Screen Readers and Talking Browsers


A Screen Reader, commonly used name for Voice Output Technology, is used by individuals who experience difficulty reading the standard text displayed on screen, for example, individuals who are visually impaired or blind. Screen readers produce synthesized speech output for text displayed on the computer screen, as well as for keystrokes entered on the keyboard. Screen readers require the use of keyboard shortcuts, most of which the user has to memorize. 

Talking browsers use the same technology as screen reading software, but the reading functions are limited to Internet use. Screen readers and talking browsers can also benefit those who prefer to have text read back or who require to read large volumes of text.

It is rare that a screen reader user would listen to an entire web page from start to finish without skipping some portion, such as the navigation links at the top of the page, the copyright information at the bottom, or other parts in-between.  Screen readers offer the following features to assist with navigating web pages:

  • Lets you know where lists begin and end, and even how many items there are in a list
  • Allows you to  navigate through data tables, going from cell to cell and (assuming the table has been marked up correctly) informing the user what the headings are for each cell
  • Navigating from heading to heading
  • Getting a list of links organized alphabetically, use the tab key to navigate from link to link
  • Searching within the page for keywords

For individuals who identify as deaf and/or blind, screen readers convert text into Braille characters on refreshable Braille devices

Points to Ponder

Features to consider when choosing a screen reader

  • Is it compatible with your computer's operating system?
  • Which file formats can it read? What applications can it support? E.g., PDFs, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, etc.
  • Can it output to a refreshable Braille display?
  • Is the refreshable Braille display compatible with the screen reader?
  • Can the size of the reading chunks be varied?
  • For talking browsers, does it allow telephone-based web access?
  • Can you customize it for how much speech feedback you wish to hear, i.e., verbosity?
  • What voices are available? Synthesizers?
  • Does the software allow for customization to a particular application, i.e., scripting?
  • For the low vision user, can it be integrated with a screen magnification software?
  • Does it allow for form filling on webpage?
  • What languages does it support?
  • Does the user need access to multiple computer systems with screen reader available on it? If so, consider whether the screen reader software is available on a USB key.



Manufacturers of Screen Readers

SNOW does not endorse any of the following software/hardware. These links are provided for information purposes only.

BAUM (Windows) – COBRA Screen Reader
Claro (Windows, and Mac) - ClaroRead
Dolphin  (Windows) – SuperNova Access Suite, SuperNova screen reader, Dolphin Pen
Freedom Scientific (Windows) – JAWS Standard, JAWS Professional
GW Micro (Windows) – Windows Eyes
Serotek(Windows) – System Access Standalone, System Access Mobile, System Access Mobile Network, System Access To Go


Did you know? That there are built in screen readers available for free on your computer.  Learn more about the accessibility features of your computer here.

Free/Open Source Screen Reading Software

NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA)  by NV Access (Windows)

Manufacturers of Talking Browser

Code-it Software - Web Talkster (Windows)
Claro Software – WordRead Windows)
TextHelp - BrowseAloud (Windows and Mac)

Free/Open Source Talking Browser Software

FireVox Talking Browser for Firefox
WebbIE (Windows)
WebFormator by BAUM Retec (Windows)

Additional Useful Links

Helping you meet Ontario's AODA
How It Relates to the AODA legislation: 

Screen Readers and Talking Browsers relate to the following sections of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Integrated Accessibility Regulation

Accessible Formats and Communication Supports  

Producers of Educational Training Material

Accessible Website and Web Content

AODA Significance: 

1. Screen Readers and Talking Browsers translate the information on a computer screen into an audio voice, providing an alternative format.  While Screen Readers can usually translate information from all areas of a computer, Talking Browsers only translates information from the Internet. Considering the guidelines for accessible website and web content improves the accessibility and usability for screen reader users.

2.  People interact, learn and communicate in diverse ways. Learning opportunities are increased when flexible ways of engaging with learning materials are provided. Considering how people communicate is important for knowledge to be exchanged. Alternative formats take into account diverse ways of exchanging information.

3. The AODA legislates that educational institutions and its employees know how to produce accessible or conversion ready versions of textbooks and printed material. All website and web content must meet accessibility standards and support alternative ways to convey information. Educators, teachers and staff  must be knowledgeable at communicating with people with disabilities who may use alternate formats.

Additional Resources: 

To learn of ways to innovate, develop & design for accessibility, visit OCAD University’s Inclusive Design Research Centre website.                                                                      

To learn how this section relates to the core principles of the AODA Customer Service regulation, visit the AODA page on SNOW.