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Best Screen Readers for the Visually Impaired & Blind

For the millions of people who are visually impaired or completely blind, it can be tough to navigate daily life. Tools like screen readers have been created to help these individuals communicate with their computers and other devices.

The best screen readers for the visually impaired and blind are easy to use, effective, and affordable.

What Is a Screen Reader?

A screen reader is a software tool that helps people with vision impairments access and navigate digital content, such as websites and documents. It reads text and other information aloud using text-to-speech technology, and it can also output braille. 

Some screen readers allow users to adjust the reading speed and voice. They can be used on various devices like computers and smartphones.

The best screen readers for the visually impaired & blind are those that have a high level of compatibility with the operating system they run on and can work with many different applications.

How Screen Readers Work & What They Can Do

Screen readers work by using text-to-speech technology to read out the content on the screen of a computer or other device. They are primarily used by people who are blind or have low vision, so they can access and navigate digital content.

Here are some things that screen readers can do:

  • Read text aloud: Screen readers can read out the text on a website, document, or other digital content.
  • Navigate websites and documents: Users can use keyboard shortcuts or voice commands to move around a website or document and access different elements, such as links, headings, and buttons.
  • Output braille: Some screen readers can also output text in braille, which can be read through a braille display.
  • Adjust reading speed and voice: Users can typically adjust the speed at which the screen reader reads out the text and select different voices to use.
  • Access other types of content: Screen readers can also read out different types of content, such as images with alt text, captions on videos, and form field labels.

Overall, screen readers are essential tools that help people with vision impairments access and navigate the digital world.

Top Paid Screen Readers for Visually Impaired & Blind Users in 2023

There are many different screen readers, but which are the best? Here’s a list of the top paid screen readers for visually impaired and blind users. We’ve also outlined some of their best features, so you can make an informed decision when choosing one.

JAWS

If you’re looking for a top-rated screen reader, JAWS is a good choice. It’s specifically designed to help individuals with visual impairments or blindness navigate their computers more easily. 

This software offers speech and Braille output for a wide range of popular applications, making it easy to stay connected and get things done.

JAWS is available with two different licenses: one for personal, non-commercial use and another for organizations or professional/commercial use. Both versions are compatible with Windows operating systems and many braille displays. With JAWS, you can easily browse the web, write emails, and have text read out loud.

Pricing for this software varies depending on the license you select, with options starting at just $90 per year.

ZoomText

ZoomText is a powerful screen reader and magnification software that is ideal for people with vision impairments. It provides speech and large print output, making it easy to see and interact with your computer.

One of the standout features of ZoomText is its ability to customize the size, color, and font of the text displayed on your screen. This makes it easy to tailor the display to your specific needs and preferences. In addition, ZoomText includes a range of tools and features to help you navigate and use your computer more effectively, including a magnifier, screen mask, and color filter.

ZoomText is compatible with Windows operating systems and simple to use, with intuitive controls and a user-friendly interface. 

The price for ZoomText starts at $80 per year, depending on the license you choose.

Cobra

If you need a screen reader that can help you see and interact with your computer more efficiently, consider Cobra. This software includes a screen magnifier feature that enlarges images on your screen, making it easier to see everything clearly.

Cobra is compatible with various braille displays and allows you to use many different computer applications easily. It is especially well-suited for use with Microsoft Office, offering reliable and extensive support.

This screen reader software has a one-time fee that varies depending on your chosen version. Prices start at $749 and go up to $849. 

Dolphin ScreenReader

Dolphin ScreenReader is a special screen reading software that offers a range of advanced capabilities to make it easier to use your computer. This software is designed to be fast, reliable, and customizable to fit your specific needs.

One unique feature is its adaptable text-to-speech synthesizer, which speaks characters as you type or enter commands. This can be especially helpful for reading emails, documents, and other long-form text. In addition, the software includes a special cursor that helps you locate and interact with graphics and text on the screen.

Dolphin ScreenReader also offers a range of speech settings that you can adjust to your liking, as well as support for various braille displays. You can even use a scanner to read printed text aloud.

This screen reader software is easy to install on a Windows PC, laptop, or USB drive. Plus, you’ll have access to knowledgeable support from the experts at Dolphin. 

Dolphin ScreenReader is currently available in a range of packages, with prices starting at $995 and going up to $1,050. 

Best Free Screen Readers in 2023

In addition to paid versions, there are many free screen readers available. Here are some of the top recommendations for free screen readers in 2023:

NVDA

NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) is a highly regarded, free, open-source screen reader that offers a range of features and capabilities to make using your computer easier. It is compatible with Windows operating systems and provides speech output and support for braille displays, allowing you to navigate and access various applications and websites using keyboard commands or a braille display.

NVDA is user-friendly and easy to install, with intuitive controls and a straightforward interface. It is constantly being updated and improved by a dedicated community of developers, making it a reliable and well-supported tool. If you need a free screen reader, NVDA is a top choice that is worth considering.

ChromeVox

ChromeVox is a free screen reader built into Google Chrome. It’s an easy-to-use, cloud-based option that has been around since 2011. This tool can read text on web pages and send the spoken words to a Braille display or refreshable braille device. 

It may not be as feature-rich as other options, but it’s still beneficial for those looking for an accessible way to use their computer without having to pay for any software.

The software provides voice output for all web content and applications by reading aloud whatever appears on your screen. It also allows you to navigate websites using keyboard shortcuts or mouse clicks rather than relying on sighted assistance or other tools like screen readers (which require sight).

WebAnywhere

WebAnywhere is a free, web-based screen reader designed to help individuals with visual impairments or blindness access the internet. It is available as a standalone website or browser extension and allows users to navigate websites using keyboard commands or a braille display.

WebAnywhere provides speech output and can read text out loud as it appears on the screen. It is compatible with a range of web browsers, including Google Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer, and it can be used on any device with an internet connection.

In addition to its screen reading capabilities, WebAnywhere also includes a range of accessibility tools, such as the ability to change text size, contrast, and font, and to highlight links and form fields. These tools make it easier for users to access and interact with web content.

BRLTTY

BRLTTY is a free screen reader for visually impaired and blind users. It’s been around for over 20 years and is the most popular screen reader on Linux.

BRLTTY works with most major operating systems, including Windows, MacOS X, Linux, and Android. The program uses speech synthesis to read text out loud to you as you navigate your computer and interact with applications. It also uses braille output devices to let you read what’s on your screen in braille. 

BRLTTY has an extensive library of voices that can be used with it. If there isn’t a voice that suits your needs, you can even customize one yourself

Screen Reader Apps: Are They Helpful?

According to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), about 2.2 billion people globally have some form of vision impairment, with 240 million people having severe vision impairment or blindness. 

For these individuals, screen reader apps can be incredibly helpful tools that allow them to access information and communicate with others in a digital world.

Over the years, screen reader apps have been shown to be particularly effective in helping individuals with visual impairments or blindness to access education and employment opportunities. A study by the National Science Teaching Association found that screen reader use was associated with higher levels of education and employment among individuals with visual impairments.

Overall, screen reader apps are a valuable resource that can help individuals with visual impairments or blindness to access and participate in the digital world. They provide a critical bridge to information, communication, and opportunities that might otherwise be unavailable.

References

  1. Fast Facts About Vision Loss. (December 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  2. Screen Readers. American Foundation for the Blind.

  3. Blindness and Vision Impairment. (October 2022). World Health Organization.

  4. The Number of People Affected by Vision Loss, 2020. IAPB: Vision Atlas.

  5. Visual Impairments. National Science Teaching Association.

  6. Using the JAWS Screen Reader and the Focus Braille Display to Read Foreign Language Books Downloaded from the Bookshare Accessible Online Library. (July 2018). Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness.

  7. “There is Nothing Inherently Mysterious about Assistive Technology”: A Qualitative Study about Blind User Experiences in US Academic Libraries. (December 2017). References & User Services Quarterly.

Last Updated January 21, 2023

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