If you use keyboard shortcuts it is worth testing that the screen reader works well with these too.

Before you buy, try to find out which screen reader software is recommended for a specific braille terminal because some combinations will work better than others.

If you are looking for screen reader software for a particular task, rather than for just general computer use, then some hardware with reading software built in may be the best option.

Some possible stockists

Please note: the following list is not exhaustive and Sense is not responsible for the content of external sites nor do we endorse any of the products mentioned.

Sight and Sound

First published: Tuesday 22 May 2012
Updated: Friday 28 February 2014