Screen Readers

Screen readers are software programs designed for blind or visually impaired users to interact with computers, phones, and digital content.  They act as an interface, converting what’s on the screen into a format that can be understood. This can be done through two main methods: speech synthesis, which reads the text aloud, or braille output, which translates the text into refreshable braille displays.  In addition to reading text, screen readers allow users to navigate menus and applications using keyboard commands, providing access to the entire digital world.


TalkBack is the built-in screen reader on Android devices, developed by Google. Similar to VoiceOver for Apple products, TalkBack provides blind or visually impaired users with a way to interact with their phones and tablets without needing to see the screen.  TalkBack converts what’s on the display into spoken feedback, as well as braille output with a braille display. As you move your finger around the screen, TalkBack announces what elements you’re on, like buttons, text fields, and menus.  Unlike navigating a visual interface, TalkBack uses customizable gestures for interaction. Swiping, tapping, and double tapping allow users to select items, activate functions, and type using an on-screen braille keyboard. TalkBack also offers customization options to personalize the reading experience and adjust the speech rate and feedback level. This makes TalkBack a powerful tool for users who rely on audio cues to interact with their Android devices.

Activate Talkback by pressing and holding both volume keys for 3 or more seconds. This works even when setting up a new phone. You can also ask the Google Assistant to turn it on and off. You can also go into settings and turn it on in the accessibility section.



NVDA stands for NonVisual Desktop Access. It’s a free and open-source screen reader specifically designed for Microsoft Windows operating systems.  Compatible with a wide range of programs, NVDA reads text aloud using synthetic speech or translates it into braille for refreshable displays.  Beyond just reading what’s on the screen, NVDA allows blind or visually impaired users to navigate their computer through keyboard commands, giving them full access to emails, web browsing, documents, and other applications.

Activate NVDA once installed by using the key command Control, Alt N.


Windows Narrator is a built-in screen reader that comes pre-installed on all versions of Windows 11 and earlier. Unlike JAWS and NVDA, which require separate downloads, Narrator is completely free and readily available.  Narrator functions similarly to other screen readers, providing audio descriptions of what’s on the screen and allowing users to navigate using keyboard shortcuts. This makes it a great option for blind or visually impaired users who want to access their computer without needing additional software. While it may not have all the bells and whistles of some commercial screen readers, Narrator offers a solid foundation for interacting with Windows and getting things done.

Activate Narrator with the key command Control, Windows, Enter.


JAWS, which stands for Job Access With Speech, is another popular screen reader option. Unlike NVDA, JAWS is an expensively priced commercial software program produced by Freedom Scientific. Just like NVDA, JAWS is compatible with Microsoft Windows and functions for blind or visually impaired users.  JAWS offers the same core functionality as NVDA – converting on-screen text to speech or braille output and enabling navigation through applications using keyboard commands. This allows JAWS users to interact with computers and access information just as effectively as sighted users.



VoiceOver is Apple’s built-in screen reader available on both Mac and iOS devices. It empowers blind or visually impaired users to navigate their iPhones, iPads, and Macs entirely through voice guidance and gestures.  VoiceOver speaks aloud everything on the screen, from text and labels to buttons and menus. Users can then interact with these elements using specific gestures on their touchscreens or trackpads. VoiceOver even offers customization options, allowing users to adjust the speech rate and voice itself to best suit their preferences. This built-in accessibility feature makes Apple devices incredibly user-friendly for those who are blind or visually impaired.

Activate Voiceover by tripple tapping the home key or by asking Siri to turn it on or off. You can also activate it in the settings within the accessibility section.


Linux, unlike the operating systems mentioned previously, doesn’t have a single, built-in screen reader. However, the open-source nature of Linux allows for a variety of screen reader options depending on your needs. Here’s a breakdown of two main categories:

• Graphical User Interface (GUI) readers: For navigating the desktop environment with its windows, menus, and icons, the most popular choice is Orca. Developed for the GNOME desktop but compatible with others, Orca reads screen elements aloud and allows navigation using keyboard shortcuts.

• Command Line Interface (CLI) readers: If you spend a lot of time in the terminal, screen readers like Speakup or Emacspeak come into play. These convert text-based commands and outputs into speech, making the command line accessible for blind or visually impaired users.