Top Screen Readers for smartphones and computers

Nowadays it is very common for people with some form of visual disability to rely on computer technologies that allow them to carry out their activities in a more independent way.

Advances in science and technology have allowed the main mobile device and computer companies to take on the task of creating resources that provide greater inclusion.

This is how screen readers came to be. But what are they?

A screen reader is a piece of software that is capable of identifying, reading and explaining what is shown on the screen through a voice synthesizer.

It should be noted that these are also used by people without any disabilities only as support to give directions while driving or to read books, articles or any text when their hands are busy or when they simply want to rest their eyes.

Screen readers are also very useful for people aspiring to get a job because through them they can generate a text document, a spreadsheet, a slide presentation, an email or search for information on the internet; just to mention a few, although the possibilities are many and new alternatives are added every day.

Let us remember that people who have better training and greater independence are more likely to be eligible for a job.

Being voice activated would seem very complicated, however it is only a matter of training in the use of these devices. We also need to take into account that people lacking one sense tend to better develop others, mainly hearing.

Brief history of screen readers

In the 1980s, when there were only PCs running MS Dos system through commands, visually impaired people could access the computer through an external card that contained a voice synthesizer inserted into one of the slots and a very basic screen reader allowed the MS Dos program to be interrupted so that the person could listen to what was sent to the video and even allowed them to type and freeze the screen to review what was written.

Over the years and through continuous improvement, the screen readers became independent peripherals that could be installed in various computers. Some of the first screen readers with a speech synthesizer were:

  1. The "TALKS" device with the "CIBERVEU"
  2. “HAL” together with the “SUPPORT”
  3. The “BRAILLE SPEAK”, the “SONO BRAILLE” etc

Unfortunately, when interfaces with images appeared, the previous devices stopped working, so a way was sought to alleviate these deficiencies by developing others that were capable of sending visual signals through more advanced programming.

Although currently the various screen readers are capable of interacting with most interfaces by means of commands and combinations, there are still deficiencies that have not been solved so that the interaction is totally accessible since this type of programming is extremely complicated.

The latest updates claim that the language barrier is not a problem, so the programmers have tried to include as many languages as possible in the interfaces. As for the images and graphics, work is being done to make them audio-descriptive.

The top screen readers depending on the operating system they run are:


This is a free accessibility application created by Google which was integrated into mobile devices that run Android OS; the application helps people with visual disabilities to better interact with their devices by providing spoken, auditory and vibratory feedback on what appears on the screen.

The way to access everything in the device is through finger gestures.

This accessibility tool is included in all devices running Android 4.2 or higher; previous versions also include it but in a very limited way.

The way to activate Talkback is by following the path: settings>accessibility>talkback. Right there you can customize its options; among these speech speed, tone, notifications, etc.

Unfortunately, not all mobile brands have the Android system in base way in which it was developed by Google, since they choose to customize their operating systems and this can negatively influence accessibility.

Some features of Talkback are: voice dictation, language selection, keyboard selection, etc.


This screen reader comes with Apple devices running iOS, OS, X, watchOS and AppleTv operating systems. Visually impaired people can use their devices synchronously and with virtually no restrictions.

This device also uses voice synthesis and gestures to interact with all the features, being able to activate for each application in the Smartphone.

To install them, it is only necessary to have a computer with an iOS operating system and update it as required to maximize its operation and performance.

VoiceOver can be activated by following this path: settings>general>accessibility>voiceover. Within these same options you will find different custom settings.

In addition to the VoiceOver tool, Apple mobile devices have additional tools that also facilitate accessibility for people with vision problems, such as:

  • Siri.- It is a personal assistant that works through voice recognition and allows you to carry out certain functions, including sending text messages or WhatsApp, making calls, scheduling events on the calendar or activating and deactivating VoiceOver. This function can be found in: settings>general>siri.
  • Read screen.- This functionality reads back emails, iMessages, web pages and books. It is located in: settings> general> accessibility> voice. It also allows you to set the language and reading speed and choose to have words highlighted as they are spoken.
  • Dictation.- This function allows you to speak instead of writing and you only need to touch the microphone button and say the phrases that you want the device to convert into text. You can use this tool to write any type of address, note, text message or web page.

Some VoiceOver tools are: turn screen saver on or off, turn voice on or off, speech speed, customize the tool which contains the options to move between characters, words or lines, headers, links , select by characters, words, lines, copy, paste, undo, etc.


These are electronic devices for outputting data in Braille code from another connected device, be it another computer, tablet or smartphone.

In the case of completely deafblind people, this device is essential and it needs to allow access to any device that you want to connect.

The device is made up of several cells of 6 or 8 points each that represent a character by raising the feelers corresponding to the points in Braille in an electronic and refreshable way. These devices can be connected via serial, parallel, USB or bluetooth.

Its use is recommended from an early age to boost the use of Braille and to acquire reading speed.


Screen reader for devices with Windows operating system that allows the user to know the content of the screen and interact with its items through speech synthesis or Braille; the above by means of key combinations specific to the programs' operating system or to Jaws itself.

Although the program is compatible with Windows devices, each version of the operating system or the different programs to be used have a recommended version of Jaws.

Jaws needs a commercial license that allows a maximum of three computers, such activation is done through the internet; in the event that the activation is not carried out, the program will work for a maximum of 40 minutes and you will be able to use it for an equal period, after restarting the system.

Apart from installing the program, it is necessary to configure some system options.

The highlight of Jaws is its configuration possibilities based on the needs and preferences of the user. It also allows you to work with most Microsoft Office applications, Internet Explorer, email, and various audio tools.

A folder containing a basic configuration guide and commands is created in the program installation directory.


Free screen reader for devices with Windows operating system; it is a free software project so the source code of the program is also free.

The information it provides can also be transmitted to a Braille display.

Although it is available for all versions, it is recommended to install the one that is compatible with it.

NVDA recognizes more than 20 languages and there is a portable version which is not necessary to install on the computer.

This tool supports applications with browsers, email clients, chat and office suite among others.

To install the non-portable version of NVDA and start the process in a guided and intuitive way, you must run the file downloaded from the project website.

Once the program is installed, you can access the preferences to configure several options through the different menus that appear and obtain the best performance of the software.

NVDA also has a configurable remote access version with which the user can access another computer that has the program installed.

The program is based on the Windows icon that must always be pressed so that it can identify what appears on the screen and verbalize it. It is necessary to mention that it has to be used with combinations of keyboard commands and not with the mouse.

Some of the options that can be configured are: speed of speech, tone, different voices from some countries, loudness of alarms, verbalization of characters, words or commands, different profiles for each item in use, NVDA keys for desktop PCs and laptops.

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