Screen readers are software programs that allow blind or visually impaired users to read the text that is displayed on the computer screen with a speech synthesizer. A screen reader is the interface between the computer’s operating system, its applications, and the user. The user sends commands by pressing different combinations of keys on the computer keyboard to instruct the speech synthesizer what to say and to speak automatically when changes occur on the computer screen. A command can instruct the synthesizer to read or spell a word, read a line or full screen of text, find a string of text on the screen, announce the location of the computer’s cursor or focused item, and so on. In addition, it allows users to perform more advanced functions, such as locating text displayed in a certain color, reading pre-designated parts of the screen on demand, reading highlighted text, and identifying the active choice in a menu. Users may also use the spell checker in a word processor or read the cells of a spreadsheet with a screen reader.
Screen readers are currently available for use with personal computers running Linux, Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows NT, Windows 2000, and Windows XP operating systems. Each screen reader incorporates a different command structure, and most support a variety of speech synthesizers. Prices range from $250 to $1,500.
Screen readers are used mainly by people who do not have useful vision to read text on the screen. A screen reader can also be the product of choice for someone with vision that is useful for travel, but not for reading. In the long run, learning to listen to speech output will prove more productive for such individuals than struggling to read text while leaning close to the computer screen.
Here are some questions to ask when purchasing screen readers:
• Is the screen reader compatible with your computer’s operating system?
• Does it work with your braille display?
• Can it read a word, line, and paragraph of text?
• Do its commands conflict with Windows keyboard commands?
• What keystrokes are used for the program’s basic and advanced functions? Are the keystrokes easy to remember? Is it possible to change the key combinations if they conflict with those used by application programs?
• Do you need high-quality speech, which is more expensive, or can you function comfortably and efficiently with lower quality speech?
• Does the synthesizer mispronounce many words? Can you listen to it comfortably for more than 15 minutes without getting a headache?
• Is the synthesizer to be used on one desktop machine or in more than one location? If the synthesizer is to be used in one location, an internal card may be preferable because it does not occupy a computer port.
17 Products in Category
|Product Name||Product Description||Distributor Contact|
|BRLTTY||Screen reading program that allows a blind person using a refreshable braille display to access the Linux/Unix console (when in text mode). Drives the braille display and provides complete screen review functionality. Incorporates some speech email@example.com|
|CakeTalking||Software that provides a set of customized configurations for the JAWS for Windows screen reader that allows blind musicians to use both basic and advanced features of Cakewalk SONAR, a music editing and recording program. Includes extensive tutorials in the form of Word documents written for the JAWS user.|
|CDesk Compass||Order CDesk Compass from The Chicago Lighthouse Store|
|Dolphin Pen||USB memory device that allows users to run Dolphin screen reading and screen magnification software on any computer. Plugs into a USB port and installs software on the machine. Software is uninstalled when Dolphin Pen is removed.|
|Hal (Professional)||Provides screen access for visually impaired computer users through speech and braille. Configuration files, known as map files, are available for many applications. Works with a number of different synthesizers.|
|Hal (Standard)||Provides screen access for visually impaired computer users through speech and braille. Configuration files, known as map files, are available for many applications. Works with a number of different synthesizers.|
|JAWS (Job Access with Speech) for Windows (Professional)||Converts text and components of the Windows operating system into synthesized speech, allowing for access to Windows-based computer systems. Includes configuration files to maximize its function in a wide variety of Windows applications.||Order JAWS (Job Access with Speech) for Windows (Professional) from The Chicago Lighthouse Store|
|JAWS (Job Access with Speech) for Windows (Standard)||Converts text and components of the Windows operating system into synthesized speech, allowing for access to Windows-based computer systems. Includes configuration files to maximize its function in a wide variety of Windows applications.||Order JAWS (Job Access with Speech) for Windows (Standard) from The Chicago Lighthouse Store|
|NVDA (Nonvisual Desktop Access)||An open-source Windows screen reader. Uses the eSpeak speech synthesizer and SAPI 4 and SAPI 5 firstname.lastname@example.org web site: http://www.nvda-project.org|
|Orca||Free, open source screen reader for the GNOME desktop. Works with OpenOffice, Firefox, the Java platform and other applications.|
|Speakup||Screen reader for the Linux operating system. Allows users to interact with applications and the GNU/Linux operating system with audible feedback from the console using a speech synthesizer and to navigate around the screen using typical screen review functions such as “say word,” “say line,” “announce cursor position,” and more. Licensed under the GPL, the GNU General Public License.||www.linux-speakup.org/speakup.html|
|System Access||Provides screen access to Windows, as well as applications, including Microsoft Word, Outlook, Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, Adobe Reader, and Skype. It can be installed on two computers.|
|System Access Stand-alone Mobile||Provides screen access to Windows, as well as applications, including Microsoft Word, Outlook, Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, Adobe Reader, and Skype. It can be installed on two computers. Also includes a smart drive so users can create a key to install System Access on other computers.|
|System Access Surfboard||Connects to the Internet using a standard phone line or Ethernet connection. Using the included microphone, users speak to the base unit to instruct it to perform its functions. Self-contained in a package about the size of a full PC keyboard. Smaller keypad is also available.|
|Thunder||Thunder is a free screen reader. It provides feedback via synthetic speech.|
|VoiceOver||Provides a comprehensive audible description and complete keyboard navigation of Mac OS X. Installed in every computer shipped with Mac OS X 10.4 and later. Provides access to a variety of applications, such as web browsing, e-mail, word processing, iTunes, chat, PDF reader, media player, and chess.|
|Window-Eyes Professional||Converts components of the Windows operating system into synthesized speech, allowing for access to Windows-based computer systems. Also includes enhanced braille support.||Order Window-Eyes Professional from The Chicago Lighthouse Store|