Unless you work in the disability sector or are a person with vision impairment, you may not be familiar with what a screen reader is and how it works. A screen reader is a software application that helps people with severe visual impairments use a computer. Screen readers provide information about icons, menus, dialogue boxes, files and folders. Because they work so closely with a computer’s operating system, screen readers allow users to do everything on a computer that a sighted user can do.

Because most users with visual impairments don’t use a mouse, screen readers have keyboard commands to get things done. Common tasks include navigating through the headings of a document, finding links on a web page, and opening or closing files. Screen reader users will use a combination of screen reader commands and operating system keyboard shortcuts to do everyday tasks. This is why it’s important to make sure that websites and documents are set up to account for this and are accessible to people who use screen readers.
The most popular desktop screen readers are:

  • JAWS (Windows) – this product has been around the longest, so it has a loyal base of users, but it is very expensive.
  •  NVDA (Windows) – is free to use and is gaining in popularity.
  • VoiceOver (Mac) – this system is built into Apple’s macOS operating system.

Tommy Edison, also known as the Blind Film Critic, shows us how he uses a screen reader in his YouTube video How A Blind Person Uses A Computer.