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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Screen Readers

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 or braille display. 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 or braille display 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, and mac, IOS, Android, and more.
Each screen reader incorporates a different command structure, and most support a variety of speech synthesizers. Prices range from free to $1,200.
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 the applications you plan to use?
  • Does it work with your braille display?
  • What keystrokes or gestures 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?

18 Products in Category

Product Table

Product NameProduct DescriptionDistributor Contact
BRLTTYScreen 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 capability. dave@mielke.cc
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
COBRA 10COBRA is a screen reading software program that provides access to information on a computer for people who are blind or visually impaired. There are 3 versions of COBRA to choose from: COBRA Zoom, which provides large print magnification and speech output, COBRA Braille, which provides speech output and support for more than 70 braille displays, and COBRA Pro, which includes everything. The BAUM USA sales department can be reached on our toll-free number.
Dolphin PenUSB 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 synthesizers. developers@nvda-project.org web site: http://www.nvda-project.org
OrcaFree, open source screen reader for the GNOME desktop. Works with OpenOffice, Firefox, the Java platform and other applications.
SpeakupScreen 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 SurfboardConnects 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.
ThunderThunder is a free screen reader. It provides feedback via synthetic speech.
VoiceOverProvides 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 ProfessionalConverts 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

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