3.4: What Is A Screen Reader?

In order to enjoy access to websites and other digital media, many people with visual impairments rely on assistive technologies such as braille displays and screen readers.

A screen reader is a software application that converts the text displayed on a computer screen into synthesized speech. Text-to-speech capabilities are a vital component of AI Assistants, such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, which talk with users by converting their replies into digital speech. Screen readers are a specific use case of text-to-speech technology that improve accessibility for people with visual disabilities.

These days the market offers many options for screen readers. Some are intended for use with different operating systems and applications; some are free and open source; others are commercial software.

Screen readers are able to look for and process any kind of text that is displayed on the screen of a computer or mobile device, including website content, icon labels, documents, spreadsheets, file menus and more. The software also reads the title of web pages and the alternative text captions for any images on the page.

Once it identifies this text, the screen reader speaks it out loud at the user’s request, pausing at punctuation such as periods, commas, and exclamation marks. The user can adjust settings such as the speed and volume of the speech.