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.
16 Products in Category
JAWS (Job Access with Speech) for Windows (Professional)
JAWS (Job Access with Speech) for Windows (Standard)
NVDA (Nonvisual Desktop Access)
System Access Stand-alone Mobile
System Access Surfboard