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What's a screen reader?

Screen reader introduction

A screen reader is a software package that can covert text into speech. It allows a person who cannot see to access both web content and documents.

A screenreader can read the text from top to bottom, one line at a time.

But it can also navigate the content from 

  • link to link 
  • heading to heading (if the web content has structured headings).

This navigation feature enables a user to "scan the content", so that they can skip to what they need without having to read everything on the page.


2 examples of a screen reader in use


Video 1: Accessing the web using screen reading

This video by RSC Scotland describes how to use a screen reader.


Video 2: Web accessibility for people with vision impairment

In this video, a blind lecturer is tutoring a class of sighted students. He is demonstrating how to access web content using a screen reader called JAWS. The sighted students seem pretty blown away!!


Common screen readers

There are 3 big players in the screen reader world:

  • Jaws ( over $1,000, most common and established package - Windows only)
  • NVDA (a free download onto your computer - Windows only)
  • Voiceover (built into Apple Mac products)

A newer option is Webanywhere, which you can carry on a USB stick and can plug into any computer.


Links to further information on screen readers


Screen reader tutorials

  • Jaws- video on YouTube
  • NVDA - video on YouTube
  • Voiceover - video on Apple website (16 minutes long, but great overview)
  • Webanywhere - video on YouTube


Shortcuts and hotkeys

Short cut keys for JAWS - overview on the WebAim website

Graphic overview of Voiceover hot keys - on Apple website


  • Warren Hall

    Hi Chrissie,

    Thank you for posting that, I especially enjoyed the second clip. To see the contrast between how simple it can be for people if the correct protocols are followed and how frustrating it would obviously be if no thought was given to accessibility when a website was being put together is enlightening.