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The visually impaired are often overlooked when it comes to computing. After all, computing is a highly visual experience, even if we don’t consciously consider our eyes’ involvement.

Screen readers are designed to read the information on the screen so that someone who can’t see the screen can still understand what’s on the screen and utilize the computer.

Screen readers are measured in effectiveness in a few ways. One is determining what features the screen reader comes with. Most comprehensive screen reader packages come with more than just the ability to read the words present on the screen. Many come with screen magnifiers, contrast editors, and features like being able to be used directly from a USB stick installation instead of needing the software to be installed to the computer natively.

Let’s look at the most popular screen readers and determine which one you should invest in!

Best Screen Readers in 2022

Best Overall: JAWS

For a good reason, JAWS is the most popular screen reader in the world. Job Access With Speech (JAWS) is one of the most comprehensive applications for providing computer access using text-to-speech and Braille displays. It includes an Optical Character Reader that can read image and PDF files and has compatibility with PEARL cameras to read physical books and papers that aren’t available in Braille. Additionally, JAWS supports the DAISY player and includes a complete set of DAISY training books.

However, JAWS is not free. A license for JAWS will run you a pretty penny and might not be ideal for lower-income users. However, for those who have the money to throw around, it doesn’t get much better than JAWS! JAWS also doesn’t support macOS. So, if you have macOS, you’ll need to choose a different screen reader.

Best Screen Reader for Windows: NVDA

NVDA, or NonVisual Desktop Access, is a unique screen reader in the mix because it’s made by the blind for the blind. James Teh, a blind software engineer, developed NVDA. The NV Access company is fronted by Teh and his friend Michael Curran, another blind software engineer.

The two worked together to build a free, open-source screen reader that could be carried around on a USB flash drive and run on any Windows computer, regardless of whether the computer already had NVDA installed.

NVDA is available in multiple languages, making it excellent for a variety of users. In addition, its portability makes it great for people who work outside the home and need to quickly set up utilization of other computers that may not have a screen reader installed.

Best Screen Reader for Linux: Orca

Linux users are generally a bit spoiled when it comes to free things as they’re used to most everything they use being free. Orca is no exception to the Linux community’s mantra of free and open-source programs. Orca is a free, open-source screen reader designed for and dedicated to Linux users everywhere.

Orca is developed by GNOME, which spearheads many Linux-based projects besides Orca, including an entire desktop environment for which Orca is optimized. However, Orca is by and far their most popular and well-known project. Furthermore, Orca is compatible as both a text-to-speech program and can be used with Braille displays, making it very versatile to use as a blind person.

Best macOS Screen Reader: VoiceOver

Unfortunately, for macOS users, screen reader options are relatively slim. The only real choice for a comprehensive screen reader we could find is Apple’s VoiceOver application which is available through the App Store.

However, VoiceOver is highly well-rounded and does a great job working with users to provide access to your computer without seeing the screen. In addition, it has comprehensive screen reading technology that can read just about any text you see on your screen or mouseover.

The software is compatible with many assistive technologies, including Braille displays, making it versatile. It also supports rotor gestures, allowing users to input information using the touch screen and touchpad.

visually impaired nonsighted blind person using screen reader braille
Screen readers make it easier for the visually impaired.

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Best Screen Reader for ChromeOS: ChromeVOX

ChromeOS’s options for screen readers are as slim as those for macOS, which is surprising since ChromeOS operates in an open-source environment. Still, the included ChromeVOX screen reader is pretty comprehensive and designed to work with ChromeOS.

Since ChromeVOX is designed to work with ChromeOS, it features integration with ChromeOS and Android apps, allowing users to work or play using this program. In addition, you can turn on ChromeVOX in the settings of your Chromebook and get to work immediately.

How to Pick the Best Screen Reader

Your operating system and your budget primarily choose screen readers. Unfortunately, while JAWS may be the best screen reader in the world, it only works with Windows machines. So, if you have a different device you want to use it with, you’ll be out of luck.

Fortunately, most other screen reader options we’ve highlighted are free. So, you’ll be able to download them and get to work, but you won’t be able to plug and play with screen readers. They have to be compatible with your system.

Realistically, you should look at whether the screen reader is compatible with your operating system and has the features you want to use. For example, those who work with multiple computers might choose NVDA since it can be run from a simple flash drive, removing the need to install screen readers on an entire company’s worth of computers.

What to Know Before Buying a Screen Reader

Before downloading and installing a screen reader, you should know whether it’s compatible with your devices. Unfortunately, not all screen readers can be used with every device, especially if you have a Braille display. So, do your due diligence and research your screen reader of choice thoroughly before purchasing to ensure that it meets your needs.

Using a Screen Reader: What It’s Like

Using a screen reader can be overwhelming at first, especially if you have been sighted for most of your life. In addition, the amount of verbal information conveyed by a screen reader can be a turn-off for some people who might not be able to keep up with the screen reader’s reading.

Final Thoughts

Screen readers are a necessary product that often doesn’t get the funding or attention they need to flourish. However, despite this, talented individuals everywhere have worked together to produce reliable and comprehensive products that can help low-vision and blind people access more of the world around them.

Best Screen Readers in 2022: Ranked and Reviewed FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How much does a screen reader cost?

Many comprehensive screen readers won’t cost you a penny like NVDA. However, consumer-level screen readers can cost hundreds of dollars. When combined with possibly needing to purchase a Braille display, they’re liable to end up costing more than the computer itself.

What’s the best screen reader?

JAWS is considered the best screen reader in the world because it includes an OCR for reading images and PDFs, DAISY compatibility, and PEARL camera compatibility.

Do all computers come with a screen reader?

Most computers come packaged with a native screen reader. However, these native screen readers tend to be less comprehensive. For example, Microsoft’s screen reader can only read text input fields and can’t read web pages or anything printed on the screen.

What is a screen reader?

Screen readers read the information on a computer screen out loud, allowing users with low vision or blindness to use the computer based on the verbal output information.

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More from History-Computer

  • JAWS Available here: https://www.freedomscientific.com/products/software/jaws/
  • Chrome Web Store Available here: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/screen-reader/kgejglhpjiefppelpmljglcjbhoiplfn
  • Gnome.Org Available here: https://wiki.gnome.org/Projects/Orca
  • Apple Available here: https://www.apple.com/accessibility/vision/
  • NV Access Available here: https://www.nvaccess.org