Screenreaders and Text to Speech

It is often thought that a graphical interface such as Windows, with its pictures and "icons", is inaccessible to those without vision. In fact these operating systems are still, in reality, text-based and often pictures are purely cosmetic or accompanied by a text label.

A blind computer user can know what is on the screen by having the necessary information spoken by a synthetic voice. This could include having each character or word echoed back as you type. On computers that can produce sounds and music the speech output can be produced in a similar way, through the main speakers. In other instances a separate piece of equipment may be required to make the computer talk.

The software programs that control the speech (called "screen readers") vary in their reliability and intelligence. The more sophisticated allow the user effective and reliable "eyes-free" use of the vast majority of DOS or Windows 95/98/NT programs (as well as some running under other operating systems).

RNIB factsheet: What is a screenreader

Accessing the web with a screenreader

WebAIM Screenreader Survey 2009

Webaim survey screenshot

Survey question: Which of the following screen readers do you commonly use? (select all that apply)

Webaim screenreader survey results screenshot

49% of respondents commonly use more than one screen reader. 23% use more than two and 8% use more than three screen readers. System Access or SAToGo and NVDA are relatively commonly used (23% and 26%, respectively), yet are less common as a primary screen readers (5% and 3%). When compared to the results from our previous survey, JAWS and Window Eyes use is almost identical, yet NVDA, Voice Over, and System Access usage increased tremendously. (Source: WebAIM)


A screen reader which works with a PC to provide access to software applications and the Internet. It has an internal software speech synthesizer which works with the computer’s sound card, information from the screen is read aloud, providing technology to access a wide variety of information, education and job related applications. JAWS also outputs to refreshable braille displays, providing braille support for a variety of screen readers. Essentially to use JAWS, you need to be familiar with the keyboard. Ideally you need to be a touch typist. A standard keyboard is recommended, as it has the full range of keys - and where you would expect them to be. More about this . . .

JAWS Screenreader - Hear an example

Using JAWS to examine website structure

JAWS overview

Accessing the web using JAWS


Browsealoud is a Free Windows program that instantly speech-enables websites, reading the text that users require with the hover of a mouse. Free to download, easy to use with control over the voice, pitch and speed, browsealoud is there when you need assistance as you navigate the Web. Browsealoud can only read sites that have been enabled for its use. While a growing number of websites are enabled, it will provide access only to those sites whose owners or webmasters have elected to utilise this service. For full accessibility, another text-reader or talking browser should be chosen for those sites that are not enabled for Browsealoud.

Browsealoud features

Browsealoud options

Downloading Browsealoud


An all-in-one computer package, for people who are blind or partially sighted. It has been designed to be easy-to-use and easy-to-learn.

  • Guide has its own in-built screen reader, so it will read out the text on every screen, even while you're typing.
  • It has its own in-built screen magnifier, so you can enlarge the text on every screen, whether you are writing a letter or surfing the Internet.
  • It turns your computer into an easy-to-use Reading Machine. Printed text documents are placed on the scanner and then both spoken out and magnified on the screen.
  • It is available as a CD to be loaded onto an existing computer, or as a complete computer package, all setup and ready to be used.
  • It offers many features, integrated within one package, so that there is no need to switch between different programmes to complete each task.
  • These features include: Write letters and documents; Spell-checker; Dictionary and thesaurus; Magnify handwriting, diagrams or pictures; Print or edit photos from your digital camera; Send and receive emails; Surf the internet; Addresses and contacts; Calendar and reminders and playing CDs and MP3s.

  • Guide-Handsfree is an all-in-one computer package which can be fully controlled by your voice. No keyboard or mouse required.
Guide Demo Part 1

Guide Demo Part 2

Guide Demo Part 3

Guide Hands-Free Introduction


Dolphin logo

Another screenreader developed for blind computer users, Hal is a software screen reader that works by reading the screen interactively and communicating through a speech synthesiser or a refreshable Braille display. The makers claim: It is Vista compatible and a few fully featured screen reader. It can be used independently - in other words, not just on a desktop PC, but can be transported on a USB stick to use at any university, internet café, library or work place. Users are able to carry their screen access, with their favourite settings with them at all times. Hal users can apparently also connect remotely on terminal servers or Citrix mainframes. The latest v9.3 works with Vista. More about this . . .

HAL version 10 now available. What's New ?:
  • Support for Mozilla FireFox
  • All new Setup Wizard
  • Improved Internet Quick Navigation Keys
  • Virtual Focus Text Selection
  • URL Specific Document Settings for Internet Explorer
  • Support for Winamp Media Player
  • Multi-Core ready
  • Product Improvement Programme
Find out more about it . . .

User manual for HAL v9.0 (English) Other languages available here . . .

Pocket HAL. This a version of HAL which is designed to run on a compatible PDA. Dolphin no longer list this software on their website,, as it is no longer in development. However, if you can get hold of a copy, they tell me it will only work on a PDA running Windows Mobile version 5.

More screenreaders

VoiceReader is a screenreader which is available in 11 languages. The software is claimed to be very easy to use and converts any kind of text (e-mails, websites, etc.) to audio files. The voice output quality of the Voice Reader is further enhanced by what they describe as pleasant voices with natural pronunciation and intonation. Test the software here . . .

Using VoiceReader (Dutch language)

More information about VoiceReader . . .

Natural Reader. Free text to speech

NaturalReader is a Text to Speech software with natural sounding voices. This easy to use software can convert any written text such as MS Word, Webpage, PDF files, and Emails into spoken words. NaturalReader can also convert any written text into audio files such as MP3 or WAV for your CD player or iPod.

More about Natural Reader . . .

Talklets and the Textic Toolbox
Textic toolbar

Talklets let you listen to any web text in clear, life-like speech with a choice of accents and languages. Website owners can easily add Talklets accessibility to a website to provide vocalised web text for all visitors without the need for downloads or special software.The standard Talklets Toolbar offers a range of speech and visual controls and provides a handy way of adding such enhancements to a web page with the addition of a small JavaScript snippet to each page to be speech enabled.

Windows Light 2007
Developed in 2004 by Ha See-Hung, a blind computer user in Hong Kong. Supports Braille output and 3 languages - Cantonese, Putonghua and English.

Web Anywhere
WebAnywhere is a web-based screen reader. It requires no special software to be installed on the client machine and, therefore, enables blind people to access the web from any computer they happen to have access to that has a sound card.

It will run on any machine, even heavily locked-down public terminals, regardless of what operating system it is running and regardless of what browsers are installed.

All you need to do is switch a PC on, plug in your headphones, execute a couple of keyboard commands so that you open up the WebAnywhere home page, switch it on and away you go.

More information about Web Anywhere . . .

Window-Eyes is a software application for the blind and visually impaired, which converts components of the Windows operating system into synthesized speech allowing for complete and total access to Windows based computer systems.

Using the web with Window Eyes

Window-Eyes integration into Windows is seamless, providing you with instant access to the operating system without having to learn a complicated set of keystrokes. More about this . . .

Tip Top Text Reader

A text to speech reading aid for those who find reading text on a computer screen difficult, for example due to being partially sighted, dyslexic or maybe English is not a first language. Use it to read emails, webpages, documents - anything.

Screenshot of Tip Top Text reader

Download Tip Top Reader from TipTopBanana . . .

How to use Tip Top Text Reader

Talking ClipBoard

Talking Clipboard is a free text to speech program, that can read text documents, RSS feeds and webpages using realistic synthetic voices and can convert text to audio files for your music player. It can read text from any application using clipboard and can read a large number of native document formats directly, like: ePub, PDF, DOC, RTF, HTML, TXT. You can also convert large number of text documents to audio WAV or MP3 (with ID3 tags) files, using batch command line conversion or GUI tools. In Talking Clipboard, you have full control over reading like Play/Pause/Stop, jump to next or previous paragraph or line via menu or media remote or keyboard media buttons. Other features include bookmarks, spell correction, text manipulation using regular expressions, RSS reader, Wordnet dictionary, talking reminder, Drag & Drop support, etc.

More information about Talking Clipboard . . .

Screenshot of Talking Clipboard


There is a really good screen reader called System Access To Go (SaToGo) which compares favourably to high-cost screen readers such as Jaws, Window-Eyes and Hal in many areas (it also competes favourably with Thunder, NVDA or other free screen readers) and is now free of charge. It requires an internet connection but installs no files so you can use it on any machine that has a net connection regardless of admin rights (it has no video intercept but relies on MSAA and the object model). Just roll up to a machine and hit Windows+R to bring up the Run dialog and then type and it will come up talking. Works for unlimited session length and unlimited times. Saves your settings/preferences to their server so will come up the same on any subsequent machine. Use it in libraries or internet cafes as makes no odds if machine totally locked down to sw installs.

It uses mostly Jaws keystrokes which makes any subsequent transition to Jaws very straightforward. Also has nice features no other screen reader has - such as when you land on a website with unlabelled images and you label an image that label is sent to the server and anyone else landing on that page will experience those images already labelled. Of course the same happens for you with any images labelled by others.

For home users with a net connection it's the obvious choice now it's totally free. Also for anyone who is blind and having to use other people's machines. /

Dixerit logoDixerIT
. Dixerit reads your website aloud, helping people who may have difficulty reading your content for themselves. No downloads or plug-ins are required: just add a link or button and start listening. More information about DixerIT. . .

TextAloud imageTextAloud. TextAloud reads text from email, web pages, reports and more, aloud on your PC. TextAloud can also save your daily reading to MP3 or Windows Media files ready for playback on your iPod, PocketPC, or even on your TV with Tivo's Home Media Option. More information about TextAloud . . .

Verbose Text to Speech. Converts text to voice or saves as MP3

Open Source

  • NDVA

    This Open Source screen reader for Windows is rapidly gaining features and an enthusiastic user base. At least one Jaws user has been heard to say that they are now able to use a Windows PC without Jaws. It currently supports speech in 13 languages but Braille support is not yet available. A good range of Windows programs are supported and Mozilla Firefox gives a particularly rich accessible browsing experience.

    NVDA not only works with programs that make themselves accessible through the MSAA accessibility technology but also supports the growing number of programs that offer richer accessibility though the IAccessible2 Open Standard. More Information and Download . . .

    Using NVDA with PacMate braille display

  • D-Speech.

    This is a free TTS (Text To Speech) program with functionality of ASR (Automatic Speech Recognition) integrated. It is able to to read aloud the written text and choose the sentences to be pronounced based upon the vocal answers of the user. OS: Win2000/NT/XP/2003.


    1. Allows you to save the output as a .WAV or .MP3 file.
    2. Allows you to quickly select different voices, even combine them, or juxtapose them in order to create dialogues between different voices.
    3. DSpeech integrates a vocal recognition system that, through a simple script language, allows you to create interactive dialogues with the user.
    4. Allows you to configure the voices in an independent way.
    5. Thanks to apposite TAGs, it allows you to dynamically change the features of the voices during the playback (speed, volume and frequency), to insert pauses, emphasize specific words, or even to spell them out.
    6. Allows you to capture and reproduce the content of the ClipBoard.
    7. DSpeech is compatible with all vocal engines (SAPI 4-5 compliant).
    8. AI dialog system. Not really useful, but amusing. It does not work in every language.

    More information about DSpeech . . .

  • TypeIt ReadIt - Freeware text to speech

    TypeIt ReadIt can help users who are visually impaired, cannot read, desire to improve their reading comprehension, or just want to listen to their documents read aloud. This program changes the font color and font size with ease. This program also reads text aloud to the user. For users who wish to listen to their documents on CD, iPod, or other media, TypeIt ReadIt can convert text to a spoken sound file by using its text-to-speech technology. These sound files can be inserted into iTunes, CD, an iPod, PowerPoint, iMovie, Audacity or any other software or device that supports sound files. This can allow students, with speech difficulties, to place the sound files in their presentations, so they can participate with lessons and class activities. With TypeIt ReadIt, students can listen to their documents on their iPod. Business people can convert their emails, documents, and memos to listen to them on their car radio while they are stuck in rush-hour traffic. Also, TypeIt ReadIt is a useful alternative for young children’s typing lessons instead of using a confusing word processor.

    Download TypeIt . . .

    TypeIt for Windows

  • BalaBolka. A Text-To-Speech (TTS) program. All computer voices installed on your system are available to Balabolka. The on-screen text can be saved as a WAV, MP3, OGG or WMA file. The program can read the clipboard content, view the text from DOC, RTF, PDF, FB2 and HTML files, customize font and background colour, control reading from the system tray or by the global hotkeys. Balabolka uses various versions of Microsoft Speech API (SAPI); it allows to alter a voice's parameters, including rate and pitch. The user can apply a special substitution list to improve the quality of the voice's articulation. This feature is useful when you want to change the spelling of words.

  • Hindi screen reader breakthrough for blind.

    Prologix Software Solutions presented Vaachak Indian Text-to-Speech (TTS) software to assist 480 million Hindi speakers worldwide. In addition, Vaachak now allows visually impaired people to access electronic Hindi content through the SAFA Screen Reader. More about this . . .

  • ORCA.

    A free, open source scriptable screen reader. Using various combinations of speech, braille, and magnification, Orca helps provide access to applications and toolkits that support the AT-SPI (e.g., the GNOME desktop). The command to run orca is orca. You can enter this command by pressing Alt+F2 when logged in, waiting for a second or so, then typing orca and pressing return. Orca is designed to present information as you navigate the desktop using the built-in navigation mechanisms of GNOME. These navigation mechanisms are consistent across most desktop applications. (Source: Linuxlandit)

Online text to speech translator (Source:

Wikipedia list of Screenreaders

Text to speech software reviews

Screenreaders and Accessibility

The rise in the use of AJAX to dynamically change web content without refreshing the page (Web 2.0 applications) has resulted in accessibility problems for users of Assistive Technology such as Screen Readers. The problem can be divided into two issues:

  1. Users not having access to content changes.
  2. Users not being aware of the changed content if they can access it.

(more on this at ).

Other Screenreader Resources

  • Windows Narrator in Windows XP only lets you use the Microsoft Sam voice. This is bad if you're having to use Narrator for situations where your screenreader will not work (e.g. safe mode) or you are not an English speaker and need to do some testing.

    How to set Narrator Voice Options in XP

    How to change Windows Narrator voice (from Microsoft Sam)

  • VoiceOver in Mac OS X Leopard. To make it easier for the blind and those with low vision to use a computer, Apple has built a solution into every Mac. Called VoiceOver. It provides a wide variety of requested feature enhancements. These include a new high-speed, high-quality voice, plug-and-play support for refreshable Braille displays, international language support, an interactive built-in tutorial, and the NumPad Commander, which make navigation easier for new Mac owners who previously used Windows screen readers.

    Once you’ve customised your own Mac, you can take all your VoiceOver settings with you on the road. To do so, connect a USB flash drive to your Mac and choose Create Portable Preferences from the File menu in VoiceOver Utility. When you connect the flash drive to a Mac, VoiceOver automatically its presence and instantly reconfigures itself to match the Portable Preferences saved on the flash drive for such items as your Pronunciation Dictionary, Braille input key assignments, and NumPad Commander settings.
    VoiceOver in more detail . . .

    How to use Voiceover

    Navigating the Dock and Menu Bar

  • GhostReader. Text to speech software for the Apple Mac. Convert documents to audiobooks to listen to on an iPod or iPhone. Convert text from news sites and emails to audiobooks to listen to on an iPod or iPhone. Point the cursor at text in Safari, TextEdit, Mail or Pages 2008 to hear the paragraph below the cursor.

  • InfoVox. Naturally sounding voices in a language of choice for use by any Mac OS X application

  • MathPlayer: A Math reader for Blind Students

    This was copied from a blog called Fred's Head.

    Monday, March 16, 2009

    Listen to this article. Powered by
    Design Science has developed a product called MathPlayer to help the visually impaired. The player reads mathematical text aloud, and you can alter the way it reads certain functions (for example, you may prefer close parens or you might like it to just say parenthesis). The program understands the need to know whether a portion of a fraction is the numerator or the denominator, it understands that you would need to know when the argument of the square root ends, etc. MathPlayer enables Microsoft Internet Explorer to display mathematical notation in web pages. It is based on MathML technology and requires Internet Explorer for Windows version 6.0 and later. "We make MathPlayer available for free in order to foster the adoption of MathML in the math, science, and education communities". Right-click on an equation and see what MathPlayer lets you do with it! You can cut-and-paste math into any one of a growing number of MathML-compatible software packages, such as Maple and Mathematica. You can open it in our WebEQ and MathType products for further editing, reuse in your own documents, and much more>.

    Click this link to visit a demonstration page where you can hear JAWS for Windows read a website with and without MathPlayer.
    Click this link to download MathPlayer.
    Posted by Michael McCarty at 11:10 AM

Screenreaders for Mobile Phones and PDAs

There appears to be only a limited number of screenreaders available for mobile phones (Smartphones) and PDAs:

A Smartphone is a mobile which can do a lot more than the typical mobile phone - in fact very much like a computer. A smartphone is a phone with advanced features like e-mail and Internet capabilities, and/or a full keyboard. The Nokia N95 for example, is a smartphone.

iPAQ 214
iPAQ 214
A PDA (or Personal Digital Assistant) is a handheld computer – also known as a palmtop. Some of the latest PDAs can also be used as mobile phones – and these are often referred to as Smartphones. They can do this either in their own right or via a Bluetooth connection to a Bluetooth enabled mobile phone. The Blackberry is described as a PDA phone. Another PDA is the Hewlett Packard iPAQ 114, described by HP as a Handheld PC. It is powered by Windows Mobile 6 but because it's a PDA, is not compatible with Smart HAL.

The new iPAQ 214 allows you to write emails, with the help of Outlook Mobile. It has integrated wireless networking so that you can get online whenever and wherever you like; at home or in the office, or even in a cafe - you'll always have access to the internet and email. It also includes Microsoft Office Mobile, which would allow you to write documents. However, it's a Windows Mobile 6 device, so will not work with Smart HAL or Pocket HAL, both of which only work with Windows Mobile 5.

  1. Mobile Speak, by Code Factory. Needs a Symbian series 8 or 9 phone.
    Compatible phone list:

  2. Nuance ‘Talks’. Running on Symbian™ Series 60 phones, Nuance TALKS converts the displayed text on the mobile handset into highly intelligible speech. With Nuance TALKS, blind and low-vision users can take advantage of most features, including contact directories, caller ID, text messages, help files, access to the Nokia web browser, and other screen content, available on their mobile phones. TALKS&ZOOMS support the newest Nokia handsets, like the Nokia E51, E90, N81, N82 / N82 8GB, and N95 8GB!. More info:

    View the Talks video . .

  3. Dolphin Smart HAL for Smartphones with Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system. According to Dolphin, Smart HAL won’t work on a Symbian based phone. Smart HAL will apparently work on certain Mobile 6 smartphones but not PDAs.
    Compatible phone list:

There doesn't appear to be screenreader available yet for a Blackberry. It uses it’s own operating system called RIM Blackberry.