Overview: Screenreaders and talking browsers
Built-in speech-to-text features - such as Windows Narrator - come with most computer operating systems (Windows, Mac or Linux). However, with the exception of Mac OS X's VoiceOver, these are limited speech-output programmes and do not offer a complete solution for, for example, those with low vision. There are also various speech packages whose sole function is to make your web browser 'talk'.
To have a single application that does all of these things, and provides effective access to Microsoft Word, Internet Explorer and other programmes, someone who is blind or partially sighted may want to use a full screenreader.
Areas in this guide:
Note: For information on turning on and customising the speech-to-text feature on your computer, see the guide: How to make your computer speak text aloud.
Examples of full screenreaders include Jaws and Window-Eyes. There are also freeware screenreaders such as NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access), Thunder and NaturalReader. Some commercial packages, such as SuperNova, LunarPlus and ZoomText, offer magnification and speech.
Full screenreader packages can be quite expensive but offer a lot of features, such as reliable speech output, which is essential for effective access for a blind user.
The only built-in screenreader that is included as part of a computer operating system at present is VoiceOver, which is included with Mac OS 10.4 or later. For instructions on using it, see the How to make your computer speak text aloud in Mac OS X guide.
There are different ways you can make your web browser 'talk'. Some of these are embedded in the web pages themselves, so you only need to click on a 'listen' button, for instance. Other third-party software applications need to be installed on your computer, and may work only with websites that have registered with the maker of the talking browser.
One talking browser programme that is free for the user is BrowseAloud (which is available from the BrowseAloud Downloads page). When it is running, you simply need to move the mouse over some text on a web page, click on the icon that appears and the text is read out to you. It does, however, require some degree of vision and the ability to move the mouse pointer, and can only be used on websites that have registered with the service (see the list of sites supporting BrowseAloud).
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